Cape Town's drought and water shortage has officially escalated to disaster levels

Piotr Wolski, Bruce Hewitson, and Chris Jack, University of Cape Town on October 24, 2017

Cape Town’s drought and associated water shortage has officially escalated to the level of a disaster. The hope for a natural solution ended with the close of the main rainy season in September, and it is clear that water in the dams supplying the city will not last until the next rains in May-June next year.

The city had promised alternative sources of supply, the plans are not entirely realistic. Its main strategy now is to severely restrict water use through rationing.

Rainfall data visualisations show that 2017 was one of the driest years in recent decades. But the region’s predicament wasn’t caused by the low 2017 rainfall. It’s in trouble because 2017 followed two successive dry winters. Such severe multi-year droughts are very infrequent, occurring perhaps as rarely as once in a millennium. Water supply systems are not designed to withstand their impact.

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