Home South Africa Living through South Africa’s Water Crisis as a Student Abroad

Living through South Africa’s Water Crisis as a Student Abroad

by Sanya Lakhani
Living through South Africa’s Water Crisis as a Student Abroad | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in Stellenbosch, South Africa

After spending 22 hours on and off airplanes, I arrived at the Cape Town airport utterly drained of energy at 11:00 PM. I remember walking in only to see this massive mural saying, “Cape Town is experiencing its worst drought ever.” It doesn’t exactly do the trick like a warm smiling face and cookies, but this warning was very much needed.

I’ve been living in Stellenbosch for more than a week now. It’s a town surrounded by vineyards, mountains, coffee shops, boutiques, and nature reserves. This is one of the most westernized areas of living compared to the rest of Africa, but if you’re willing to drive outside of the tiny tourist bubble you’ll see parts that are emotionally challenging to witness. The university town is located 30 minutes from Cape Town, so the water crisis is not nearly as extreme.

Stellies (residents of this town) live by the motto “drink wine not water,” which many tourists and residents have no problem following. There are also signs on the road advertising “no shower Sundays.” The heads of the town are keeping track of the residents’ water usage to make sure residents are flushing cautiously, taking 90 second showers, and not keeping the sink water running. Many restaurants are allowing people to bring their own water due to the fact that they’ll get charged if they give too much tap water out to customers. The culprits are being targeted with charges to make sure water consumption is at an all-time low.

Limiting the amount of toilet flushes, shower time, laundry days, and overall consumption of water can be quite tedious, but it hasn’t been terrible due to our University setting. One can only understand the necessity of water until it’s lacking, leaving thousands of people desperate for a petty drop. It’s interesting to see how people, who are so used to having water at their fingertips, will react when they can’t get a hold of it, but many who have never had it are living the same life they always have.

Facts about water consumption blow my mind: a five-minute shower uses 80 liters of water, the flush of a toilet uses 9 liters, and a load of laundry uses 75 liters. Day to day duties seem impossible to conduct when the limit of usage per person is 87 liters. It’s jaw-dropping how much water we consume without realizing it, while others are left with little to none.

This drought acts as a dreadful disguise for many South Africans to unite in order to resolve this problem that has been peeking its way in for more than 10 years now. It’s proof that all resources are of value and everything good comes to an end. It’s a lesson to cherish everything we’re provided with in this world, even if we have an abundance of it. It’s quite obvious to see problems such as homelessness, lack of education, and poverty; yet so difficult to see a problem such as this and have the same motivation to resolve it. Most problems have to be jumping right in front of our faces for us to notice them, but a water crisis doesn’t hit all at once, it develops gradually over time. That does not make it irrelevant by any means, in fact it should make the problem even more of a threat since it’s less obvious to nearly everyone. Right now, the issue has hit South Africa like a load of heavy bricks and it’s unfortunate that we let the issue rise to this extent before we chose to treat it seriously.

Living in America instead of Africa during this drought would have reduced the impact on me tremendously. I would never reevaluate my decision of studying in South Africa due to this crisis.

I’ve opened my eyes up to issues I never would’ve thought about before, such as the corruption of taking water — a common good, something people need to live — and using our lack of it to increase commercial sales on plastic water bottles.

This drought is degrading the economy and environment on top of affecting people’s everyday lives. Hairdressers are doing dry cuts, gardens are dying under the hot sun, and public bathrooms are left unflushed because they’re not dirty enough yet. People are waiting up to 10 hours in line for a few liters of water and the situation is likely to get even worse. I myself feel guilty taking a shower knowing that the water could’ve gone to a local.

South Africans can’t be the only ones that care about this issue just because they are the main ones suffering. We as a whole need to educate ourselves about the crisis, which is not only affecting 4 million people, but any tourists that go to the area. As tourists, it’s our job to save water like any other cautious local would. Our time in South Africa leaves a footprint and as Americans we surely don’t go unnoticed. If we live like we do in the United States then we’re leaving the locals to pay for our damages. There’s nothing ethical about exploiting locals’ resources, whether they’re in the developmental state to testify against it or not. Resource exploitation does not need to be related to economic growth; the sooner we cut the connection between the two, the faster we’ll be able to recover from this crisis.

Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” If anyone can revive themselves from this crisis and come back stronger, it’s South Africans, and the least we can do is not come in the way of their progress. Remember, for those who wish to come here, do your research, live mindfully, and most of all, save like a local. Because when we go home, they’ll still be here.

This post was contributed by Sanya Lakhani, who is spending her spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Living through South Africa’s Water Crisis as a Student Abroad | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in Stellenbosch, South Africa

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