Thursday, May 30, 2024

    Water Crisis Grips Johannesburg: Struggles with Shortage and Infrastructure Failures

    Explore the dire situation unfolding in Johannesburg as the city grapples with a severe water shortage exacerbated by a combination of factors, including a heatwave and crumbling infrastructure.

    Johannesburg Struggles with Water Shortage

    For weeks, many people in Johannesburg have been suffering from a water shortage. This is not only due to the ongoing heatwave but also because of the dilapidated infrastructure. The city administration appears somewhat helpless.

    “Enough is enough,” chant people during a demonstration in Johannesburg. They have had enough. It is no wonder as half of the South African metropolis has been virtually running dry for almost three weeks.

    Initially, a lightning strike disabled the transformer of a crucial pumping station. As soon as the facility was repaired, power outages repeatedly disrupted the water supply. Large reservoirs are empty, and refilling them takes time. A heatwave exacerbates the issue. “We fetch water from friends who have a well. We go there with buckets, and that helps us get through the day,” shares a woman.

    Administration Urges Water Conservation

    To alleviate the most severe shortages, 35 tanker trucks are operating throughout the city. A drop in the bucket, nothing more. The administration advises saving water: showering for shorter durations, delaying garden watering, and postponing car washes. Suggestions that are not well-received everywhere. “You can’t expect anything from others if you don’t contribute your share,” says a man.

    Essentially, the city has let its water supply deteriorate. Significant parts of the 12,400-kilometer-long pipeline system urgently need refurbishment. Almost half of the water pumped by the major supplier, “Rand Water,” to Johannesburg is lost.

    Decrepit Water Infrastructure

    Water is always leaking somewhere, sometimes gushing out from leaky pipes. Sidewalks and roads are wet, intersections flood because aged pipes burst, water tanks are leaking, and repair crews can’t keep up with the workload. “For ten years, they’ve allowed the system to decay, and we are now seeing the results,” remarks Dr. Ferrial Adam from the civil rights organization “WaterCan.” “The authorities are unable to handle it.”

    The water shortage becomes an existential problem for many businesses. Especially small enterprises are at a loss because they wash cars, cook food, or cut hair. Hospitals, nursing homes, and schools are also affected.

    Schools Without Water for Days

    Jan van Wyk, Vice Principal of the Deutsche Internationale Schule Johannesburg, with twelve grades and 1,050 students, says they had faced water issues before, but it has never been as bad as now. “Who would have thought in a global city like Johannesburg that water would someday stop flowing? Last year, there was an incident where we had no water for a day. The school then bought large tanks so the children have drinking water at least.” Now, they are manually flushing toilets with water from the pool using buckets.

    No Solution in Sight

    Kabelo Gwamanda, Johannesburg’s mayor for a year, had pledged to make “service delivery” the focus of his work, improving public services. Faced with the water crisis, he resorts to seemingly helpless phrases, saying, “Parts of our infrastructure need replacing, others need repairs. There are various projects in different stages for this,” he explains.

    The people of Johannesburg seem to have no choice but to hope that the next thunderstorm won’t bring another lightning strike. The current crisis has revealed that there is no safety net for the drinking water supply. Gugulethu Quma from the state water provider “Johannesburg Water” puts it this way: “We must always hope for the best. While the worst does hit us from time to time, we remain hopeful for the best.”

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