2nd of April 2018 was announced as Day Zero for the City of Cape Town – a city of 3 million people. This meant that all taps would be turned off and 400 temporary taps set up with enormous queues of people waiting in line under the hot sun for 20 litres of water a day per person. The army would be deployed because of potential violence breaking out. Schools would close as there would be no toilets working, and businesses would shut down. There were fears of outbreaks of disease as the sanitation systems broke down. It felt like the apocalypse...
After three years of the driest winters for 100 years, the dams were nearly empty – our biggest dam was sitting at 17 percent, and the dams were emptying at 1.5% a week. Cape Town has always had long wet winters and the climate has changed radically.
So what happened? The city rallied together – people shared water saving ideas, there were competitions, social media went wild. Showers were reduced to 2 minutes every second day. We reused water from washing machines first to clean the floor then on the garden. We stood in queues to get water from the springs. Taps in public restrooms were turned off and replaced with hand sanitizers. We reduced our water consumption by a massive 50% And slowly, day by day we pushed back day zero – until the winter rains came.
We survived – battered, but we survived. 30,000 farm workers lost their jobs – mostly casual workers and the most vulnerable. The tourism industry was impacted with again the least well paid the most affected. We learned a lot. We learned that water is heavy – they say unless you have carried water you do not know the value of it – we realised a little of the struggle of our sisters who have to carry water everyday. We learned that water comes from God. We thought it came from a tap but we realised that it is a free gift from God, the government delivers it and cleans it. We learned that it is craziness to put clean drinking quality water into your toilet. We learned that we must protect those precious sources of water, springs, and aquifers for the future.
How did the Churches respond?First of all we were on our knees praying for a miracle. And then we released that we must pray for something deeper – we needed to pray for two things – to give thanks and realise again that water is sacred, and a gift from God. As Christians we became members of the family of God through the sacred waters of baptism, water is our primal element. Water flows through the pages of our scriptures. At the start of Creation the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters through to Revelations – where the waters of life flow from the throne of God > Water rushes, gushes pours through the pages of the Bible 722 times!
Secondly we need to work for water justice – in our next door country, Namibia, their drought was much more severe the previous year. The northern communities are very dependant on their cattle – your cows are your saving for the future – your child’s high school education, your daughter’s wedding. The drought was so severe that they were told to bring their cattle in for slaughtering before they became worthless. When we told them we were down to 50 litres per day they laughed and said wow that is a lot of water!
Cape Town is the canary in the mine. It is a wake up call for us all. At least ten major cities are threatened with day zero – Sao Paolo, Brazil, Bangalore, south India, Beijing, Cairo, Jakarta. Praying for rain in areas with drought is not the answer – we all went to school – we learned the hydrological cycle. We know how rain is made, we understand that if you heat the planet, and cut down forests then there will be more drought.
'Let us pray for the waters of the Spirit to fall upon us so that we can change the way we are devastating this earth.'
The Scientists in the IPCC report have told us – 12 years to change our dependence on fossil fuel or we face a world of uncontrollable climate change. Day Zero is coming for us all. Climate Change is the THE human rights issue of our time.
The world has already warmed by 1 degree. At 1.5 degrees the average drought length in Cape Town will increase by four months. At 2 degrees it would increase by six months and at 3 degrees we would be a staggering 19 months without rain. Cape Town would be no more.
In the Bible in Romans 8 we are told that Creation is groaning in Child birth = what an amazing image – the agony of the current sufferings – but a new life is being born. Creation is standing on tiptoe waiting for the children of God to be revealed that is you and me.
Gus Speth who was the environmental advisor to Bill Clinton said this:
“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”
It is time for us as people of faith to realise that Day Zero is coming for all of us. We were called to be stewards of the Earth, we have failed. Now we must rise up to be healers of the Earth.