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Water Crisis is Increasing in Cape Town, Red Alert For Africa

The El Nino weather pattern has triggered water crises across southern Africa since 2015, causing the region's worst drought in 35 years, Farr said.

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Jonathan Farr leads work on water security for Water Aid, an organization that works to bring clean water to some of the world's poorest communities, including in southern Africa.
Women caring water from far away in Africa, VOA
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While the South African city of Cape Town drew international attention when it warned it could run out of water this year, an international charity focused on global water supplies says “slow burning” droughts have wreaked even worse devastation in other parts of Africa.

Jonathan Farr leads work on water security for Water Aid, an organization that works to bring clean water to some of the world’s poorest communities, including in southern Africa.

“We should remember that there are already 844 million people in the world who lack basic access to water,” he said. “More than 8 million of those live in South Africa.”

The El Nino weather pattern has triggered water crises across southern Africa since 2015, causing the region’s worst drought in 35 years, Farr said.

“By the beginning of last year, it affected about 41 million people in countries including Mozambique, Madagascar, Malawi, Zambia and, of course, South Africa,” he said.

And some of those places are in worse shape than Cape Town.

In 2016, Madagascar’s government declared a state of emergency in the country’s south, “with almost a million people facing alarming levels of hunger,” Farr said. Last April, Malawi’s president also declared a state of national disaster, “with 25 out of 28 parts of the country having severe food shortages” related to the drought, Farr added.

In February, Mozambique reduced the water supply by more than half for consumers in its capital city, Maputo, although that order was lifted in April.

"By the beginning of last year, it affected about 41 million people in countries including Mozambique, Madagascar, Malawi, Zambia and, of course, South Africa," he said.
Drought has spread in Cape Town and severe conditions are expected in future in entire Africa, VOA

Threats across Africa

But water security is threatened across Africa, and not just because of hotter, drier weather.

“Lots of people are moving from rural communities to cities. The cities aren’t ready for this huge influx of people, and so that’s increasing demand for water, but in a very small area,” he said. “So, it does mean there’s huge pressures on particular water basins. The authorities, even those who are reacting well, are dealing with a very serious problem.”

In many southern Africa nations, water is lost through poor infrastructure, lax maintenance and illegal users. And, Farr said, many governments aren’t effectively collecting usage fees, so they lack the money to maintain and expand water systems.

Farr’s organization cooperates with governments, engineers and architects to assess threats to water supplies — everything from leaking infrastructure to improved water quality.

It also helps to build feasible infrastructure: In Maputo, it’s helping Mozambicans tap into unused water basins near the city.

Dramatic deadline

But if droughts are so much more serious in other parts of southern Africa, why are they largely out of the public eye? Why all the attention on Cape Town?

Farr said there are a few reasons for the international community focusing heavily on the city at the southern tip of Africa.

“You’ve got the deadline of Day Zero and that’s dramatic; it captures headlines, and it’s got this looming threat.”

Day Zero is the point at which authorities will be forced to cut water to most homes, so that people will need to line up at distribution points for daily rations. City officials said it would come when water levels in the city’s reservoirs fell to 13.5 percent of capacity.

Jonathan Farr leads work on water security for Water Aid, an organization that works to bring clean water to some of the world's poorest communities, including in southern Africa.

People in queue for water, VOAEarlier this year, Cape Town officials warned that Day Zero would happen by this month, then recalculated to July. Successful conservation efforts and the onset of the annual rainy season have postponed it indefinitely. However, dam levels remain very low, and stringent water restrictions — eased to 87 liters daily per person from 50 earlier this year — remain in place.Cape Town’s situation also captured the attention of the developed world because the city of 4 million is much more developed than other drought-stricken areas in Africa, with industry and scientific research in the area.

Moreover, it’s a popular international tourist destination.

“So, the potential economic costs there of running out of water are absolutely gigantic,” Farr said. “This is a message that resonates around the world because if Cape Town’s running out of water, there’s lots of cities that also have to look at their own [water] situations and say, ‘Well, maybe this could be us in the not-too-distant future.'”

Also Read: To Lower Drug Costs at Home, Trump Wants Higher Prices Abroad

Cape Town’s conservation efforts, and its plans to invest in alternative water sources, such as groundwater extraction, instead of reservoirs, should be an international example, Farr said.

“It’s not about, ‘Can we spend billions on new infrastructure,'” he said. “It’s not about, ‘Oh, let’s hope for the weather to improve.’ It’s about looking at what are the threats to water, where water comes from and what it’s been used for and can we make sure that’s been done better. And as Cape Town has demonstrated, when you do do it better, you can find significant water resources fairly easily.” (VOA)

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North Kivu and Ituri, Congo To Welcome More Than 80,000 Children in This New School Year

According to the latest World Health Organization estimates, there have been 116 cases of Ebola, including 77 deaths, in the DRC.

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A Congolese health worker administers Ebola vaccine to a boy who had contact with an Ebola sufferer in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. VOA

Government authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo say 250 schools in North Kivu and Ituri provinces will open their doors to more than 82,500 children when the new school year begins Monday.

These areas are the epicenter of the latest Ebola epidemic in DRC. The Ebola virus is extremely contagious. It can spread quickly through direct contact with blood and other bodily fluids of infected people.

UNICEF says it is scaling up operations in the region to promote prevention measures. It says school principals and teachers will receive training on Ebola prevention and protection and on how to educate children on good hygiene practices to avoid the spread of the virus.

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A World Health Organization (WHO) worker administers a vaccination during the launch of a campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 21, 2018. VOA

Spokesman Christophe Boulierac said UNICEF and its partners had reached more than 2 million people with Ebola prevention messages since the start of the outbreak on August 1.

“An increasing number of communities are now aware about Ebola and … they know better how to prevent its transmission,” Boulierac said. “The active involvement of concerned communities is key to stopping the spread of the disease. So, we are working closely with them to promote handwashing and good hygiene practices.”

According to the latest World Health Organization estimates, there have been 116 cases of Ebola, including 77 deaths, in the DRC. UNICEF said children make up an unusually high proportion of people affected by the disease. It noted that 24 percent of confirmed cases were in people under age 24.

Congo, school
A family sits outside in a neighborhood where three people died of Ebola in Mbandaka, Congo,
VOA

Also Read: Congo’s New Ebola Outbreak Is A Great Risk: WHO

Boulierac said more than 150 psychosocial workers had been trained to help comfort children infected with the disease in treatment centers. He said they also would support children who were discharged as free of Ebola but were at risk of stigmatization upon returning to their communities. (VOA)