02/02/2018 7:33 AM AEDT

Cape Town Slashes Daily Water Allowance But Pushes Back 'Day Zero'

Officials said the South African city now has until April 16 when its water taps will run dry.

After months of pleading with residents in Cape Town, South Africa, to slash their water use, the city this week cut the daily usage limit from 23 to 13 gallons, but extended the day when most people’s taps are expected to run dry.

City officials on Tuesday pushed back “Day Zero,” when tap water to businesses and residences will be completely turned off, from April 12 to April 16. The move offered some sense of hope even as the drought-stricken metropolis of nearly 4 million people scrambles to ration its dwindling water supply. 

“Hearing the message that says we can defeat Day Zero, more people have come onboard, and I’m glad to announce that we’ve started to move Day Zero,” said Mmusi Maimane, leader of South Africa’s Democratic Alliance party, at a press conference on Tuesday. “We anticipate that with the plan working, we can move it further along.”

Morgana Wingard via Getty Images
Cape Town ordered its residents to slash their water usage on Thursday but pushed back "Day Zero" by four days.

Maimane said in the last few days, water use has dropped from 153 million gallons per day to 143 million gallons and that the city has secured a temporary supply of 18 million gallons of water per day, for 60 days, from a dam southeast of Cape Town, according to local Eyewitness News.

Maimane’s “Defeat Day Zero” campaign tweeted credit to a local farming community for providing the water.

Although the four-day extension shows some progress has been made, it appears that Cape Town residents are still struggling to conserve enough water.

As of Thursday ― when daily water allowances were slashed by nearly 50 percent ― roughly half of the city’s residents were not taking measures to conserve water, according to a tweet from Defeat Day Zero.

That estimate is similar to figures released by the city last week, stating that only 55 percent of city residents were curbing their daily water usage to less than 23 gallons, which was then the daily limit.

Last month, Cape Town reprimanded wasteful residents while warning that the crisis had “reached a point of no return.” 

Morgana Wingard via Getty Images
Cape Town residents fill water bottles after waiting in line at Newlands Brewery Spring Water Point on Tuesday.

“We can no longer ask people to stop wasting water. We must force them,” the city said while announcing a possible punitive tax on households that use more than 1,585 gallons per month.

On Thursday, the city’s dams were reported to be 25.9 percent full and dropping at a rate of 1 percent each week. Once the dams reach a collective level of 13.5 percent, the city said that taps will be shut off and residents will be allocated just 6.6 gallons of water a day, which they have to line up to collect.

Those living in old-age homes and care facilities will have water delivered to them in water tankers. There is public concern for vulnerable people who don’t live at such facilities or with family.

A video posted to Facebook early Thursday, just after the new water limits went into effect, showed people filling up containers at a public spring and then struggling to carry them back to their cars as law enforcement officers stood by.

Amanda Stergianos, a local blogger who filmed the morning bustle, asked one woman collecting water if she thought the elderly would be able to manage.

“Even these young people can’t manage,” the woman replied, before sharing that she was personally collecting for two elderly individuals who couldn’t make it to the spring themselves.

“One, she can hardly walk and the other is in a wheelchair. I’ve offered and now I can’t pull out,” she said.

Stergianos, speaking to CNN, stressed that carrying all that water is “nearly impossible.”

“I am strong and healthy, but also a single parent. Carrying 25 liters [about 6.6 gallons] of water is nearly impossible for me for more than five meters without setting it down ― let alone for long walks from the springs to the cars,” she said.

Morgana Wingard via Getty Images
A little girl helps fill water bottles at Newlands Brewery Spring Water Point in Cape Town on Tuesday.

Residents are reportedly not finding much relief at the stores either. Shops have been running out of bottled water as the crisis heightens, according to local reports. There has been some price gouging on the precious resource, although not at major retail chains, South Africa’s BusinessTech reported.

“Under normal circumstances, demand pressure would have increased the price of the larger sizes, but instead stores have been offering specials which have cleared their shelves, even if only for a short time,” Viccy Baker of consumer watchdog Retail Price Watch told the news site.

While organizations in neighboring cities have reached out to help, a potential water crisis in surrounding areas is also looming.

South Africa’s Department of Water Affairs has reported that dam levels in Lesotho, a country that lies surrounded by South Africa, are similarly dropping. The dams supply the Gauteng province that includes Johannesburg, Pretoria and much of South Africa’s industry,

Lesotho’s levels have been described as “very low,” which is the department’s worst ranking, Reuters wrote.

Fears of similar water emergencies reportedly triggered at least one official in Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, to warn residents to stop sending its bottled water to Cape Town. The local official reasoned that his city has its own water shortage to worry about.

“It might end up with worse situation if we carry on with this practice,” Sputnik Ratau told Eyewitness News.