Preparing for an uncertain water future

09 March 2018 | Story Kate-Lyn Moore. Photos Mike Bloomberg.
“We cannot let droughts like this become common around the world,” said Mike Bloomberg, following his recent tour of Theewaterskloof Dam.
“We cannot let droughts like this become common around the world,” said Mike Bloomberg, following his recent tour of Theewaterskloof Dam.

Just days after being appointed as UN Special Envoy for Climate Action, Mike Bloomberg took a tour of Theewaterskloof Dam – the largest supplier of water to the Western Cape – to witness first-hand the devastating effects of climate change in the drought-ridden region.

The tour, which took place on Wednesday, 7 March, involved a team of environmental and water experts, including Dr Kevin Winter, a lead researcher at UCT’s Future Water Institute.

Dr Kevin Winter joined a team of experts accompanying Mike Bloomberg – founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and three-term mayor of New York City – on a tour of Theewaterskloof Dam.

Bloomberg was joined by Christine Colvin (Freshwater senior manager, World Wide Fund for Nature – South Africa), Peter Flower (director of Water and Sanitation, City of Cape Town) and Dr Gisela Kaiser (executive director of Informal Settlements, Water and Waste, City of Cape Town).

Together, they aimed to demonstrate the scope of the drought and to discuss how, given the effects of global climate change, cities can accelerate preparations for an uncertain water future.

The rapid onset of climate change

Winter commented on the pervasive and underlying sense that climate change would be slow and less erratic in its onset, and that there would be more time to prepare for drought.

“In reality, the impact of what we are now experiencing has been rapid, unpredictable and more far-reaching than expected,” he said.

It also coincides with a number of other developmental challenges facing the city. These include: access to land, housing, education, health and sanitation.

“It appeared as if we were capable of overcoming the water supply challenge despite an increase in urbanisation and the limitations of [the city’s] institutional and financial resources.


“The extreme drought here in Cape Town should be a wake-up call for all who think that climate change is some far-off threat.”

“However, the combination of climate and weather variability has raised new uncertainties that are leaving their mark on the socio-economic development and environmental sustainability of the region,” Winter continued.

Mike Bloomberg surveys Theewaterskloof Dam from above in his first undertaking following his appointment on Monday, 5 March, as UN Special Envoy for Climate Action.

Stretched to breaking point

According to Winter, if the current drought is prolonged further, it will stretch Cape Town’s resources to their limit and will test the ability of its citizens to adapt to an urban environment characterised by socio-economic and health risks.

“There may be a silver lining somewhere, but as yet it is unclear how the city is going to find the necessary resources to address the severity of a long-term future in conditions that are predicted to be more drought-prone, drier and warmer,” he said.

“The extreme drought here in Cape Town should be a wake-up call for all who think that climate change is some far-off threat,” said Bloomberg.

“It’s already here. It’s making droughts and storms more dangerous, and we’ve got to do more to keep it from getting worse.

“Cities and businesses are helping to lead the way, but all levels of society, in all countries – on all continents – must take bolder actions. We cannot let droughts like this become common around the world.”

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Cape Town water crisis

At UCT our researchers have been analysing the causes of the current drought, monitoring water usage on campus and in the city, and looking for ways to save water while there is still time. As part of UCT’s water-saving campaign, all members of the campus community are encouraged to reduce their water use by half, which will help Cape Town to meet its water-use goals and ensure a water-sustainable university in the future.

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