Two-and-a-half years ago, Cape Town was in dire straits. We were in the grip of the worst drought in a century, with dam levels dipping under 20% and the dreaded Day Zero fast approaching. Day Zero would be the day when dam levels dropped below 13.5%, and the municipality would shut off our taps in an effort to preserve what little water we had left. We would have to queue at one of 149 collection points around the city to collect a ration of 25 litres per person each day.
Of course, the situation didn’t come out of nowhere.
Over the preceding few years, in light of ever-decreasing rainfall, the City had applied tighter and tighter water restrictions. Awareness campaigns were run, water-limiting meters were installed on properties, and panic grew as we faced the very real prospect of becoming one of the first major cities of the world (if not the first) to run dry.
A research study at the time found that a drought of this severity would statistically occur approximately once every 300 years. And we were living through that statistic. Whether rich or poor, it was a desperate situation for all in Cape Town.
And then came relief: winter. Even though the rainfall was less than the long-term average, it was still appreciated – helping dam levels move close to 70% by season’s end. I documented it in this visual timeline.
Still, though, we didn’t feel secure.
We were reminded of climate change, and uncertain rainfall patterns going forward. We retained our fears of a water-scarce future, and maintained our water-saving practices – all encouraged by our local government, who was working away at plans to secure a water-resilient future that didn’t rely on rainfall alone. At significant cost, I might add.
We plodded along, through another dry summer, with dams dipping below 50% by the time winter 2019 arrived. And by the time it was over, we felt safer – though still not sure that the drought had passed us.
And on to the year 2020, when disaster of another kind struck – globally, this time.
Shadows on the bright side
But, in the midst of this, Cape Town has something to celebrate: we were blessed with another fruitful winter this year, and beyond that, September (the first month of Spring) has also brought abundant rainfall.
We now stand in extreme gratitude to the Almighty – with dams that are 99.5% full.
But even in our joy, we feel sadness at neighbouring parts of the country which are still gripped in drought. And, of course, other parts of the world are also experiencing it.
Locally, without sufficiently cost-effective ways to share large amounts of water, we aren’t able to help relieve their plight in a way that we should be able to. It’s nothing new, though. Back in April 2018 – when we were on the brink – other parts of the country were experiencing floods and over-full dams, yet they couldn’t share their water with us either.
Lessons to learn
All of this simply reinforces the lesson that humans are not masters of this universe. As much as we think we are so advanced and on top of things, we simply are not. If we are not humble enough to recognise this ourselves, these events – imposed on us – certainly force us into submission.
Humans have learnt this time after time. Such localised lessons have been taught to us throughout the ages. Droughts and floods. Natural disasters. Disease. Wars.
COVID has given us the lesson on a global level. And even though the pandemic seems to be weakening – here and in much of the world – we remain mindful of possible resurgence.
Here in Cape Town, we received yet another reminder of our fragility when a minor earthquake struck the city this past weekend (in addition to another that struck far off our coast). While the experts downplay it – given how extremely rare earthquakes are here – given the way this year has gone, who’s to say it’s not just the first in a line of further events?
In the end, all of this is just the rollercoaster of life. We’re here for a limited time, and we need to expect that trials will come our way.
They are a part of life and should be expected at any time – regardless of how physically, mentally, or emotionally comfortable we are. Our job is to take each challenge and do the best we can with it.
There’s purpose in everything.
I hope 2020 has helped you to see that, and has helped you to become a better person – even if it’s just a tiny improvement.