Extreme drought grips parts of South Africa

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South Africa’s Cape Town, one of the world’s iconic tourist destinations, could run out of water by April as the city’s worst drought in a century risks forces residents to join queues for emergency rations.

After three years of unprecedented drought, parts of the city have less than 90 days’ supply of water in their reservoirs.

“Day Zero”, the date taps are due to run dry, has crept forward to April 22 as city authorities race to build desalination plants and drill boreholes.

Almost two million tourists flock to Cape Town every year, with travel and tourism accounting for an estimated 9 percent or 412 billion rand ($33bn) of South Africa’s economic output last year, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

At a trial water collection site, similar to an estimated 200 the city may introduce, people queued to fill up their water bottles, limited to a maximum 25 litres of water per person, a day, officials said.

Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for water, Xanthea Limberg, said the dire situation was being worsened by some people ignoring a push for residents and visitors to use no more than 87 litres of water per person a day.

City officials say dam levels dipped below 30 percent in the first week of the new year, with only about 19.7 percent of that water considered usable. Residents will have to queue for water when dams reach 13.5 percent.

The impact of the drought has been exacerbated by the fact that Cape Town’s population has almost doubled over the past 20 years. Despite that, climatologists describe this as a “once in a millennium” event.

This lack of rain over a three year period would challenge even the best-planned water regulations. It could be a taste of things to come. Climate change researchers predict more frequent dry years and fewer wet years to come.

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