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Posts Tagged ‘cape town’

Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Christian Science Monitor
People come with plastic bottles and jugs to collect free water in Cape Town, South Africa, where a dire shortage spurred residents to cut water usage in half.

You may have read about the dire water scarcity in Cape Town, South Africa, a situation resulting from lack of public funds to do the work that would have protected the supply.

But this story shows how much people can accomplish when faced with a life or death challenge.

Ryan Lenora Brown reports at the Christian Science Monitor, “A year ago, [Musa] Baba and [Helen] Moffett had almost nothing in common, and in many ways, they still live in two different universes. Moffett lives in a manicured gated community flanked by mountains. Baba’s house is two tin rooms she built herself that grip the side of a hill cluttered with other small shacks.

“But these days, the two women, along with millions of others here, share a common preoccupation: how to save water. For Baba and many others, that’s been a lifelong project of necessity. But for another population of Cape Town residents, including Moffett, it’s part of a massive lifestyle pivot that has helped bring the city on the southwestern tip of South Africa back from the brink of the unthinkable.

“As recently as March, Cape Town’s government was instructing residents to prepare for an imminent ‘Day Zero,’ when taps across most of the city would be shut off indefinitely. …

“Newspaper headlines across the world blared [Cape Town] was about to become the first developed city in the world to completely run out of water.

“But behind the scenes, a tectonic shift was under way. As the city bartered for water with local farmers and hustled to build desalination plants, its residents simply started using less water. A lot less.

“And it has worked – at least for now. … Using a combination of sticks and carrots to coax residents on board, the city has cut its water use by half. Its biggest customers now use 80 percent less. Today, every Capetonian is allowed just 13 gallons of municipal water per day – a little less than the amount it takes to flush a toilet four times. Use more, and the city reduces your pressure to a trickle, and your water bill can turn into a mortgage payment. …

“Here in Cape Town, suburban residents have become connoisseurs of taking 90-second showers and then flushing their toilets with the water they collected while doing it.

“On popular water-saving Facebook groups, city residents debate the best way to wash their dog ‘off the grid’ (bottled water, one woman suggests. Scrub him down with used bath water, offers another.) They swap the names of local companies that will sink a personal well in your backyard. Local police, meanwhile, receive a steady stream of tips from concerned residents who’ve seen their neighbors committing the ultimate middle-class drought crime: watering their lawns. …

“Says Kirsty Carden, an engineer at the University of Cape Town’s Urban Water Management Research Unit, ‘Yes, it’s been a crisis, but it’s also good to learn these lessons now. Cape Town isn’t the only city in the world that’s going to need them for the future.’ …

“Water restrictions have had another, less obvious effect: They have given the rich a small but rare experience of how the poor have always gotten by.

“ ‘It’s humbling, learning to think about water the way most South Africans have been doing for a long time,’ Moffett says, arranging two gallon jugs of water from another local spring in the trunk of her car. ‘Every household chore takes three times as much thought, and three times as long.’ …

” ‘We have always lived like this – nothing has changed because of the drought,’ says Baba, sloshing a T-shirt in a sudsy bucket outside her house. ‘If now rich people can understand better what that’s like, I think that’s a good thing.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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On Saturday we watched the documentary Urbanized, about urban planning.

Although there were many discouraging notes (Mumbai slums, Beijing smog, destructive construction in Stuttgart), there were enough positive ones to give hope.

I liked the grassroots gardening efforts in Detroit, pedestrian/bike paths in Bogota (while cars were relegated to mud), miraculous transformations of aging infrastructure (the High Line in Manhattan), lighted paths in Cape Town, and bicycle commuting in Copenhagen.

The point was made that walkability (one of my favorite topics, as readers know) and similar quality-of-life improvements in cities can be hugely beneficial to the planet just because cities are so big and changes there affect so many people.

Doug Foy, who helped get Boston Harbor cleaned up and now consults with New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg, has spoken at my workplace a few times. He likes to talk about how New York avoided buying a whole new water supply simply by partnering with plumbers unions to get standard toilets gradually replaced with low-flush toilets.

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Perhaps you saw this CNN story about a sports-loving boy from Soweto and his transformation into ballet dancer.  “Andile Ndlovu is one of South Africa’s most prominent young ballet dancers, an international performer and award winner both at home and overseas. But for Ndlovu to be accepted into the rarefied world of classical dance — which in South Africa is traditionally seen as an elitist and a predominantly white preserve — the boy from the rough Soweto townships says he had to overcome outdated stereotypes.

” ‘I used to be picked upon for the way I walk and the way I act or carry myself,’ he says of his time at school, where he became disparagingly known as ‘the dude who did ballet.’ …

“In late 2008, [his] perseverance was rewarded as he was offered a place at The Washington Ballet, one of the most prestigious dance companies in the United States. That year he shot to fame in a production of Don Quixote by the South Africa Ballet Theater. Now 23, Ndlovu has gone on to win awards at the Boston and Cape Town International Ballet competitions, as well as securing prominent roles in numerous ballet productions across the world. This success, he hopes, will eventually enable him to change conventionally held views not only of black dancers but male ballet dancers in general.

” ‘What I wanted was to change people’s minds in South Africa about black ballet dancers. I wanted to change that view, because everybody used to put it in a category for the elite people or, you know, it’s only for a certain racial group,’ he says.”

In this YouTube video, he describes how his sister was the one who gave him a push into the life he has now fully embraced. Speaking of her makes him smile.

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Suzanne and Erik went to grad school with David O’Halloran, whose consulting company was recently cited in The Irish Times for its focus on sustainable business ventures in Africa.

“For Irish entrepreneur David O’Halloran, adhering to a sustainable business model that helps develop and protect local communities and their environment is the key to enjoying long-term success in Africa’s emerging markets. In late 2006, the Galway man, along with three former colleagues, rejuvenated a business development consultancy called BusinessMinds by turning it into an incubator company that develops, finances and operates sustainable commercial ventures in Africa.

“The idea behind the enterprise is to offer investors a socially responsible approach to doing business on the continent, while also making a profit. ‘Historically, many investors in Africa have used a more short-term, exploitative business model, one which has existed since the days of colonialism,’ O’Halloran says. ‘Unfortunately, for some investors this remains the modus operandi even today. As in, they take what resources they can and then get out without giving much back to the local economies.’

“However, O’Halloran says he believes people are starting to realise that such an approach is inherently unstable and increases risk.” His organization is called BusinessMinds, Africa.

Bill Corcoran wrote the Irish Times article. Read more here.

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