Thursday, January 25, 2018

Cape Town and Australia's future

Cape Town, a city of 4 million people, is about to run out of water and turn off its municipal supply. They've been in drought since 2015, and they've underinvested in infrastructure over the last 20 years. The net result is that the dams are almost empty, and they're going to have to turn it all off:

Cape Town residents may lose piped water to their homes within two months if they do not act to counter the effects of the worst drought to hit South Africa’s second city in almost a century.

Local authorities have warned its 4 million inhabitants that if they do not reduce consumption by “day zero” – 12 April – they will have to queue at 200 standpipes for daily rations of 25 litres (6.6 US gallons).

And that basicly means the end of modern civilisation in Cape Town - because running a modern city on 25l of water per day per person just isn't workable. Quite apart from the personal discomfort, the economic damage, and the logistical issues, modern public health depends on everyone having easy access to clean water. Take that away, and its a recipe for C19th epidemics again. As for the solution, if they don't get a pile of rain soon, basicly people will have to leave. Its like something out of The Water Knife...

As Geoffrey Palmer said, New Zealand is "an irreducibly pluvial nation", so our cities aren't in this sort of danger anytime soon. But its a different story over the ditch. Syndey has had serious water problems in the last decade, and while they're in the past, climate change means a serious risk that they'll happen again. According to the Australian Climate Council, Sydney, Perth and Melbourne are all going to get a lot dryer in the future, and this will impact their urban water supply. If they're hit by another prolonged drought, then they could easily end up like Cape Town. And if that happens, we're going to be getting Australian climate refugees.