Even when the news cycle isn’t dominated by efforts to correct false assertions by political leaders, news about countries outside of the U.S. and (Western) Europe only reaches us once the issue either a) directly impacts us or b) has spiralled so far out of control that all we can do is watch. Such seems to be the case with Cape Town, which is currently experiencing the worst drought in over 100 years.
With a large part of my extended family still living in the affected area, i.e. the Western Cape, which includes Cape Town and the Western Coast region, I wanted to address the issue here on tba and raise a little awareness for one of the regions that gets overshadowed by the circus that U.S. politics has become. When I started writing this article, Trump, in a statement on immigration, had just proclaimed that African countries were “sh*thole countries”. Trevor Noah of the Daily Show, South African compatriot and comedian, commented how he was “offended as someone from South Sh*thole.” Trevor Noah often refers to his South African roots in his comedy. But as far as the Capetonian drought is concerned, the truth of the matter is that coverage of the topic has been alarmingly scarce, and even Trevor Noah, a popular South African in the U.S. with a comedic news outlet, failed to raise awareness in any significant manner.
Cape Town and the Western Cape region will run out of water entirely in April. It will be the first large-scale city to do so. Running out of water means that inhabitants will have to queue for water at 200 landpipes, and only receive about 25 litres per household. Locals and tourists have started tweeting pictures about the water shortage they’re experiencing, and it’s not a pretty sight. Capetonians have started saving water where they can. But the fact of the matter remains that come April, more than 3.7 million people will be out of water. A water shortage of this scale will lead to an increase in disease, particularly in densely populated areas like townships, as well as an additional shortage of food and drink in parts of Cape Town that are already poverty-stricken. Of course, the water shutdown will impact the poor more than it will the rich, who can move away to other South African cities for the time being, or travel abroad to wait out the drought.
How did it come to this? Poor political planning and failed communication and collaboration between the ANC, the country’s governing party, and the DA (Democratic Alliance) run Cape region are part of the reason. Failing to recognise the magnitude of the problem in time is certainly another (reckless optimism is a typically Capetonian character trait, after all). In recent years, there has been an increase of water-thirsty species in the Cape region, which also plays a role in the availability of water. But of course, the main reasons are global warming and a lack of global awareness. If the crisis had received more news coverage worldwide, there might have been time for and a greater focus on global solutions, e.g. finding ways to import bottled drinks and water as well as water intensive foods on a large scale earlier in the drought. And of course, last year, when the drought had already gone on for a worrying amount of time, the U.S. government was more concerned with debating whether climate change exists and exiting the Paris accords rather than joining the rest of the world in trying to do something about it. These discussions take precious time away from the actual issue, and is the Trump administration’s default operating mode for any and all problems – which is why it is so vital that we disengage from what has mutated into the Trumpian theatre production.
Cape Town will be the first major city to run out of water. It won’t be the last. And even when the drought passes in Cape Town, it will have been the first of many to come. Our climate has changed significantly and will continue changing in the future, making parts of the world uninhabitable and in turn leading to global unrest.
So we, myself included, need to stop focusing on the Trump show and start paying more attention to other areas of the world. At the moment, all we can do for Cape Town is at least become aware of the situation… and pray for rain.
Simone was listening to Raingurl by Yaeji while writing this article.