Cape Town Prepares To Turn Off The Taps The South African city of Cape Town could be the first major metropolitan area to run out of water. City officials say that a three-year drought and huge population growth have overwhelmed dams.
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Cape Town Prepares To Turn Off The Taps

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Cape Town Prepares To Turn Off The Taps

Cape Town Prepares To Turn Off The Taps

Cape Town Prepares To Turn Off The Taps

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The South African city of Cape Town could be the first major metropolitan area to run out of water. City officials say that a three-year drought and huge population growth have overwhelmed dams.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Cape Town, South Africa, is running out of water. Yesterday the city cut the limit on its water use by nearly half. An extended drought has depleted the city's dams, and now residents are preparing for what they're calling Day Zero. That's April 16, the day the city turns off the taps. Peter Granitz reports.

PETER GRANITZ, BYLINE: Langa is a sprawling mix of brick homes, low apartment blocks and what the government calls informal settlements, a polite term for slums like this one named after Joe Slovo, the late President Nelson Mandela's first housing minister. And water here is often in short supply. It's not piped into people's homes.

(SOUNDBITE OF RUNNING WATER)

GRANITZ: Here at a communal tap, people come fill buckets and carry them home. People wash clothes here, too. Some are drying on a nearby cement wall. Andiswa Ndambu cleans out her water bucket, an old plastic paint pail. There's sediment at the bottom, remnants from the water she filled up earlier. She says she needs to fill her bucket five times a day for her and her 3-year-old daughter. Ndambu says the tap was off early this morning, and she set off looking for working taps in other parts of Langa.

ANDISWA NDAMBU: I just get out of the church by half past 8, then to come and fetch water, then there was no water. I had to go and look everywhere.

GRANITZ: She didn't find a functioning tap before leaving for work. She's a housekeeper in the upscale neighborhood of Sea Point. She says Day Zero will change everything.

NDAMBU: Schools will be stopped because there will be no water at schools. We are also not going to go to work because we'll be struggling to have water so that we can wash ourselves and to cook for ourselves.

GRANITZ: City officials have not said that schools will close on Day Zero, and they have assured the most vulnerable residents that their water will stay on. The water use in low-income places only amounts to about 4 percent of Cape Town's use. But Joe Slovo residents are skeptical of that promise. The tap leaks, and since the nearby drain is clogged, a massive pool of gray, foul-smelling water floods the muddy road. So Fundile Kosani pries open a sewer cap to drain the water.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCRAPING METAL)

GRANITZ: He says the city normally tells residents in advance if the water needs to be temporarily shut off, but it didn't yesterday, and he's worried that's a sign of things to come.

FUNDILE KOSANI: We had to wake up very early in the morning, at 4 o'clock, to queue here. And then that time the water was just a drop, and it was a long queue.

GRANITZ: A long line that he estimates could have taken people several hours. A short drive away, in a section of Langa with paved roads and one-story brick homes with indoor plumbing, sits the house that Victor Mlambo has rented for three months. The front room is sparse. There's no furniture. He says since he's been here he has not had a full day with running water. Mlambo works in a factory and comes home tired and sweaty, and, unfortunately, knows he's unlikely to be able to shower. He's worried about Day Zero. The city says it will distribute 6.6 gallons of water per person, per day, at 200 sites throughout town. Without knowing where the sites will be, he's worried about his wife carrying both water and their 3-month-old baby to their house. But she will have to because they cannot afford to buy bottled water.

VICTOR MLAMBO: I can't budget for water. The amount that I get is little for that.

GRANITZ: Mlambo came to Cape Town from neighboring Zimbabwe, and he says he never assumed South Africa, a far more developed country, would face issues like this. For NPR News, I'm Peter Granitz in Cape Town.

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