Can Cape Town be a future laboratory for sustainable water resource management?
Like many children of my generation, I have spent probably too much time in front of screens. Nevertheless, few programs I was lucky enough to see made a huge impact on my life and shaped my personality. Strangely, one of them was the inauguration of the “Grande Arche” in Paris business district “La Defense” in 1992. I was only 12 years old.
A concert was given and one song attracted my attention more than others “Being born somewhere” from the singer Maxime Le Forestier. A video played in the background showing African refugees escaping war, hunger and environmental catastrophes. I vividly remember one reporter highlighting the fact that if Europeans did not support conditions for development in African countries, Europe will face unprecedent pressure on its borders and no rule of law will prevent this movement. The image of African immigrants fleeing misery shocked me to date, and probably contributed early on to my convictions about the world, and the role I could play in it. Unfortunately, this scenario has become reality.
This childhood memory came back to my mind recently when I was made aware of the water crisis in Cape Town. Despite the gravity of the situation and potential economic, environmental and political consequences over all of South Africa, only few deep analyses were provided by the mass media.
One thing that is always overlooked is the potential for Africa to become a laboratory of new solutions. The continent will face unprecedented challenges in the decades to come: growing number of cities over one million inhabitants; very young populations and pressure on natural resources.
South Africa is the most developed country in Africa. Cape Town is the envy for many European cities: gorgeous weather, amazing landscapes and vibrant culture. I would gladly live there. Nevertheless, like many big cities a fragile equilibrium between different patch of population ensures that everybody enjoys the city. This balance is being questioned now and threatened.
Should we all be concerned by this situation in Cape Town?
We can always concentrate on the political aspects of the situation and blame local government for not anticipating enough for future issues, and for not taking the appropriate measures to avoid drought.
Nevertheless, I would like to go beyond politics and look at Cape Town as a new addition to the growing number of localities, having to develop new inventive solutions to meet the growing demand of populations. With scarce water resources and low rainfall, WWF predicts that two degrees increase in global temperature will mean four degrees increase in South Africa, which will contribute even more to growing periods of complete drought.
Cape Town is an interesting example
Cape Town is an interesting example to follow for Western countries as this city is as close as it can be to our modern cities, in particular Mediterranean cities. The challenges faced by this city is well summarised by Nomvula Mokonyane, Minister for Water and Sanitation, in her 2015 speech to Parliament:
In order to achieve (our) strategic priorities we have realised that there is a need for increased impetus and pace. This calls for a revolution, a water and sanitarian revolution to reclaim and better manage our water in order to tackle the triple challenges of inequality, poverty and unemployment.
As Europeans, we should not overlook the water crisis in Cape Town, as so many learnings can come from the solutions implemented and future failures, that will be necessary to pave the way to reaching a sustainable management of water resources.