Cape Town drought should serve as a warning to African cities, says mayor

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Water Journalists Africa, San Francisco

After battling to overcome a record drought, Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille says what befell the oldest city in South Africa should serve as a warning to vulnerable cities across the African continent.

“There is no room to make mistakes,” de Lille stressed in an interview with Water Journalists Africa at the recent Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) in San Francisco. “You just have to do things right the first time."

The GCAS brought together leaders from states and regions, cities, businesses and civil society organiztions to commit to addressing climate change. It also offered opportunties for collaboration and knowledge sharing, something de Lille was keen to do.

She told authorities in other African cities’ to start “building cities with not just one water reticulation system but two,” so that they have, “one system for waste water and another one for clean water."

Cape Town's recent drought was the worst in 100 years. It started in 2016 and dried up six rainwater-filled reservoirs on which the city depends on. 

Earlier this year, "Down To Earth," a magazine published by India’s Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), warned that Cape Town is not the only city facing a water crisis.

At least 200 cities across the world, including Nairobi, are fast running out of water, and 10 metropolitan cities are moving quickly towards Day Zero, a day when most of the taps will be turned off, according to the magazine’s analysis.

De Lille said her city is out of woods for now.

“We have been able to survive it," she said, stressing that through the city's engagement with communities, “our dams are 65 percent full, compared to 35 percent last year.”

Another solution she insisted upon was that cities start constructing green buildings.

According to the World Green Building Council, a green building is an environmentally-conscious structure that, "in its design, construction or operation, reduces or eliminates negative impacts, and can create positive impacts, on the climate and natural environment."

Efficient use of water and energy is one of the features that make a building "green," the council says. Green buildings also produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions, which could help combat climate change.

During the (GCAS), the World Green Building Council announced an initiative to reduce carbon emissions from buildings. The effort, signed by more than three dozen businesses, cities, states and regions, will require all new buildings within those areas to operate at net zero carbon from 2030 and all buildings to be carbon neutral by 2050. 

Those committments would save up to an estimated 209 million tonnes of carbon emissions equivilent by 2050, mainly through the construction of green buildings.

More than 70 big cities, home to some 425 million citizens, have committed to carbon neutrality by 2050, including Accra, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Mexico City.

These actions alone will lead to a 2.5 percent cut in annual global greenhouse gas emissions and the avoidance of 12 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050.

This story was supported by the 2018 Climate Change Media Partnership, a collaboration between Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Foundation.