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From The Socialist newspaper, 14 February 2018

Cape Town drought

No to profiteering from water crisis!

Cape Town drought, photo Axxter99/CC

Cape Town drought, photo Axxter99/CC   (Click to enlarge)

Rose Lichtenstein, Workers and Socialist Party (WASP, CWI in South Africa) Cape Town

Cape Town is facing its worst drought in almost 100 years. Rainfall was at a 100 year low two years in a row, and the dams that supply 98% of Cape Town's drinkable water are currently only 26% full.

The biggest, Theewaterskloof Dam, is only at 13%. Once a dam is below 10%, it becomes very difficult to extract water.

The City of Cape Town (run by the Democratic Alliance - DA - the main capitalist opposition to the ANC national government) has pushed the narrative that 'Day Zero' - when the taps run dry - will happen, and the only way to avoid it, is to reduce individual water usage.

Four million Capetonians will have to collect a 25 litre daily allocation of water from less than 200 water collection points.

Schools, hospitals, and the central business district will not have their water turned off.

What is missing from the news is that the city administration reported water loss at a rate of 106 million litres a day due to infrastructure failures for 2017 - 20 million litres a day more than that of 2015 and 2016.

That amounts to 19.3% of the current demand of about 550 million litres a day. When this and agricultural use is taken into account, residential usage amounts to only 63 litres per person a day.

Despite this evidence of significant savings from residents, the government continues to scaremonger about Day Zero, unjustly scolding the people for not doing their share to save water.

Blackmail tactics are being used to install water management devices, with false promises to fix leaks and write-off inflated water bills, limiting households to 200 litres of water a day.

When leaks are not fixed, this allocation runs out within hours before automatic shut-off engages. This leaves the household with nothing until 4am the next day.

Warning

As far back as the 1990s scientists have warned that a decline in rainfall and increase in population would lead to a water supply shortage.

At the root of this crisis lies a lack of planning for alternative water supply and storage options, as well as negligence in maintaining existing municipal infrastructure that makes up the water supply system.

This ultimately indicates a failure by all levels of government but city, provincial, and national governments are too busy playing politics to engage in meaningful public consultation to explore rational, affordable, and sustainable solutions.

The one unifying factor amid the petty squabbling of the career politicians is the beckoning of a lucrative desalination public-private partnership.

The only role of the public in these partnerships is to ensure the private sector can profit from the resources that constitutionally and ethically belong to the people.

With projections from the city that one large-scale desalination plant will cost an unaffordable R14.9 billion (898.3 million) to implement and R1.2 billion (72.2 million) a year to run. The only question seems to be, which party gets to award this lucrative tender?

Regardless of the environmental impact, massive energy requirement, and unaffordability, these plants take two to three years to build.

Immediate interventions - such as removing water-guzzling vegetation from the areas surrounding supply dams and their catchment areas; fixing all leaks on public and private property; updating and maintenance of infrastructure; extracting groundwater sustainably with artificial recharge; recycling wastewater; and harvesting the water of the Camissa springs - currently flowing underneath the CBD through sewers and storm water drains into the ocean - have the potential to not only increase our water supply in a matter of weeks, but provide many jobs and training opportunities for residents.

Organise

WASP has joined more than 70 organisations from various backgrounds in forming the Water Crisis Coalition (WCC).

The main aim of the WCC is to reject the privatisation of our water and the scaremongering of Day Zero, and explore sustainable and rational water management options.

In less than a month WCC has grown to include several community committees. The coalition has successfully pressured AB InBev multinational to open to the public 24/7 the spring they claim 'heritage rights' to, increase the access points of the spring, and provide paid security during the night.

Currently the WCC is pushing for distribution of the spring water to communities that cannot access it.

On 28 January the WCC organised a protest against the mismanagement of our water by all tiers of government.

Hundreds of concerned citizens participated in handing over the WCC memorandum to the minister of water and sanitation.

The Western Cape premier and Cape Town mayor chose to ignore the invitations extended to them by the coalition.

Efforts to meet with all tiers of government have proven a waste of time, with ministry officials for the National Department of Water and Sanitation indicating that "harmonising relations" between the DA-led city and province and the ANC-led national government must happen before a public consultation process can occur.

While government officials sit in boardrooms shifting blame and negotiating their slices of the desalination pie, it is clear that the WCC's energy is better spent in continuing to organise communities, schools, and workplaces, and build a true mass movement against the rush to privatise our resource.

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In The Socialist 14 February 2018:


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