For Digital Nomads thinking of coming to Cape Town

Update: Since this post there have been several positive developments. Water saving has continued, water recollection has improved, the city was supported by agriculture (both in cutting down usage and donating parts of their own water supply) and we were blessed with some rainfall. This together will almost certainly push out Day Zero to 2019, providing more time to implement more water saving/producing projects.

Cape Town is facing an Emergency-state Water Crisis. As I was not aware of the severity of the situation before my arrival, I would like to create awareness among other Nomads considering Cape Town as a destination.

The current situation:

  • Cape Town is in the highest state of Water Emergency; each person should use less than 50 liters a day; probably going down to 25L.
  • Fresh water levels are at an effective 13.1%. When the level reaches 5% the taps will be turned off (known as day Zero).
  • Estimated date of Day Zero is currently April 12th, with the date moving forward rapidly. Within the last seven days the date was moved forward nine days; from April 21 to April 12.
  • Once we hit Day Zero, the water will be switched off and people will have to que in line for their daily 25 liters of water. With 4 million people affected the distribution remains a huge challenge.
  • The military might come in to try and maintain control and order at the 200 pick-up points distributed over town. Details remain far from clear.

What we can do

  • Consider a different location to spend January till July (see the arguments below about bringing money into the region).
  • If you can’t or don’t want to leave, make sure you use less than 50 liters a day. Limit your showers under 2 minutes; especially try to limit your toilet flushes to a maximum of 1 a day, including public places. Get creative, put a bucket in the shower, collect drainage water; and use that to flush the toilet. Try to get below 25L if you can.
  • Create awareness among others, including other Digital Nomads but also local people.
  • Act as a local, not like somebody who can fly out when things get difficult. Most people don’t have this option.
  • If you will stay here during April, May and June; be sure to stock up on at least 20 liters of drinking water in case of emergency.

But isn’t tourism good for the region?

This seems to be a commonly asked question; and it is important to differentiate between short term and long term.

  1. If there is no water; money will NOT save us. There will be a point when water runs out and the inflow of money won’t do anything to resolve that (short term).
  2. The tourist industry uses vast amounts of water. Think of swimming pools and watering the grass. Making everything ‘look pretty’ is important in this area, and they are willing to spend precious resources on it. Every international visitor is counted ‘ as a tourist’, including Digital Nomads.
  3. ‘Westerners’ seem to be among the 1% that uses the most amount of water. Europeans on average use 300 liters of water per day, likely even more in warm countries. That is six times the daily limit.
  4. Once Day Zero hits it is likely that many business will be forced to close down; whether they need water to operate their business or simply cannot supply water to their employees.
  5. Even though Digital Nomads might use less water than the average tourist, they also tend to spend less then the average tourist.

What can we expect of Day Zero?

  • People will need to que in line for their 25 liters of water a day. With only 200 allocated points the que might be several hours and kilometers long; while temperatures remain above 30 degrees Celsius during daytime.
  • How people will carry this home remains unclear. People who are unable to pick it up themselves (children, elderly, disabled, etc.) will have to rely on somebody else picking it up for them.
  • The military might come in to try and maintain law and order.
  • Many schools and businesses will have to close.
  • Day zero won’t be just one day, it will last several months. As the dam levels need to fill up Day Zero will last, even once the rain starts falling again.
  • Many people won’t have enough water to flush toilets or take showers. It is very likely that people will be forced to think about ‘dry’ toilets at home.


Please note that I am not an expert nor trying to tell people what to do. Please use your own judgement to estimate the situation; I am just trying to raise awareness.

Cape town from above — Source: andbeyond.com