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Cape Town’s ‘Day Zero’ Water Crisis, One Year Later

In spring 2018, news of the water crisis in South Africa ricocheted around the world—then the story disappeared. So what happened?
Residents queue to fill containers with spring water in Cape Town on February 2, 2018, one of the measures taken to avert "Day Zero."
Residents queue to fill containers with spring water in Cape Town on February 2, 2018, one of the measures taken to avert "Day Zero."Bram Janssen/AP

In January 2018, when officials in Cape Town announced that the city of 4 million people was three months away from running out of municipal water, the world was stunned. Labelled “Day Zero” by local officials and brought on by three consecutive years of anemic rainfall, April 12, 2018, was to be the date of the largest drought-induced municipal water failure in modern history.

Photos of parched-earth dams and residents lining up to collect spring water splashed across news sites. The city’s contingency plan called for the entire population to collect its water—a maximum of a two-minute-shower’s-worth a day per person—from 200 centralized water centers, each serving the population equivalent of an MLS soccer stadium.