Cape Town, South Africa, home to more than 4 million people, is close to running out of water after three years of a persistent drought.
Day Zero, the day when the city will be forced to turn off most of its taps, was first set for April but has been pushed to July.
By then, if the city doesn’t get enough rain, thousands of residents will be forced to collect water rations from central collection points.
If Cape Town runs out of water, it will be the first major city in the world to do so. But the World Wildlife Fund estimates that by 2025, two-thirds of the world could be dealing with water shortages.
We recently went to Cape Town to open Business Insider’s South Africa edition and explored the city as tourists. We found a divide between the tourism industry and the rest of the country.
The coastal city of Cape Town is a popular tourist destination known for its hiking, beaches, and wineries.
NASA grayed out these satellite images that stretch back four years to show just how bad things have gotten there after three years of drought.
Before we travelled to Cape Town, news reports and photos showed people lining up with jugs to collect drinking water at taps open to the public.
Business Insider recently launched an international edition in South Africa based in Cape Town. When we travelled there from New York, we were curious about the effects of the water crisis.
The view coming into Cape Town is of dry brown grass and trees. Many people on the plane said they took “extra long” showers before coming to Cape Town, unsure of when they’d be able to bathe again.
It didn’t take long to see reminders of the water shortage.
Many public places like airports, shopping centres, and restaurants have turned off water taps in favour of hand sanitizer.
At a restaurant in Cape Town, a sign urged people to use hand sanitizer but instructed restaurant workers to continue to use soap and water.
One hotel’s bathroom included hand sanitizer but still kept the taps running.
People are also being urged to eat from paper or disposable containers and wash dishes at home instead of at work.
But the water shortage has also led to a hand-sanitizer shortage in some places, like in our office.
Signs like this were in virtually every public bathroom in Cape Town.
Residents are also being urged to take showers in under two minutes. We were sure to turn our showers off in between rinsing and lathering.
“If it’s yellow, let it mellow” was a common refrain.
The pool at our Airbnb apartment was closed when we arrived.
But much to our surprise, the pool reopened a week into our stay in the city.
A hotel near the city’s waterfront had its pool filled to the brim. Some residents are paying to truck water in from outside the city to fill their pools.
This hotel, however, had drained its pool and left it to collect rainwater.
Based on our experience, the water shortage doesn’t seem to be affecting tourists too much. Despite widespread awareness, taps are still running, some pools are filled, and showers aren’t restricted.
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