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Simple techniques to out the drought

Cape Town’s drought demands a change in social norms


Here I sit in Cape Town’s drought in 2017 and I am most uneasy. The water crisis is a real and present danger. Let’s consider our 2 main challenges, living delightedly and living through this.

Living Delightedly

Living in delight is all about living as lightly and delightedly as a person can, even in a drought. No one said this would be easy, anyone can sit on the contentment log and warm their hands on the fire of ease until life becomes uncomfortable.

Appreciating what we have is key to any contented existence and so the crisis gives us many opportunities to be grateful. We reached out for a positive take from some of our customers.

Sharon said: “I have never been stronger. My arms, legs and core abs are so strong from lifting water every day. The shower water must be poured into the toilet cistern and my top-loading washing machine, those are both higher than my waistline. Then water collected from the washing machine must be carried outside to water our plants. I can feel how much more powerful I am.

Pumi told us: “I feel closer to my cousins who live in the hills near Durban. In the village that I was raised in I carried water every day. Since I moved to Cape Town I have been living a first world existence. This drought is reminding me of the value I placed on the water that I had carried so far.”

Pumi reminds us all that, our daily slough, our carrying many drops is a fact of life for many people. We do not have to look abroad for different realities, a WHO/Unicef monitoring programme recorded that in some provinces in South Africa the water supply in 60% of households had been interrupted for 2 days or more.  Remember that at least 10% of South Africans don’t even get a disrupted service, only 88,8% of South African households had access to piped water in 2016.

Living through this

What is socially acceptable and normal may twist and warp with great speed. I will not be surprised if my daughter turns around to me when she is 15 and says: “Mum I am shocked that you drove me 10 km to school every day”. For Cape Town to live through this challenge what is socially acceptable needs to shift.

Image of water being wasted - a big contributor to Cape Town's drought

Waste must become a socially unacceptable act

I watched in horror last summer as a neighbour used their hose to wash down the front of their house, plus the pavement. Yet I did not approach and challenge them. I was aghast, but not to the extent that I took up my social responsibility flag. It is that level of tolerance that must shift and shift quickly.


What are you willing to recycle?

Sharon sounds like she is with it, she is on the reuse/recycle plan. Your plants will be quite content with your dish-washing and washing machine outpourings. In fact your plants will appreciate the additional mulch (biological offerings), and the detergent does not affect them. Ceres says  in Gardeners world, in the drought of 1970, her plants thrived on her washing waste.

At this stage in the crisis no one in Cape Town should be flushing with drinkable water. Are you ready for a big shift in what is socially acceptable? There is a simple guide used in many parts of the world “If it is yellow let it mellow, if it is brown flush it down”. This may challenge your comfort zone, however, Cape Town’s water crisis puts us past being sensitive to our comfort zones.

I suspect that there is not a single business in which, in a female toilet, wee is left in the bowl for the next colleague. I freelance, I move around Cape Town, I get to enter different business spaces and I know I am the only one within my deposit network who dares not flush. We need to be at the stage where we are only flushing with greywater in our homes, and when we do flush we use necessity not nicety as the guiding force. Yet most business places and the majority of homes are still using fresh water every time someone goes to the loo.

What are we willing to spend?

In Tanzania 10% of the population spend more than 5% of their income on clean water, in Colombia 7% do. In South Africa the lowest income households (those at the R1100 and less a month mark) currently spend 5% of their income on their mobile phones. It will be interesting (as a human fly-on-the-wall, intellectually that is) to see what we are willing to pay and what “essentials”, that are in fact luxuries, we are willing to cut to find the money to pay. It is certainly not those low income families who are using more than 50l per person to pay over R300 per kl in Cape Town November 2017. Grey water systems could be integral to any house build. I wonder how long it will take before the innovation, and the associated costs become the norm?

Usage matters

 I don’t believe the city of Cape Town has gone far enough. There is no mention, for example, of life-style changes such as washing clothes or flushing toilets with grey water in the level 5 water restrictions:

 Level 5 water restrictions include
  • hosing down of paved surfaces with municipal drinking water.
  • irrigation/watering with municipal drinking water allowed.
  • washing of vehicles and boats with municipal water. (These must be washed with non-drinking water or cleaned with waterless products or dry steam cleaning processes.)
  • swimming pools may be topped up or filled with municipal drinking water.
  • use of portable play pools
  • use of municipal drinking water for water features

Did you know that curing of cement can be aided with salt water? We don’t need to be throwing drinking water at every building site. Local government is simply not the best agency to address the most controversial and sensitive issues, that is the nature of elected governance. This is why they have not mentioned urine, and this is why no one is appealing to the populace to consider restricting their family to 2 children, given our current situation.

We, the populace, need to self-govern through altering the social norms. I have a dream, a vision of change, many people already live this norm and so can we. I refer to necessity flushing (with grey water) and refusing to flush drinking water down the drain

The ocean and Cape Town’s drought

The ocean is our friend and it gives us our rain, and much joy. BUT there is something you must comprehend, salt loves water, water loves salt. This is why less than 0.5 % of the world’s water is drinkable. I shake my head at those Facebook comments from people who ask “but what about the ocean”, (As an enlightened being I am shaking my head at their education system- people are only as good as the facts they have access to and are capable of comprehending). Condensation sills can give you drinking water by separating the salt from the good stuff, but consider their limitations. A decent sized sill will provide you with around 0.1 L per day.

The ocean is not the solution for Cape Town's drought image shows Hand reaching to the ocean

The ocean is not the solution for Cape Town’s drought

Let us do the math  (55.6 * 1000,000,000)/13000, the average that each plant may produce is 4300 million Litres per day, meaning that one plant can support 1000 million people’s emergency needs per day. Sounds achievable. However, the majority of these desalination plants are lodged in countries for whom oil abounds.

Many people are aware that our reliance on fossil fuels needs to shift, I would be horrified if Cape Town becomes dependent on burning fuel to support our water needs, even if Kooberg’s 18MW can keep up, am I the only one who noticed we said yes to having a nuclear power station?

Joining this living world’s ecosystem

Did you know people are the only creatures on the surface of our planet not surviving on current sunshine? “Every day, people are using the fossil fuel equivalent of all the plant matter that grows on land, and in the oceans, over the course of a whole year”.

I attended a talk where the lecturer put his consumption estimate at 20 million years sun years per year. Here we sit upon the Table mountain aquifer. I condem embarking on a course of using a million year old water source and becoming a creature that now does not survive on current rainfall, in a mirror of our energy habits.

Of course if you offer me a drink come day Zero I will not be putting my ethics before my survival and questioning whether you are keeping me alive by burning fossil fuels, or by tapping an aquifer that prevents saltwater intrusion. I propose that we can survive without resorting to either, if we change our behaviour now.

Necessity Flushing is Key

Water that comes from a tap must be referred to as what it is, drinking water. At home necessity flush with grey water, and at work? A crisis this deep requires a change in socially acceptable norms. This article has a best outcome and that is that you go out into the world and:


have a discussion at work (around the water cooler if you are so privileged), about when to flush

print out a poster for the toilet door

innovate in public spaces

don’t flush drinking water down the drain

(until the bowl is beyond all of our new limits of social acceptability)

If it's wee let it be

Sink on cistern set up

Innovate in Public Spaces












If you live in Cape Town and wish to see the current status of our damns click here.

Have you taken steps as a business owner or employee to challenge the social norms and address Cape Town’s drought?

Simple techniques to out the drought

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