Professor Alex Apotsos on the Cape Town Water Crisis

February 8th, 2019

On Friday, Professor Apotsos gave a Log Lunch lecture on the Fulbright Fellowship he did last year in Cape Town, South Africa. Using his background in coastal oceanography and work at the USAID (US Agency for International Development), Professor Apotsos aimed to work with regional planners to assess urban vulnerability to climate change. What he wasn’t expecting was a catastrophic drought to infringe on his studies. In fact, no one in the country was–it was completely unexpected by scientists, locals, and the government at large. Consequently, there was a huge amount of anxiety as residents were told that the city would completely run out of water within a matter of months–and that a city with a population of 4 million would have to get their water from 200 water points throughout the region. Not to mention that only 25 liters per person per day would be allocated.

Professor Apotsos told the story of how the water crisis was due to a multitude of factors. The question of whether the drought itself was caused by climate change or natural variability cannot be answered, according to the Climate System Analysis Group. However, that the city got to the point of such extreme water restrictions is due to the ANC (African National Congress) and the Democratic Alliance. It turned out that the ANC planned to shut off agriculture taps, a huge water drain, and the Democratic Alliance wasn’t sure whether this would actually happen, and when. Consequently, they had to take action before things got too dire.

Water is an ineffably essential resource. Is is also an ineffably scarce resource. Cases like this remind us of this difficult reality–and we will only see more cases like this moving forward.



–Jane Tekin, ’19