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Is it just me?

It has taken me a few weeks, and a few conversations with friends, to admit to myself that I am no longer the water saver I once was. Is it just me?

© Sue Northam-Ras / WWF-SA
Enjoying the tropical island life in Thailand gave me a fresh perspective on Cape Town's water woes.
Life before Day Zero

Long before the drought, I’d been dreaming of travelling to Thailand with my family before my little one turned two. In February, just before his second birthday, we made this tropical dream holiday a reality.

While lolling in warm aqua seas in southern Thailand, I found out that Day Zero had been shifted from April into the rainy month of July. It felt strange. The once imminent day that had been the constant topic of almost everyone’s conversation was now just not.

There was no clear explanation. The Elgin farmers had been generous, yes, and some Capetonians had heavily reduced their daily use. But was this enough? It hadn’t been before we went away.

D Day

12 April 2018 marked the first date we were given when Day Zero would hit. Except it didn’t.

The doomsday countdown went from 12 April to 21 April, and then jumped to 9 July and soon after it went quiet. The countdown seemingly stopped. The City of Cape Town’s website still shows dropping dam levels, but the urgency around Day Zero lost its steam.

So what has happened to everyone’s water-saving habits I wonder?

That looming date

In the weeks before Day Zero, we were told that only half of Cape Town residents were staying within the daily water restrictions. Yet compared to a year prior, we had halved our usage from over a billion litres a day to around 500+ million litres.

However, the target was – and still is – 450 million litres a day. Or 50 litres per person. Most of the additional water sources are not yet in operation from my understanding. No desalination. Limited amounts of water from the big aquifer boreholes. Nor have the rains been abundant enough.

So why are we all feeling so comfortable with our water situation?

© Sue Northam-Ras / WWF-SA
In Thailand, we saved water by trading our showers for swims.
Water-less way of life

While enjoying the tropical island life, we had to buy and use bottled water for drinking and brushing our teeth, as well as washing our baby’s bottles. This kept us hyper aware of our daily usage.

We hardly showered because we spent so much time swimming and we only flushed when essential. This habit seems to have stuck the hardest. I think most Capetonians would agree that this drought has shown us the ridiculousness of flushing away good drinking water in a world where water, like many other natural resources, isn’t finite.

That shower

Towards the end of our holiday before the long journey home, I allowed myself to indulge in one long shower. I will admit: it was a loooong shower.

I shampooed my hair twice. I didn’t switch off in between. I stood with my face under that amazing stream of warm water. That memory is still etched in my mind. I had closed the bathroom door to be entirely alone, and for that moment I wasn’t a mother being needed by a toddler, and I certainly wasn’t a responsible water saver. But I was a true water appreciator!

© Sue Northam-Ras / WWF-SA
Buckets in the shower - a daily reality for Capetonians living the 50 litre life.
Back to reality

Within one aeroplane-bound day we were back on Cape Town soil with all the memories of our amazing overseas adventure with our water-loving almost two-year old. We were happy to be home with our cat, our shower full of buckets and our manually flushed toilet ways.

The silence in the local media around Day Zero was like the eerie silence after a big storm. The date had disappeared – no Day Zero in 2018. As for 2019, the countdown will no doubt begin again.

As the weeks passed and our Thailand stories were shared less and less, so I noticed there was also less talk of intense water saving amongst friends and colleagues. And I wasn’t stretching out my hair washes like before. I guiltily, and quietly, admitted this to a colleague who then told me that she too was slipping…

Is it just me or are we conveniently forgetting that the 50 litre limit is here to stay, even when the rains come? So I have decided to revive my best water-saving ways. Who else is with me?

Sue Northam-Ras Photo
Sue Northam-Ras, WWF Communications Co-ordinator

Sue believes in making information valuable by writing and shaping content in a way that gives it meaning. She packages the environmental content for WWF South Africa.

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