Cape Town, South Africa has a problem: it’s about to run out of water. Severe drought has sent this city and its surrounding provinces hurtling toward “Day Zero,” when the taps will run dry. Recent water conservation efforts have delayed Day Zero – originally projected for mid-April – but the situation remains dire and the government recently declared the drought a national disaster. This raises a tricky question: should you travel to Cape Town in the midst of this crisis?
At the heart of the concept of sustainable travel is the principle that your travels should not harm your destinations. Is using water in a city with a severe shortage doing harm? Maybe. But as with any complex problem, the answers are complex as well. Journalists recently visiting the city reported that most locals don’t want tourists to stop coming. Tourism accounts for more than 9% of the country’s GDP; the money and jobs that tourism generates are crucially important to many people here. They also noted that the primary culprits of the crisis (aside from the drought) are problems with the country’s water infrastructure and management, plus usage by agriculture and industry, rather than individual usage. That doesn’t mean, of course, that individuals aren’t part of the problem – or the solution.
While I probably wouldn’t plan a last-minute trip to Cape Town right now, you don’t necessarily have to cancel your trip, either. But you do need to be a responsible tourist: choose hotels and restaurants that have ramped up their water conservation efforts, and practice your own conservation skills (take short showers, turn off the tap, etc.).
These conservation skills are valuable back home, as well. The water crisis is worldwide, and ever-more-frequent droughts can strike any of us. We can all be – and should be – stewards of water in our daily lives.
As I started to write this post, I learned that yesterday was World Water Day. 663 million people around the world lack access to clean water. Water is obviously essential for life, but clean water is equally crucial for health: thousands of people (many of them children) die each year from water-borne diseases. Preserving our water resources and ensuring that clean water is available to everyone should be priorities for every country. To support a worthy organization that is bringing clean water to millions of people, visit Charity: Water.