IT’S AN impossible to implement order, but everybody in Cape Town has been officially asked to not use the shower for more than two minutes. It’s one of the several water conservation messages that the Indian cricketers came across on reaching their hotel after a sweaty and tiring day under the relentless sun. With many in the Indian team hailing from areas with water problems, they understand the severity of the situation, but they aren’t quite timing their baths as of now.
The unusually dry winter, the dipping underground water level and the dangerously shrinking dam level has resulted in Cape Town pressing the panic button by enforcing crisis Level 6 water restrictions. These are a strings of curbs to make every drop count.
In such times, Cape Town sees the irony of calling the Test between the top two teams a “mouth-watering contest”. “When you have to worry about something as important as water, it’s difficult to spare some mind space for sports,” says Nsiangi, a one-time Newlands regular who will not be there for the game.
Others are doing a balancing act.
Shabbir Harnekar, 42, and his family have driven to the South Africa net session in his car, which is full of bottles and cans brimming with water. Before Newlands, the family took a detour to the Spring Ways, a one-way street that Lonely Planet describes as a cul-de-sac that has the Table Mountain river with ‘Camissa’, meaning ‘sweet water’. What was once a must-see Cape Town attraction for tourists is now a must-see spot for the locals.
The water-wars haven’t begun, but the situation is volatile. The street is choked with cars and trailers. Children and the elderly crowd around a place with puddles that has a pipeline with a signage that says: ‘The fountain’.
A couple of labourers, in their frenzy to fill water and drive away, are having an animated debate about the number of trips they need to make to take enough water for their factory. A woman from the single big house in the lane walks out and starts to speak with nobody in particular. She is actually talking to everybody. “I can’t sleep at night or during the day. This street is always crowded, when will I get my peace back,” she says.
Her complaint doesn’t get registered by those who are lining up their white jerry cans next to the leaking taps with a “1 person, 1 tap” sign. This could be Beed or Satara in the peak Maharashtra summer — Satara’s own Table-top is not too different in topography to need an air-brushing.
Experts in the local media are painting a grim picture about Cape Town. They aren’t seen as alarmists when they talk about the impending ‘Zero Day’ in April when all taps will run dry and how Cape Town may end up as the first city in the modern world to become waterless.
It has the locals scared. Nick, an Airbnb owner, says his first-day check-in chat with his guests has changed over the last one month. “I find it embarrassing to add that one line after I have given the usual instructions about keys and kitchen cleanliness. To tell somebody not to flush can’t be a great start of gold standard in hospitality,” he says.
With the city council approving just 87 litres per person per day or 10,000 litres for a month, Cape Town Airbnb owners are slightly worried about the reviews they will receive in the coming days.
Prosper, an Uber driver, is apologetic about his rather dusty car and talks about not having to waste a bucket of water on the vehicle. “I just do a bit of spray-clean on alternate days,” he says. He then adds a line, almost under his breath, that sums up the frustration of residents — “Living with two oceans on each side but still no water.”
The Cape Town City authorities have their eye on every drop of water that’s potable. The Level 6 means drinking water cannot be used for things like plants, hosing paved ways, play-pools. Borewells and well points now need to be registered with the city. They need to have signages that should be visible from the street. Failure to follow the Level 6 water restriction would result in a fine that would be as high as 10,000 rands (a little over Rs 51,000).
There is one silver lining for the Indian cricketers. Sinking underground water level means less moisture and a dry track, conditions Indians are used to. However, there was enough grass to make the Newlands pitch menacing.
Finally, Cape Town’s crisis and the ongoing awareness campaign about sustainable methods to save water has thrown up some interesting trivia. Did you know a single flush uses five glasses of drinking water?