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Water crisis in South Africa affects student abroad

Floyd Nichols, a junior biology major, is witnessing a significant water shortage in Cape Town, South Africa, while he studies abroad.

He currently lives with the difficulties of water rations and is awaiting Day Zero – the estimated day when the city’s water sources run dry.

Nichols has been studying abroad in a three-city program throughout the spring semester. He arrived in Cape Town on Feb. 19, and immediately noticed the effects of the water shortage.

“When I got off my airplane at the Cape Town International Airport I had to use the bathroom, and in the bathroom a few sinks and toilets were shut off to conserve water. Instead they used hand sanitizer as a way to clean your hands,” Nichols said.

Nichols said that people in Cape Town have been making an effort to conserve water as best they can. He noticed that many restaurants have switched to using plastic products, so that they do not have to run their dishwashers.

Nichols is concerned that people living in poorer communities will be affected by the crisis the most, especially if water resources are shut off.

Nichols is studying abroad through the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE). Before he arrived in Cape Town, CIEE made Nichols aware of the water crisis situation and how to prepare for it.

“The staff has provided the students with instructions on how to properly save water, especially in this time of need,” Nichols said.

Cape Town has been experiencing a severe drought for over two years. The city is also facing a significant growth in population. Experts have suggested that these events, exaggerated by climate change, have sparked a serious urban water crisis.

All dams that supply the city have a combined level of 24.4% of water remaining.

Officials and residents are now preparing for Day Zero, when locals will have to stand in line, surrounded by armed guards, for their daily water rations. Residents will not be able to use running water in their homes, and the sources will be shut off.

Day Zero was originally estimated to occur in mid-April.

Resources have begun to be rationed across the population, with each person limited to 50 liters of water per day beginning on Feb. 1. This accounts for all necessary activities, including bathroom needs, cooking and drinking water.

Residents with four of more people in their household must apply to have their water quota increased. Those who do not comply will face fines and will have a water management device installed in their homes, according to the South African government.

Officials have made it illegal to use tap water to fill pools, water gardens and wash cars. They are also criminalizing any “traders” who mark up the cost of water bottles (Reuters).

Nichols explained that all showers are limited to two minutes every day.

The water issue is affecting over four million people in Cape Town, which is regarded as one of Africa’s major metropolises.

Helen Zille, former Cape Town mayor, told a local newspaper that leaders do not question whether or not Day Zero will arrive. Instead, they are asking, “How do we make water accessible and prevent anarchy?” (Reuters).

South African leaders have started to prepare 200 emergency water stations located outside of grocery stores and other main gatherings spots. It is estimated that each spot would have to accommodate roughly 20,000 residents.

Nichols recently finished his first program in Paris and will be studying Community and Public Health and Transnationalism and Forced Migration while in Cape Town. He will then complete his studies in London before returning to Saint Vincent for the fall semester.

Photos: Floyd Nichols

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