Day Zero in Cape Town, South Africa–or the day the city runs out of water–has been pushed back thanks to the work of one journalist.
Pierce-Jones, a general reporter for Cape Town’s Smile904FM, discovered the problem of water consumption and dam levels in Cape Town in January. Her manager proceeded to put her on the water beat, and the station was the first radio station to shine a spotlight on the water crisis.
Filing eight reports a day, she reported from a variety of angles, giving out water-saving tips and attending pop-ups on water conservation. She even recorded a special Valentine’s Day message last year about water conservation.
NPR reporter Daniella Cheslow noted that when she met her, Pierce-Jones kept a cactus on her desk and drank treated sewage water in the spirit of conservation.
I met a radio reporter in Cape Town who kept a cactus and treated sewage on her desk. Such was the glamor of @saya_pj's water beat at Cape Town's @Smile904FM radio station. Listen here: https://t.co/ELarbiaf4V
— Daniella Cheslow (@Dacheslow) March 30, 2018
Pierce-Jones also helps run the Smile Water Warriors on Facebook, a group devoted to making a pledge to cut water consumption to help fight Day Zero in Cape Town. They also provide advice for other Cape Towners to make the commitment a bit easier.
Despite Smile FM and Pierce-Jones’ admirable work, Cape Town is still facing a serious water crisis.
PBS reported that on March 31 the Cape Town government reduced water consumption to 13 gallons per person, along with other measures including fining people for using water to wash their cars or water grass.
According to a summary by ABC News, the reasons for this crisis range from environmental to political. According to the network, “three years of consecutive drought, coupled with poor water management at the national level” has brought the crisis on.
According to Cape Town newspaper News24, certain members of the African National Congress (ANC) claimed that the kickbacks for a desalination contract, where salt is removed from seawater, were from the “Jewish Mafia.” Members of the ANC also claim that the opposition party, Democratic Alliance (DA), associates with white South Africans and favors Jewish people.
Beyond political conflict between the DA and the ANC, South Africa’s water crisis has more obvious causes.
According to The Atlantic, the DA ignored reports from civil servants and engineers that the current system bringing water to Cape Town was not enough.
According to Independent Online, a 1990 article reported that Cape Town would suffer from a water crisis. The article is prescient in recommending the Cape Town government should look for additional sources of water.
Cape Town’s drought is also an exceptional and rare one, with three sequential years of minimal rainfall happening about once every 628 years.
Cape Town’s water crisis is, unfortunately, a very unlikely drought that managed to extend itself for several years and has not been engineered around due to government mismanagement.
While the work of Saya Pierce-Jones is extremely important in fighting the water crisis, only a systemic push in water supply engineering is likely to end the threat of day zero.