Cape Town: When the Worst Case Comes To Pass

 

Screen Shot 2018-04-04 at 8.22.44 PM

Declining water storage levels in Western Cape’s largest six dams. Courtesy Climate Systems Analysis Group

The news that Cape Town had just enough water to last until April sent shock waves throughout the world last month. It is one thing to talk about the world running out of water and another to actually read news that a city would officially run out of water on a particular date. Continue reading

Fill up my glass please

10914959_10152898586948778_6325900801743596033_oI still remember the first time I asked for water at a restaurant in Germany. “Gas?” he asked and I said “No, water.” Again he asked if I wanted gas and again I said water. It was really getting very perplexing with me wondering how Germans managed to drink water in gaseous form. It all became clear when a bottle of sparkling water arrived at my table, of course and there was some righteous indignation when I later saw how much it cost (after converting to Singapore Dollars).

Over the years, I have followed the stories of tapwater being served or not in restaurants. Turned out that Germany was a special case in Europe where tapwater was also charged. In the United States, I was happy to note that getting tapwater (and free!) was not a problem at all. The bigger problem was to get it without ice and at room temperature. Continue reading

The obliviousness of water footprints

Shopping Supermarket Market Goods Food MeatI was sitting next to a Texas-based businessman from Saudi Arabia on the plane. He was highly amused to see me eating vegetarian. “If you give me vegetarian, I will throw it away and eat you!” he joked and bared his teeth.

I gulped and organised my thoughts on how to use this teachable moment to talk about water footprints without being offensive. He was already well-aware that vegetables were more healthy than meat but didn’t care because he’d rather live short and eat what he loved than live long eating vegetables. He wasn’t even co-relating his numerous health complaints like gout with diet. Caring for animals’ feelings would not cut ice with him because his favourite hobby was hunting.

“How do you like to drink toilet water?” I asked. Continue reading

When tourists consume more than the locals

towels

I had hung up my towel on the rack for reusing. The usual placard in the Delhi hotel bathroom said only towels on the floor would be replaced. But when I returned to my room at night, I found a new towel in place.

That was in 2013, the year when 35 five-star hotels were given notice by the Delhi government for using 15 million litres of water per day of municipal supplies. Half of these hotels did not have a dedicated sewage treatment plant. It was one of the hottest summers and Delhi residents were suffering disruptions in water supply.

Tourism-related water use is very small as a percentage of total water used in countries. And yet, the local picture is entirely different. This is because it competes for the same water used by the local population. Continue reading

Multi-purpose infrastructure is the need of the day

30BE6317-E021-4319-B4DE-6ACAF6483582By now, we all know that cities account for more than half the world’s population. Come 2050, it is expected that another 2.5 billion people will move from villages to cities. In China alone, more people that the whole population of the USA today will move into cities by 2050. These are mind-boggling numbers and present a scary picture of the future liveability of cities or rather the lack of it, especially in South and Southeast Asia.

Already, we see how a day of intense rain causes havoc with flooding. The inexorable march of climate change is bringing more intense rain at odd times or no rain at all. The ‘heat island’ effect of cities with bumper-to-bumper traffic jostling for space with humans gets accentuated during times of no rain. Continue reading

Myanmar on the cusp of change

IMG_1506After decades of isolation, Myanmar is welcoming investments and technical expertise from international organisations. Its water and wastewater sector needs to be built up from scratch. Will Myanmar be able to avoid the mistakes made by countries in the region? Continue reading

Water quality is not just a developing country issue

flint-water-ejo-100515_808b13c48a3002f17f896b2c38e4812c.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000

Pollution of America’s drinking water is in the news again. 15 years ago, when I saw the Oscar-winning Erin Brokovich, it opened my eyes to the horror of industrial water pollution in the developed world. Continue reading