Shifting the water paradigm

Water, water, everywhere

Living in the greater Cape Town area these days has become synonymous with 90-second showers, hand sanitiser and wet-wipes being your best friends and the race to prepare buckets for the very occasional rain. Temporarily residing in Canada, for the first time since 2015, I currently face zero limitations on my water usage. Canada is a water rich country, accounting for one fifth of the world’s freshwater, covering 12% of total area. How can I then, in the midst of all this water, still experience discomfort? This comes from the average Canadian consuming ±250 litres of water per day, translating to nearly a week’s worth of consumption in the Capetonian vernacular. Canadians are set in comfort and predictability.

Shifting the paradigm

Although Cape Town is the first major modern city threatened to run out of water, it will not be the last. Globally, urban populations are expected to grow significantly, causing great stress on city’s resources. According to the BBC News there are at least eleven cities likely to run out of water in the near future – São Paulo, Bangalore, Beijing, Cairo, Jakarta, Moscow, Istanbul, Mexico City, London, Tokyo and Miami. Triggered by discomfort, Cape Town, and holistically South Africa, has the opportunity to change the global perception of water as – finite, fragile and precious.

Southern African countries are water arid areas. Confronted with little rainfall, education on water usage is crucial. Yet, it was only when threatened by the water Day Zero, all the theories, warning and statements truly hit home. Challenged with great discomfort and complexity, we were compelled to alter our ways.

Adapting to the new normal

Instinctively human beings are adaptive creatures. When threatened with discomfort we evaluate our surroundings, strategize and adapt. Capetonians dramatically adjusted their way of living and sparked collaborative action – sharing knowledge and water saving tips, and encouraging the public, private and civil-society to play their part to save water and ultimately turned discomfort into change.

According to the Growth Rings theory, it is only when faced with great discomfort that real growth can take place. We were forced out of a state of order, comfort and predictability into a state of complexity. When faced with complexity, outcomes are unpredictable and evoke discomfort. Our discomfort should not be feared or misunderstood as chaos, but rather interpreted as a golden opportunity for South Africa to lead and change the way water is utilized and perceived. Changing our nation’s perception of water is only the beginning of a global movement toward a better future.

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About the author

Martine FaurieMartine Faurie is an intern at TOMA-Now, currently on secondment in Canada as part of her Masters studies in Environmental Management at the University of Stellenbosch.

Martine’s insights are based on her recent experiences living in Canada and at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT).