What are the learnings from Cape Town’s Day Zero? 130 global experts from  15 countries met in Cape Town to debate the best  solutions for cities facing water shortages.

Here is the presentation from the civil society task team, presented by Rev Dr Rachel Mash from Green Anglicans

The Story of Cape Town’s Day zero is the story of a disaster averted. It is  the story of how more than 3 million people reduced their water usage, pushing back day zero week by week, until the rains finally came. How did the citizens of Cape Town reduce their consumption  by almost half ? . The lessons learnt from Cape Town are a gift from us to the world  to share with other cities facing their own day zero. What we did right, the mistakes that were made may help other cities in similar situations.

The role of Civil society was very important is bringing about this behaviour change. Civil society is made up of non Profit organisations, community based groups, faith based groups and many others all with different agendas and visions.  The issue of water brings together the environmental movements and the social justice movements. Water is a human rights issue.

The response of civil society is based on values

For us water is not a commodity to be sold and bought. It is a fundamental  human right which must be shared equitably.  It is the heritage of our children’s children which must be treasured. Water is sacred. Water is life.

The principle of justice demands that we stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable. We recognise that  many citizens of Cape Town live day zero every day. They have to carry water every day. Going to the toilet involves a trip to filthy  communal toilets with the risk of sexual harassment or rape.

The principle of justice demands that we protect our water sources for the generations to come.  We cannot accept short term solutions from politicans who are looking at a four year election cycle. Our aquifers, rivers and wetlands are a legacy that we must protect

So what is the role of Civil Society;

Active Citizens

As we pushed back day Zero it was exciting to see active citizens across the city saving water, installing tanks, cutting down on showers, sharing ideas – for example a face book group “Water shedding” was set up with over 150,000 members. And post Day Zero citizens are busy  cleaning rivers, , protecting wetlands and water sources



Firstly we must education people about the value of water, inspire them to be protectors of water , savers of water. We must fall  in love with the joy of water. We can do this through our schools, our community organisations our faith communities. For example do you know there are 722 verses in the Bible that talk about water?  We need to understand the water footprint of what we eat and what we wear, the energy we use. What is the water impact of coal, of fracking?

We must educate people about the causes of the drought. The planet has warmed, and what can  we do to reduce further warming. We call for climate change education to be included in the national curriculum as a matter of urgency.

Impact on policy

One of the most encouraging moments in the conference was when we head that civil activism had impacted policies of the City of Cape Town. It is the role of civil society to ensure that policies do not cause harm to  the most vulnerable

We often think that an expert is the person with the PhD but local residents are experts in the area of culture, context and strategies for behaviour change.

Activist movements

The role of civil society in activist movements needs to be strengthened. Local communities can identify the sources of contamination or water wastage. .  Civil society needs to make sure that the principle of ‘polluter pays’ is enforced and here citizen science can play a huge role, where citizens in affected communities can be trained up to check water pollution or impacts on  the eco-system

 SA has good environmental laws but we are weak on implementation -Civil society needs to be empowered to force through the  implementation of environmental polices. The voice of local communities needs to be heard  and amplified through partnerships with other organisations.

As Civil society – we have a dream for Cape Town  – it is a vison of a Blue- green city where no one is left behind – where water is treasured and green spaces created, with decent homes, safe public transport and urban gardens created. A city where justice rolls down.





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