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What’s the fuss? Our family has been living on 350 litres of water a day for three years


Suné Payne is a Cape Town-based journalist. She reports on local governance, transportation and issues of social justice. She is an award-winning journalist. She is 2x graduate of Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

As the water crisis in Cape Town reaches Day Zero, panic has set in. Often you hear worries of how “will we cope with using less water?” or “it is the government’s fault” and also the uninformed accusation: “The people in the townships, look at them – it’s their fault, because they don’t pay for their water.” Well, while there are different opinions on this debate, my question is: if my household of nine can survive on less than 350 litres of water a day, why can’t others?

My seven-year-old niece knows that when she brushes her teeth she needs to use only a cup of water, instead of letting the tap run.. Her 10-year-old brother knows we are in the midst of a serious water crisis and knows he should not waste water by letting the tap run if he washes his hands.

I get so angry when people complain about not having enough water or having to use a certain amount a day. My family has survived on 350 litres a day since 2014 and sometimes even use less than that amount.

Doing the calculations, each member of the family uses 38.8 litres.

How is the possible, some might ask? Simple: There is no need to be wasteful and it is logical to save water.

Easy things like filling up a cup with water and only using that content to brush your teeth. Like throwing your laundry water on the lawn instead of flushing it down the drain.

At my house, since the Cape Town city council decided to install the water management device three years ago, we’ve put our geyser off. This means boiling about one litre of water to wash. Add to this one-and-a half litres of cold water. To wash twice daily, I use about six litres.

That goes for every adult as well – between five adults we use around 30 litres to wash ourselves. My brother bathes his two young daughters using the same water, one after the other. When we do the laundry, we don’t replace water with every new load.

Sometimes on our water metre it reads that we have in excess of 3,000 litres that we can use, but we don’t. Then that excess water goes back into the municipal supply. During last year’s massive storm, my brother used 25-litre buckets to collect water, which were then used for flushing the toilet.

We really don’t like wasting water in my house.

Often I scroll through my Facebook. I get so angry at people who blame townships and poor areas for the water crisis – it’s unreasonable. How can you blame people who are used to limited resources for a crisis that is not their fault, but the fault of factors, including utter mismanagement and blame games between politicians?

I speak from experience. I live in what you call a “township” or a “poor area where most water gets wasted”.

Often, the people who don’t waste are found in poor areas – why would we waste something we have limited access to?

So why blame us?

We aren’t the ones to blame – it’s those that have for years been bathing six times a day, leaving the taps running while singing Bohemian Rhapsody as they brush their teeth. Haven’t you heard of using a cup? It’s the same people who water their gardens twice a day – haven’t you thought you could use the excess water from washing/boiling your vegetables instead? Or using your laundry water to flush the toilet? It’s those gossip-while-watering-their-gardens people. Haven’t you heard of water-wise and indigenous plants?

Now, thanks to the current water crisis, residents who have consumed lots of water have been forced to find creative ways to cut back on their water usage.

In January 2018, the City of Cape Town announced plans for Level 6B water restrictions. Households consuming more than 350 litres a day from 1 February will be liable to fines and the installation of a water management device on their property. Water usage per person has been restricted to 50 litres a day.

Rather than the blame game, people who for a long time have said “I can afford to pay for water, so I can use water” must change their habits and limit their household to 350 litres of water a day. They should do so quickly. Better yet, give the Big Spenders in the ‘burbs a 25-litre water bucket…. Maybe then Day Zero won’t happen. DM


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