I am in Cape Town this week and I find this city to be absolutely gorgeous. There is the table top mountain that hovers over you as you drive around, it has the very bottom tip of the African continent known as Cape of Good Hope. Cape Town is also surrounded by the ocean, two oceans to be exact: the Indian Ocean on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other side.
But interestingly, as I went to use the bathroom in a public space and opened the tap to wash my hand, nothing came out. A small note below the tap read “This tap has been switched off as part of our water saving measures. Be waterwise. Every drop counts”. So instead of washing my hands with water, I used the liquid sanitizer provided there.
It really got me thinking, Cape Town is the prime example of running out of water, despite being surrounded by water. It has 1 desalination plant, which provides for a small area, but everyone else was depending on the reservoirs.
The hotel I am staying in has a poster that asks its guests to use water responsibly. Each person in Cape Town is allowed a maximum of 50 liters per day. The poster indicates that 90 seconds shower takes 15 liters, 1 toilet flush is 9 liters, laundry uses 18 liters on average and cooking usually takes up to 2 liters.
I have honestly never thought about how much water we consume by simply flushing the toilet. These are certainly things many in Cape Town have been thinking about for some time now. But Cape town is not the first nor will it be the last of cities running out of water. In fact water shortages have become an international concern, and freshwater has been described as “blue gold” and “the oil of the 21st Century
To my surprise, there are countries that have already capitalized on the “blue gold”. As it turns out, some countries do, or have the potential, to export water. There are also countries that import water. This does not always have to do with scarcity, however it is often used as a means of saving domestic resources. According to my research online, global sales from water and ice exports by country amounted to US$1.1 billion in 2016. Yes, I really had to process this information. Here are the top water exporters in 2016, China who exported 55.8% of total water/ice, followed by France representing 7.6% of total water/exports and the United States with 7.2%.
Just as an example, according to Wikipedia, Canada has 7% of the world’s renewable supply of freshwater. The North America Free Trade Agreement, which is under threat of falling apart, has classified water as a commodity which means that it can be traded like other commodities, i.e. oil, gas, etc… Freshwater export between Canada and the US currently takes place at a small scale, mostly as bottled water exports. The industry exports water in containers usually no larger than twenty liters. But this has not been without controversy, – the multinational food giant Nestle, which owns stakes in a few water bottling companies around the world including Ethiopia, was accused of attempting to “drain” a town on the border of Canada and the US of draining its water in 2012 and 2013, during a drought as it was exporting freshwater to the US.
I must say that I have learned quite a bit from this short trip to Cape Town. If anything, this has been a big lesson in not taking anything for granted, especially not water.