Cape Town, South Africa, just narrowly avoided being the first major city in the world to run out of water. But now residents are realizing just how precarious their water security really is — even the city's police are keeping track of it.
The fear of "Day Zero" — or when the city's dams fall below 14 percent — has sparked major conservation efforts, including city-wide water restrictions for residents and businesses. Currently, residents are limited to 13 gallons of water per day, the equivalent to a six minute shower in the U.S.
These restrictions have been enforced by “water police” who fine anyone using excess water. And the efforts have worked — Cape Town has reduced its water consumption by more than half in the last 3 years, an exceptional feat compared to other cities.
For three years, however, Cape Town has been in the midst of a severe drought. Water levels at the reservoirs that supply the vast majority of Cape Town’s water have been steadily dropping. They went from over 75 percent full in 2014 to under 25 percent in 2018.
If the city reaches "Day Zero," 4 million residents would have their taps shut off, forcing them to collect their daily water ration from 200 distribution points around the city.
VICE News rode along with the “water police” in two different Cape town neighborhoods to see what these enforcements looked like on the ground.
In one of the world’s most unequal countries, the water crisis has also unveiled the stark inequalities that exist. Wealthy residents and businesses pay to drill private wells into the aquifer. The cost — up to $12,500 — is more than seven times what many township residents earn in a single year.
Watch how people from around Cape Town have resorted to gathering free water at natural springs, as water restrictions have been implemented:
This segment originally aired April 3, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.