University of Cape Town (UCT) academic and Future Water Institute lead researcher Dr Kevin Winter was part of a team of experts that joined United Nations (UN) climate action special envoy Mike Bloomberg – founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and three-term mayor of New York – on a tour of the Theewaterskloof dam on Wednesday.
The tour included discussions to better understand the scope of the drought and how, given the intensification of extreme weather (climate change), cities can accelerate their preparations for an uncertain water future.
With Cape Town facing an extreme drought that requires a significant conservation effort, Bloomberg toured the largest dam supplying water to the Western Cape as his first undertaking, following his appointment on Monday as special envoy for climate action.
Other experts that joined the tour included several prominent environmental and water experts, such as World Wide Fund for Nature freshwater senior manager Christine Colvin, City of Cape Town water and sanitation director Peter Flower and City of Cape Town water and waste in informal settlements executive director Dr Gisela Kaiser.
Winter said there had been an underlying widely held perception that the onset of climate change would be slow, less erratic and that it would allow more time to prepare for drought.
“In reality, the impact of what we are now experiencing has been rapid, unpredictable and more far-reaching than expected. This coincides with a city that is facing numerous other developmental challenges including access to land, housing, education, health and sanitation services.”
He added that it appeared as if Cape Town was capable of overcoming the water supply challenge despite an increase in urbanisation and the limitations of its institutional and financial resources. However, the combination of climate and weather variability has raised new uncertainties that are leaving their mark on the socioeconomic development and environmental sustainability of the region.
Winter further lamented that, if the current drought is prolonged further, it will stretch the city’s resources to the limit and will test the ability of its citizens to adapt to an uncomfortable urban environment characterised by socioeconomic and health risks.
“There may be a silver lining somewhere, but as yet it is unclear how the city is going to find the necessary resources to address the severity of a long-term future in conditions that are predicted to be more drought-prone, drier and warmer,” he pointed out.
Bloomberg commented that the extreme drought in Cape Town should be a wake-up call for all who think that climate change is some far off threat.
“It is already here; it is making droughts and storms more dangerous, and we have got to do more to keep it from getting worse.”