Cape Town is running out of water. What can be done about it?

Residents fill water bottles at a spring. Image: Getty.

In pre-colonial times the Khoisan called Cape Town, //Hui !Gaeb, the place “where clouds gather” and Camissa “the place of sweet waters”. The future of the city will be shaped by water as it was in the past. But far more attention will need to be paid to the drivers and early warning signs.

The city has been experiencing well below average rainfall over the last two-and-a-half years resulting in limited recharge of its main storage dams. The Western Cape region has been declared a disaster area amid a prolonged drought.

Rainfall over the next six weeks will be crucial. Cape Town has a Mediterranean climate with rains falling in the winter months. If there are no major thunderstorms and no significant interventions to bolster supplies from alternate sources such as local aquifers, treated effluent or desalination, then the city could run out of water by the end of year, or in early 2018.

Cape Town is almost entirely dependent on surface water from six main storage dams. Despite population growth and increased demand for water, it has successfully used water demand management over the past 17 years to conserve water by fixing leaks, reducing water pressures, educating users and restricting outdoor water use. But on their own these steps are unlikely to be adequate to avert “day zero”. Alternate water supplies need to be added.

There are two things that Cape Town needs to get right: firstly, it must improve its early warning systems. That is easier said than done. The current drought arrived at a speed and without a confident warning from the scientific community. And, secondly, it must diversify its water supply and become less reliant on surface water supplies.

Early warning systems are not enough

Early warning signs of a pending drought in 2017 were not clear or loud enough to prompt timely actions. As a result, the city was caught relatively unaware. Perhaps the success of the water demand programme created a false sense of security.

Citizens, businesses, officials and politicians responded slowly to early warnings about potential shortages. This is for a number of reasons. Water is taken for granted; there are too many confusing messages about how to manage water; and there is general apathy to adapt to water scarcity because it doesn’t seem to be a priority until it’s in short supply.

Lessons from the 1996 to mid-2010 Australian Millennial Drought show that threat of drought was clearly understood following several severe droughts. Despite the experience, central government was only able to act once the risk became extreme. But then it acted swiftly, investing heavily in new technologies and infrastructure.

This meant substantial increases in the unit cost of water. But Australians understood, and accepted them.

Australians also learnt that there are no quick fixes. They are still working on new interventions and education 10 years after the drought ended.

The City of Cape Town is following a similar trend by investigating new technologies. But these will take time to implement and deliver water in sufficient volume to rescue the city from disaster. In the meantime, saving water is the only game in town in the hope that it will buy the city sufficient time until the next winter rainfall in 2018.


What should be done?

Drivers of water resources are like the cogs in a mechanical system. They turn slowly – some more so than others. Often they fail to attract political will or financial attention because water management is competing with other priorities and demands.

The immediate imperative is to ensure that Cape Town has sufficient water to serve 4m people with a collective demand of at least 500m litres per day. It will involve significant investment in alternative water supplies like stormwater, groundwater, seawater or treated wastewater for non-potable use.

But investment to alleviate the crisis must be carefully managed. Emergency spending can restart further crises which in turn could lead to installing new technologies that can’t be used because they are inappropriate or not affordable.

The long term plans need to focus on “climate proofing” the city to ensure that it becomes a water sensitive city. These plans should include treating the city as a catchment where water is collected naturally. Water should be captured and stored in rain tanks, detention ponds, in recharged groundwater and floodplains.

Plans should also include bringing new life to the city’s waterways and regenerating natural systems. This is about rethinking the value of springs, rivers and streams. These blue and green corridors are water sources as well as valuable in reducing urban temperatures.

The city must ensure it has proper plans in place that anticipate future events, such as prolonged changes in weather patterns, so that it can respond quickly. This must include being able to unlock investments and establishing private and government partnerships.

The ConversationIn addition, this drought is setting the conditions for the “new normal” in which citizens will need to become skilled at adapting to a sustainable threshold of water use.

Kevin Winter, Senior Lecturer in Environmental & Geographical Science, University of Cape Town.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

How the rise of anti-crime politics caused lasting harm to Black Americans

"I see an awareness that has developed in the Black community in the last 10 years or so about how deeply racist the criminal justice system has become," James Forman Jr. says. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The police killing of George Floyd, and the protest movement that emerged from it, has reinvigorated a national conversation around reinventing criminal justice policy in the United States.

At the same time, reports that violent crime is rising in many US cities have resurrected talk of the much-disputed “Ferguson effect,” a theory put forward by law enforcement professionals, and some researchers, who argued that police slowdowns in the wake of the first wave of Black Lives Matter protests resulted in elevated rates of violent crime. President Donald Trump is trying to weaponise this narrative, paired with images of federal officers clashing with protesters in the streets of Portland, to wage a 1968-style backlash election campaign.

“People who want to mobilise a lock-them-up style of either policing or prosecution have tried to weaponise those short-term increases,” says James Forman Jr., professor of law at Yale Law School. “Criminologists will say you have to be very, very cautious about short-term movement [in crime statistics]. We don't know whether or not what we're seeing right now [with violent crime increasing] is going to sustain itself. But the fact is, it's here and people are talking about it.”

In 2018, Forman won the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction for his book Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America. Drawing on his experience as a public defender in Washington, DC, he traced the emergence of anti-crime politics in late 20th century Black communities. Forman showed how newly empowered Black politicians fought for policies they believed would protect and uplift Black Americans, but inadvertently contributed to mass incarceration. 


CityMetric recently caught up with Forman to discuss crime trends, where he sees reason for hope in this moment and how the Black political class’s attitude toward crime and punishment has shifted since the latter part of the 20th century. 

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

There is talk right now about a resurgence of crime and violence in American cities. We saw similar, more localised concerns after the initial 2015 Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson and Baltimore. Do you fear this could reinvigorate the kind of politics you describe in your book among segments of the Black community and political class?

I fear that it could be reinvigorated nationally and also in the Black political class. Look at the political conversations that are happening in Atlanta right now, for example, a city that also has seen a short-term uptick in crime as it is a site of a lot of protests about George Floyd and Breonna Taylor on the national level, as well as Rayshard Brooks and Ahmaud Arbery more locally in Georgia.

I think that you can already see in some of the language of the local elected officials this idea that we have to be very careful about pulling back. [They are saying] “while the protesters may make some valid points, we can't risk returning to the ‘80s and ‘90s.” Those decades really traumatised the United States, and particularly traumatised Black communities. There's a deep fear about returning to the levels of the violence that we saw in the crack years.

You write a lot about class divides among Black Americans, where middle income and elite Black people don't suffer as much from extremely punitive policies. They also have closer ties to the politicians who are creating these policies. There are very specific groups of people, even in marginalised communities, whose voices are heard.  As a result of these dynamics, you write about Black politicians fighting for things like mandatory minimum prison sentences or against decriminalising marijuana. Is there still that disconnect between those who suffer the most from criminal justice policies and those who are actually heard in political discourse?  

Let me just say a caveat, that when we talk about class divisions in the Black community it's important to hold two truths in our head at the same time. Bruce Western and others have shown the way in which class, educational status, income can dramatically reduce the likelihood of being hardest hit by the criminal system – namely incarcerated. Middle class and upper middle class Black people get some measure of protection. It's also true at the same time that Black people of all classes are worse off relative to their class counterparts in the white community. 

One area where class is least protective is policing and police stops. The police do not know how many degrees you have. They don't know how much money you have in your bank account. I want to be very clear that in making this point about class, I'm not making the argument that race or racism don't matter in this context. 

In terms of how it plays out now, I see an awareness that has developed in the Black community in the last 10 years or so about how deeply racist the criminal justice system has become. Twenty or 30 years ago they had a consciousness, but there's levels of understanding. Many of the people I write about in the book wanted to promote the interests of the Black community. They weren't motivated by indifference or callousness. When presented with mounting evidence of how awful this system has been in Black lives, they're reconsidering and recalibrating. 

Lots of former elected officials have said to me some version of “I didn't know at the time and I appreciate that you showed us in our full complexity. I appreciate that you showed the pressures we were under. If I had known then what I know now, maybe I would have been less quick to go along with some of these harsh measures.” 

The second thing that has affected the Black political class has been the emerging movements, led by Black people in particular and led by young people. They not only educated leaders, but pressured them and made them understand that there is a political cost. If you're not moved by the moral argument, then you'll be moved by the political argument. You'll be moved by the people protesting outside the office of District Attorney Jackie Lacey in Los Angeles, for example, where Black Lives Matter LA has held, I believe, a year of consecutive protests against a Black district attorney who has had really some of the worst practices.

From what I can tell, she's been pressured by the movement to change some of her positions on important issues like prosecution of low-level drug offenders, for example, and the aggressiveness with which she prosecutes police officers for acts of violence.

What do you make of the calls to defend or even abolish the police?

What I find so compelling about abolition, initially in the prison context and extended to the police as well, is that it shifts the conversation and forces us to go through experiments in which we imagine what it would take to build that world. I think that exercise is very important, because it pushes us further than we are naturally inclined to go. Cultivating a broader imagination is an incredibly important part of this work, because as you know from my book, often it was lack of imagination that caused people to fall back on [punitive policies]. 

That's what caused D.C. Councilmember David Clarke to call the police rather than public health experts when he was overwhelmed with letters about heroin addicts in public space. He was anti-drug war, but he couldn't imagine responding to a call for help with heroin addicts with anything other than police. That's a very common move from even really good and progressive people. 

People who are for defunding, for abolition, are absolutely right about reinvesting that money into alternative structures that support communities. But the reinvestment part doesn't follow naturally from the terms. We might want to come up with a term that captures the new stuff we want to do. I think that's particularly important because one of the reasons Black communities have ended up supporting more police is that Black communities have always wanted their fair share of the resources.

Then, the evidence suggests the United States has too many police officers doing prophylactic, preventative, or stop-and-frisk style policing. The style of policing that leads to district level harassment, pulling people over for no reason. But we have too little investment in the parts of police departments that investigate unsolved crimes. I'm talking about the investigator or the detective who comes to your house after there's been a robbery, an assault, a rape, or homicide. 

As compared to European countries, in the United States we actually underinvest in those parts of our police departments. Jill Leovy’s book Ghettoside shows this in dramatic detail. She describes an LAPD that's stopping and frisking Black drivers wantonly and yet the homicide detectives are still relying on a fax machine and the fax machine is broken. They have to go with their own money to Staples to buy a printer. Meanwhile, other aspects of the department are kitted out in this ridiculous riot gear that makes them look like they're in Fallujah. 

That under investment is particularly damaging to Black communities because we're disproportionately victimised by crime. Because of racism and this allocation of resources, the police are less likely to respond in Black communities. The kids I used to work with in the charter schools in DC, we talk about no snitching, but one of the reasons they would never call the police after they'd been victimised by crime is they would say, “They're not even going to come. You're wasting time.” 

I did a Q&A with Jill Leovy too and her argument is one I've struggled to articulate in our present moment. She argues the state doesn't have a monopoly on violence in low-income Black neighbourhoods, because investigations of violence are deemphasised and crime victims or their loved ones often take retribution into their own hands.  But right now, establishing or preserving the state's monopoly on violence isn't an appealing talking point. 

Yes, this is another thing nobody's talking about. Whatever we're going to do instead of the police has to be accountable to the public. The best, most direct way to have accountability is to have the individuals be public employees. As long as we have 300 million guns in this country at least some of those state employees are going to themselves be armed. It's unreasonable to ask them to do the job without it. Not as many need to be armed as are armed now, but some of them need to be. But they can't be hiding behind union contracts or civil service protections which make it impossible to remove even the worst performing, most abusive officers. 

We can not call them police if we want to. That's semantic, but maybe symbolism matters. But those people have to be state employees. They can work with community-based nonprofits, but there are also communities that don't have as robust of a nonprofit network, and they deserve protection too. These [community] groups have to be accountable to the state and, when they don't exist, the state has to be there. 

Progressives get all the points I just made when it's applied to education. The notion that things be public and accountable to the state is understood when it comes to schools. It's exactly why so many people on the left are opposed to charter schools, because they say they don't have public accountability. They want these things to be a state function. But this point about the difficulty in removing this entirely from the hands of the state is, I think, one that liberals and progressives understand from other contexts.

Jake Blumgart is a staff writer at CityMetric.