Cape Town running dry - here are 19 other cities at risk

A league table thirsty Cape Town doesn't want to top

07 March 2018 - 11:26 By Claire Keeton
People queue to fill up water bottles at Muizenberg spring in Cape Town.
People queue to fill up water bottles at Muizenberg spring in Cape Town.
Image: Esa Alexander

Cape Town is at the head of the WWF’s list of major cities globally most at risk of water shortages.

“Although Cape Town – with almost 4 million residents – has been billed as the first major city in the world to run the risk of its taps running dry‚ there are many other cities that are water stressed‚” WWF-SA media manager Andrea Weiss said in the organisation’s Wednesday Water File.

Some of them are:

São Paulo‚ Brazil (21 million) About two-thirds of the population had water shortages during a serious water crisis from 2014 to 2016 in Brazil’s largest city. The Cantareira reservoir dropped to below 5% and Sao Paulo came within 20 days of running out of water. There are no permanent incentives for water-saving habits or long-term solutions‚ such as incentivising consumers and protecting forests and springs‚ meaning the city is likely to face another water crisis.

Mexico City‚ Mexico (21 million) Roughly a fifth (18%) of residents in Mexico’s largest cities do not get water every day and a third don’t get enough for basic needs‚ forcing them to buy expensive water. The city faces a “medium-term water collapse” but better governance of water resources is expected with a new water sustainability law.

Karachi‚ Pakistan (17 million) One of 20 megacities‚ Karachi has a widening gap between water supply and demand: the daily shortfall is 380 million litres. This is aggravated by delays in supply projects to Pakistan’s most populous city and chemical contamination of freshwater sources.

Los Angeles‚ California‚ US (12 million) LA is the biggest city in California and ranks as the seventh-largest economy in the world. The sunny state has been hit by natural disasters since 2011: a multi-year drought‚ a record-breaking winter storm season and its worst fire season. LA imported 89% of its water from more than 300km away at the height of the drought. Water use dropped to about 132 litres per person per day.

Nairobi‚ Kenya (4 million) Kenya’s capital is short of 200 million litres of water a day following a drought since 2014. The water needs are up to 600% higher than the supply‚ some sources say. The Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company rations water to domestic customers‚ and areas cut off for long periods can call a hotline. The protection of critical catchment areas and improved infrastructure are needed to cope with the increasing population.

Brisbane‚ Australia (2.2 million) Most cities in Australia were hit by its “millennium drought’’ — low rainfall between 1997 and 2009. Strict steps were taken to avoid running out of water as dam levels dropped below 20%. “Water supplies were diversified to include desalination‚ recycled water‚ rainwater tanks‚ groundwater‚ and stormwater harvesting to boost dam supplies‚” WWF said. Water use has settled at about 200 litres per person per day‚ below pre-drought levels of about 330 litres.

Seville‚ Spain (> 1 million) Reservoirs in the Guadalquivir river basin supplying Seville dropped to 9.5% during the drought of 1992 to 1995. This led to severe water restrictions‚ including cutting the supply to 10 hours a day‚ reducing pressure and a ban on watering gardens. The alternative sources used by the city were poor quality‚ forcing it to invest in expensive emergency treatment plants.

Top 20 cities at risk‚ identified by WWF:

1. Cape Town

2. Tel Aviv‚ Israel

3. Valparaíso‚ Chile

4. Amman‚ Jordan

5. Havana‚ Cuba

6. Oxnard‚ US

7. Santa Barbara‚ US

8. Agadir‚ Morocco

9. Casablanca‚ Morocco

10. Tunis‚ Tunisia

11. Bathinda‚ India

12. Meerut‚ India

13. Tbilisi‚ Georgia

14. Madrid‚ Spain

15. João Pessoa‚ Brazil

16. Santiago‚ Chile

17. Chengdu‚ China

18. San Diego‚ US

19. Gurgaon‚ India

20. Siliguri‚ India

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