water crisis

The Money-Lessons I learnt from Cape Town’s Water Crisis

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So some of you may be aware that I went to South Africa this year. The reason for the trip so soon after our recent Mexico one was because I was attending a very special money event in Cape Town known as FFU Live, run by my favourite money mentor, Ann Wilson.

While I was there, I was struck by the water-scarcity messages I was seeing, literally everywhere!

It’s not something I have seen in the UK, aside from the yearly “hose-pipe” ban! So I thought it would be good to write about the water crisis in Cape Town, not only to bring about awareness, but to show how this affected myself and my partner on holiday. While saving water was an absolute essential over there for the residents, we came to realise that it would probably help us to save money back home in Milton Keynes. I hope that you’re see what I’m on about in due course!

Water Crisis

Cape Town has been in trouble for a number of years. With year on year reductions in rainfall, the reservoirs have not been topped up properly since 2014. This is compounded by population growth, overuse, and lack of effective provisions according to the National Geographic.

The problem that is now being faced by 4 million people in Cape Town, is having the water supply literally cut off – so called Day Zero. We often saw posters displaying the message of avoiding #dayzero by saving water. With many of the city’s alternative water sources behind production schedule, day zero is looking more and more likely to actually happen.

How Is the Government Trying to Avert The Crisis?

Currently, the people of Cape Town are being asked to consume no more than 50L of water per day. There were  posters all over the city describing how this water could be consumed. There are fines in place for over using water, and apartment owners are encouraged to pass those fines onto tourists if found to be overusing water. Swimming pools are out of action in most hotels, with the exception of a few that are able to buy in their own water.

But what about something more robust than relying on people to restrict their use? The government is creating several desalination plants and a water recycling centre to try and bring new sources of water into circulation. The problem with these measures is that they are EXPENSIVE.

Temporary desalination costs at a minimum 34 Rand per thousand litres (about £2 as of Feb 2018), and with usage being in the thousands of millions of litres per day, this is clearly not a sustainable option. The hope though is that these measures will avert day zero, and last until the rainy season resumes. 

There has also been a big effort in replacing old pipes to prevent leakage, but when we were there, we saw a huge leak of water running off down the street. Money literally going down the drain.

Day Zero – The Division of Rich and Poor

Can you imagine the kind of life people are going to need to lead if day zero actually happens? There will be designated taps around the city where individuals will need to line up for water – 25L per day to be exact. About the amount of water used in a 2-3 minute shower. The most vulnerable individuals, such as the elderly, children and pregnant women, will need to rely on this – some may even need help from others to collect the water. Can you imagine doing this around a full time job too?

Now imagine you’re among the very poor of the population, especially if tourism and the economy starts to tank. Thankfully, the townships around Cape Town will not have water cut off to prevent major outbreaks of disease, but even so, the poor will certainly be the worst hit.

Take this quote from the Washington Post for example:

“For the wealthy, that means hiring companies to dig boreholes and wells. It means buying truckloads of bottled water, even at inflated prices. It means ordering desalination machines to make groundwater drinkable — or safe enough to fill a swimming pool.

For the poor, it means waiting to see what the government comes up with, and contemplating whether you can afford to cut back on food to be able to buy water.”

How Can We Learn From This?

With more than one country affected by dwindling supplies of fresh water, we’re likely to see this happen again in the future elsewhere. We need to implement alternative water sources around the world as quickly as possible. Like fossil fuels, there’s only so much we have left of this extremely precious resource that we often take for granted.

Aside from banning us from using our hosepipes in the Summer in the UK, we can be forgiven for not really caring about our own water usage given that it rains here more often than not! And even the UK is not exempt from the potential of also having an extreme problem like Cape Town.

But what if using Cape Town’s water restriction tips could save us money here in the UK right now (not to mention avoiding a similar future crisis)? Using less water means less money being spent on your water bill.  Here are some of the things we’re going to try at home to see if it makes any difference!

Water (+Money) Saving Tips

  1. Place a bucket in your shower and collect the run-off shower water. You could use this to water your plants and flush your toilet instead of using fresh water!
  2. Use the stop-start shower technique. Water goes on to wet your body, then turn it off. Lather on the shampoo and soap. Then put the water back on to rinse it off. Use a timer to see exactly how long you spend in the shower, and make a point of trying to cut this down.
  3. Ensure the dishwasher is full to the brim and stacked efficiently before being used (this is something I struggle with, as I don’t seem to have a tetris mind for stacking dishwashers. Solution: let the boyfriend do it).
  4. Use the washing machine as sparingly as possible. Can you wear clothes more than once in a row? Again, this is something I took for granted, and would often “wear once, then wash” even if it didn’t really need to. Something I’m now trying to be conscious of.
  5. Make sure you report all leaks urgently to your local water company, and ensure you don’t have any leaks in your home. Every little drop counts!
  6. Flush the toilet less regularly – “if its yellow let it mellow!”.
  7. Turn the tap off while brushing your teeth!
  8. Let food defrost naturally from the freezer rather than use running water under the tap.
  9. Use a toilet brick to reduce the amount of water used to flush it.
  10. You could use hand-gel rather than tap water at home to wash your hands (providing your hands aren’t visibly dirty and you don’t anyone in the house with vomiting and diarrhoea as hand gel isn’t effective in this case to properly sanitise your hands).

Final Thoughts

There are many more ways that water can be saved – its quite eye-opening when you look into it! Obviously, we don’t HAVE to do it in the UK (yet), but it may go some way to save you a few £££ off your utility bills every month. This might be a good time to review ALL of your household bills, and get your savings up and running. Try my checklist as a prompt!

Now over to you – has this post inspired you to make changes of your own? What will you do to save water?

Until next time,




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