South Africa: Taps run dry as unprecedented water crisis hits Johannesburg

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — For two weeks, Tsholofelo Moloi has been among thousands of South Africans lining up for water as the country’s largest city, Johannesburg, faces an unprecedented collapse of its water system affecting millions of people. .

Residents rich and poor have never seen a shortage of this severity. While the warming climate has reduced reservoirs, crumbling infrastructure after decades of neglect is also largely to blame. Public frustration is a danger sign for the ruling African National Congress, whose comfortable hold on power since the end of apartheid in the 1990s faces its The most serious challenge in an election. this year.

A country already famous for hours-long power outages is now adopting a term called “watershedding.”

Moloi, a resident of Soweto, on the outskirts of Johannesburg, is not sure she or her neighbors can take much more.

They and others across South Africa’s economic hub of about 6 million people queue day after day for the arrival of municipal water tankers. Before the trucks finally arrived the day before, a desperate Moloi had to ask for water from a nearby restaurant.

There was no other alternative. A five-liter (1.3-gallon) bottle of water sells for 25 rand ($1.30), an expensive exercise for most people in a country where More than 32% of the population is unemployed.

“We are really struggling,” Moloi said. “We need to cook and the children also need to go to school. We need water to wash your clothes. Its very stressful”.

Residents in and around Johannesburg have long been accustomed to seeing water shortages, but not across the entire region at the same time.

Over the weekend, water management authorities in Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria, told officials in both cities that failure to reduce water consumption could lead to a complete collapse of the water system. That means reservoirs would fall below 10% of their capacity and would have to be closed to replenish.

That could mean weeks without tap water, at a time when warm weather keeps demand for water high. There are still weeks until the arrival of cold winter in the southern hemisphere.

No drought has been officially declared, but officials are pleading with residents to conserve whatever water they can find. World Water Day, which falls on Friday, is another reminder of the broader need to conserve water.

Outraged activists and residents call this a crisis years in the making. They blame mismanagement by officials and a lack of maintenance of the aging water infrastructure. Much of this dates back to the years immediately after the end of apartheid, when basic services were extended to the country’s black population in an era of optimism.

The ANC long capitalized on that enthusiasm, but now many South Africans are wondering what happened. In Johannesburg, governed by a coalition of political parties, anger is at the authorities in general as people question how maintenance of some of the country’s most important economic engines went astray.

A report published last year by the national department of water and sanitation is damning. Its monitoring of water use by municipalities found that 40% of Johannesburg’s water is wasted through leaks, including burst pipes.

In recent days, even residents of Johannesburg’s most affluent and pool-filled suburbs have found themselves relying on the arrival of municipal water tankers, which came as a shock to some.

Residents of one neighborhood, Blairgowrie, came out in protest after being without water for almost two weeks.

A local Soweto councilor, Lefa Molise, told The Associated Press he was not optimistic that the water shortage would be resolved soon.

Water outages have become so frequent that he urged residents to reserve any supply they can find, especially when he said authorities give little or no warning about upcoming shortages.

Water tankers are not enough to supply residents, he added.

An elderly resident, Thabisile Mchunu, said her taps have been dry since last week. She now carries the water she finds in 20-liter buckets.

“The sad thing is we don’t know when our faucets will be wet again,” he said.

Rand Water, the government entity that supplies water to more than a dozen municipalities in Gauteng province, this week asked residents to reduce their consumption. The interconnected reservoirs that supply its system are now at 30% capacity and high demand for any one of them affects them all.

Even South Africa’s notoriously problematic electricity system has played a role in the water problem, at least in part.

On Tuesday, Johannesburg Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda said a power station that supplies electricity to one of the city’s main water pumping stations had been struck by lightning, causing it to fail.


Associated Press senior producer Nqobile Ntshangase in Johannesburg contributed to this report.


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