Cape Town water scarcity a stark reminder of need for global action

Posted by
Rosie Stewart
29 January 2018
South Africa, Water

As South Africa’s Cape Town faces the possibility that it could run out of water, international development charity WaterAid has highlighted that many people are experiencing severe water shortages in other cities because they are not connected up to a reliable supply. 

With 844 million people around the world without clean water close to home, WaterAid urged political leaders to prioritise reaching the world’s poorest people, and argued that effective management and financing are the key ingredients in tackling the water crisis. 

For example, in 2017 authorities in neighbouring Mozambique took precautions to ensure residents in drought-stricken Maputo were only using water for basic essentials such as drinking and cooking after dam levels reached just 20 per cent of their normal levels. In Kenya, two years of failed rains have left over 3 million Kenyans in need of food aid and 480,000 children needing treatment for acute malnutrition. Last year in India, Kerala and Tamil Nadu faced an unprecedented drought - the worst in over a century - and Karnataka’s northern districts went without water for a third consecutive year. 

The comment comes after the government in Cape Town warned that “Day Zero” - the day the world-famous tourist destination will run out of water – could come as soon as April. 

The city has introduced a limit of 50 litres per day per person for the next 150 days (a third of the average daily consumption of water in the UK). 

Climate change is expected to make an already difficult situation worse for those living without access to clean water, with 40% of the global population predicted to be living in water-stressed areas by 2050. It is critical that in managing limited water supplies, governments prioritise basic household uses including drinking, cooking, washing and subsistence gardening, and finance water systems accordingly.

WaterAid senior water and sanitation manager Vincent Casey said: 

“This is a terrible situation that Cape Townians are now facing. Water shortages are a daily reality for many poor and marginalised people living in cities across Sub-Saharan Africa because insufficient investment has gone into getting reliable services in place.  

“However, change can happen. While we often hear that new technologies are the key to tackling the growing water crisis, what is more important is how water supplies are organised. Too often governments fail to make a reliable water supply a priority, or do not properly manage competing demands. Existing water infrastructure might be suffering from a lack of investment or proper staffing. This is primarily a concern of governments, with support from private sector companies. 

“While technical innovations make a contribution, now more than ever governments must make bringing clean water to the most vulnerable and marginalised a top political and financial priority, if we are to reach everyone with water by 2030.”


For more information, please contact:

Rosie Stewart, senior media officer on [email protected] (0207 793 5022) or Carolynne Wheeler, media manager at [email protected] (0207 793 4485).

Alternatively, call our after-hours press line on +44 (0)7887 521 552 or email [email protected]

WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 34 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 25.8 million people with clean water and 25.1 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit, follow @WaterAidUK or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or find WaterAid UK on Facebook at

  • 844 million people in the world – one in nine – do not have clean water close to home.[1]
  • 2.3 billion people in the world – almost one in three – do not have a decent toilet of their own.[2]
  • Around 289,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's almost 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.[3]
  • Every £1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of £4 in increased productivity.[4]
  • Just £24 can provide one person with clean water.[5]
  • To find out if countries are keeping their promises on water and sanitation, see the online database


[1] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[2] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines


[4] World Health organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage