The first drought bulletin

By Clem Sunter.

Abstract: The three scenarios facing Cape Town’s endangered water supply.

Since nobody else in the major media outlets has taken up my challenge of writing a drought bulletin for Cape Town, I will attempt to do the first one.

There are three scenarios over the next twelve months. The first I call Nature’s Gift and features abnormal rainfall in the remainder of July, August and September to make up for the well below average rainfall we have had so far this winter. This gives us enough water in the dams to survive through to next winter without abnormal emergency measures. In talking to several experts last week and based on current weather forecasts, I would give this scenario a 20 per cent probability. In other words, it is improbable.

The second scenario called Liquid Gold anticipates a major change in attitude towards water by the majority of Capetonians. The present city target of 500 million litres per day is met after a comprehensive communications campaign among all communities that leads to a change in behavior.

Equally, short term measures are successfully taken by the municipality to increase supply by tapping aquifers, by encouraging the multiple use of water by residents and the use of water tanks, recycling and a switch to grey water where possible, and the commissioning of mobile desalination plants. An effective partnership is put in place with all the other major players in and around Cape Town that can help including the wine industry, the tourist industry, the big insurance, oil and financial service companies, the foreign embassies, academia and the NGOs.

I put a 40% probability on this scenario as I have yet to see a coming together of Team Cape Town to see us through the looming crisis.

The third scenario I call Dire Straits where we stumble into a full-blown emergency through lack of foresight, lack of cooperation and lack of implementation of the necessary actions to see us through the next twelve months. In the end, extreme steps have to be taken to avert the situation that the taps run dry.

I also give this scenario a 40% chance of materialising since time is getting tight and there is still a general unawareness about the evolving risks as people go about their daily lives in sunshine.

Please let there be positive breaking news by the time I write the next bulletin.

Originally published on, 24 July 2017.