A prolonged dry spell that has forced the authorities to restrict water use has affected the SOS Children’s Villages Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, but families are taking steps to save water and learn a lesson from the crisis.
Cape Town authorities warn that dam and reservoir levels are dwindling and predict that public water supplies will run out by mid-April, forcing SOS families and the wider community to reduce water consumption. Meantime, residents in the municipality of Nelson Mandela Bay – where Port Elizabeth is located – have been urged to conserve amid a deepening water crisis.
South Africa’s per capita water consumption is around 235 litres of water per day. Authorities in both Cape Town and the Nelson Mandel Bay area are calling on each resident to consume no more than 50 litres daily. World Health Organization calculations show that a minimum of 60 litres per day is required for drinking, cooking, personal and home hygiene, and gardening during emergencies.
Abnormally low rainfall is also affecting other parts of South Africa and neighbouring countries.
SOS Children’s Village Port Elizabeth is installing water meters in every home and is taking steps to reduce consumption and to create awareness about conservation. Local officials say that if significant rains do not fall in the next six months, and residents do not decrease consumption, the dams could run dry.
“We are using the waterless aerosol foam wash for children and youth to wash with, as this also assists us to reduce the amount of water they would use when showering,” said Jackie Scheuble, Programme Director for SOS Children’s Villages South Africa.
SOS Children’s Village Port Elizabeth is also recycling shower and bath water for the gardens, and clean water is placed in five-litre buckets in the kitchen for cooking and washing dishes. Drinking water is provided from plastic containers.
In the following interview, Lezel Molefe, Programme Director for SOS Children’s Village Cape Town, explains the water situation and what SOS families there are doing to reduce water use.
Cape Town is expected to run out of water in April. What are you doing to prepare for this possibility?
At the moment we are adhering to the restrictions that have been imposed by the local authorities. This is affects how long you take a shower, how many times you do the laundry, how we wash our hands, and how much water you use when you cook and clean up. The situation is impacting on the upkeep of the village but we still need to keep up the hygienic conditions for the children and families.
You cannot cut drinking water, but you can reduce consumption in other ways. For example, we are using grey water – the water captured from baths or the shower – to irrigate the ground and garden. The crisis is making us re-think how we use water.
How are the children and families at the SOS Children’s Village Cape Town coping with the water restrictions?
The children are being encouraged to conserve water. The schools have taken a very educational approach to encourage children to conserve, and they are coming home and implementing what they learned. The children are being educated as much as possible in how to manage the water crisis, and they are making the effort to save water.
How important are these lessons for the future?
It is not only about saving water, but also money, the morals and principles behind the idea of saving will be implemented in other spheres of the children’s lives as well. It’s also about decision-making, conflict management, crisis intervention – there are many lessons and skills to be learned from this experience that they can use in the long term.
Is this kind of drought unusual in Cape Town?
It’s always been hot in the summer but it’s never been this dry. Because there was almost no rain last winter, this summer has been most difficult.
What impact does the water crisis have on food supplies?
Produce is still readily available but the farmers in the Cape Town area are very concerned about the fact that they might not be able to supply fresh produce to the community. At the moment we are not affected. But food is becoming more and more expensive – if you think about a year ago, food costs have probably doubled.
Learn more about SOS Children's Villages in South Africa