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The Dark Lessons of Cape Town's Drought

Climate change widens the gap – and tensions – between people

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robert99 robert99 Sweden Posts: 1360
1 5 Mar 2018

The looming water shortage in Cape Town is a parable of the corrosive effects of social inequity. A city of very rich (mostly white) and desperately poor (mostly black). If the municipal drinking water supplies are shut off on Day Zero, the rich can afford to spend $6,000 to drill a private well and fill their swimming pool with fresh water. The poor, meanwhile, will have to wait in line at water distribution centers. If the line is too long, they will have to buy water on the black market and hope it is clean. If it is not, they will get sick, and some of them, inevitably, will die. "Inequity plays out in water very obviously, and what we're seeing in Cape Town risks becoming an example of that," Giulio Boccaletti, the global managing director for water with the Nature Conservancy, told the Washington Post. "The social contract breaks down, if the rich find their own solution and leave the rest to fend for themselves."

Government isn't going to be much help. One of the great accomplishments of the 20th century was the acceptance of the idea that clean air and clean drinking water are public goods and providing them to all citizens is one of the most basic responsibilities of a functioning government. This idea is universally accepted in the U.S. and Europe and most of the rest of the civilized world. But this basic pact is breaking down in Cape Town as residents scramble to secure their own drinking water supplies. "The lesson here is that you can't trust the government to provide water for you," said Gabby De Wet, whose family owns De Wet's Wellpoints and Boreholes. "People are taking things into their own hands."

In the coming years, the failure of government to deal with the impact of climate change is likely to become more and more apparent. At some point, residents of coastal cities will realize that the feds are not going to bail them out when their homes are inundated. When crops fail, there will be no paycheck. And when the tap goes dry, you have to find water.