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Will South Africa's second largest city dry up on August 19 of this year? By launching an official countdown, Cape Town City Council wished to highlight the impending cuts to domestic water supply for its more than 3.7 million inhabitants.
The BBC then upped the ante, with an online list of 11 cities that may sooner or later suffer the same fate. Since then, a tide of alarmism has swept through the media. It is as if we are suddenly realizing that water doesn't flow from the tap by magic!
Cape - Town
What is happening in Cape Town?
Located on the southern tip of Africa, Cape Town has a distinctly Mediterranean climate. This is why grapes grow so well there. But despite being a boon for winegrowers, that climate is characterized by formidable summer droughts. And with winter ending in the northern hemisphere and summer drawing to a close in the southern hemisphere, now is the time of year when the water reservoirs of Cape Town are typically at their lowest.
City - Total - Dams - Water - Rivers
The city has a total of six reservoir dams to store water from rivers running down from the Cape Fold mountains, east of the city. Their total storage capacity is around 900 million cubic meters (for comparison, the storage capacity of the Grands Lacs de Seine reservoirs, upstream of Paris, is 810 million cubic meters).
But Cape Town's current problems are far more serious than a simple seasonal slump: a prolonged drought raging since 2015 means that reservoirs have not been able to recover their reserves over the last three winters (2015, 2016 and 2017), leading to a steady decline in water storage rates (see graph below). Only a significantly premature and rainy winter could now prevent a general water shutdown; even then, it is unlikely that water storage rates will rise to secure levels over...
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