Six ideas for Day Zero

6 min readJan 18, 2018


UPDATE: together with colleagues at the EDP and local communities already taking on some of this advice, a more detailed guide has been produced. You can access it here.

(Scroll down if you want to skip the contextual stuff & get straight to 6 ideas)

Firstly, I am neither a water expert nor a disaster expert, an events expert, campaign organiser nor do I really possess any of the technical or specialist skills I imagine are necessary to really help prevent or manage “Day Zero”.

(Read: Time to Prepare for Day Zero)

Secondly, I am a little bit freaked out. Ok, a lot freaked out. The place I care about most and have given so much of myself to making a better place is facing a globally unprecedented crisis and am freaked out by the lack of clear communication and plans from the state (all three spheres, who have interdependent and cooperative roles to play); freaked out by how many people either don’t believe or don’t care that we have a crisis; and freaked out by the “each for his own” mentality inherent in some of the panicked solutions being thrown about. That’s quite a lot of freaking out. So bare with me. I do also have some ideas.

Thirdly, I sit with a lot of questions. I, just like many others, do not quite understand exactly what behaviour is needed to totally avoid Day Zero (is it 50l a day, assuming we get some rain; when? Or does 50l a day merely push Day Zero out, bridging the gap between current and post-rain/post-augmentation — both unclear events — making the whole thing slightly more survivable and less catastrophic?). If we do reach Day Zero, I have even more questions — what will happen to sewage? Are hospitals ready for more tummy diseases, dehydration, back aches, and various other complaints? Which skilled events companies are being brought in to help conceptualise and manage water distribution points? How will payment work? What measures are in place for the collection of the allocations for the elderly, very young, disabled, or non-documented people? Will they operate 24hrs? Will there be trolleys to help move the water to the car? What if I don’t have a car? Are taxis and buses going to be brought closer to the distribution points? What will happen to shops, security companies, repair men, and every other business — and those dependent on them — if staff are out there queuing? Will employees still get paid? If not, what is the plan to assist families suddenly faced with no income? What is the long term impact on the economy, investment, jobs? What is the long-term solution? What is the impact of that on my rates bill? And on, and on, and on.

And, realistically, because this has never been done before, the collective “we” (those in power, and those not) do not have the perfect answers to these questions. In all likelihood, there will be trial and error along the way.

It’s all rather overwhelming. As I said, I’m freaking out.

But, I think we can do OK if we pull together in some basic ways. On one level that means business, civil society, NGOs, faith based groups etc getting together to exchange information, identify needs, monitor progress, support communities and establish some level of predictability and equality in the system. I believe that this is starting to happen and will ramp up significantly.

At an individual level, you too can do something. In October last year I asked on social media who was preparing for Day Zero. At the time, I made some high level suggestions in comments. Here I am elaborating on these in a little more detail:

  1. First and foremost, save water! Remember that your water allocation moves with you, so only use 50l per day across your entire day, no matter where you are. Don’t be shy to “let it mellow” at the office or a restaurant. Use a washcloth to wash. I’ve trimmed my hair and it may have to go shorter to save on hair washing time.

2. Secondly, know your plan. What is your employers plan? What is your family’s plan? Will you stay, or go? What can you afford and for how long? If staying, do you have a trolley and a container for water? What are your plans for your pets? If going, how will you secure your house? Do you have a list of important things to take with you? Do you employ people? What is the contingency for their role? Have you communicated with them about plans and budgets? (I know, this is all very alarmist and hopefully unnecessary; but like scouts it’s good to be prepared!)

3. Do a building, complex, street or neighbourhood audit. Speak to your direct neighbours and find out who has what by way of tanks, pools, grey water; what their plans are (if any), and what special needs exist in terms of ages and abilities, or severe time restrictions. Negotiate ways in which you can assist one another. If there are any public facilities offering critical services (health care) in your neighbourhood, also find out what they would need in terms of assistance (or staying out of their way) (be sensible and nominate one person to establish these needs, rather than bombarding them with concerned neighbours).

4.Utilise existing structures. Go to any existing organised community structures (rate payers or residents associations, ward committees, Neighbourhood watches, local health, recreational, “friends of”, PTA or any other community based structure). These groups may not have been set up for a water crisis, but they have networks and local knowledge that may be useful. Ask them to get involved beyond their normal focus. Together, get in place some basic principles for community support — protocols for communications are a good a start. Things like — what channels are used to communicate what types of information (whatsap for alerts, Facebook for questions and service adverts; etc). Possibly sign up to a local etiquette charter (point 6).

5. Be mindful of inequality. Of course, in CT context, this individual and Neighbourhood approach risks entrenching privilege due to our spatial form, so, where possible, try to also twin/partner/support another neighbourhood. Try to sense check choices you are making with “will this be excluding someone in need?” Or, “is this taking advantage of another’s vulnerability?” Endevour to make the choice that is most inclusive of women, the elderly and the poor. Right now, that means saving water like hell. And reflecting on the privilege we’ve always had while others protested for their right to basic water and sanitation… Come Day Zero, that means not descending on poorer areas if they rumoured to have more water; and not being a shitty inflexible employer…(no doubt many more scenarios for thee choice points will reveal themselves, be mindful of yours)

6. Endeavour to maintain decent etiquette. I suspect collection-point etiquette will require posts of their own as we begin to use them; but immediately I can think of things like: if required to pay cash, carry the correct change; allow the elderly to jump the queue; don’t block the entrance with your car; be aware of and give way to pedestrians carrying heavy loads of water; don’t litter while queuing; be willing to work with people to make the whole process smoother for everyone, even if it initially means stepping outside your immediate needs or comfort; say thank you; speak up if you see something you want changed, and respect the answer if it can’t be done for a fair reason; share your ideas and solutions….

On that note, what ideas do you have?

I know that data and press releases tell us that not all Capetonians are doing what is needed to save water. But many are. WE can do this; and not just because we must.

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Note: I am NOT an expert on disaster management, these ideas are intuitive to me but some in the space may say that we can cause more harm by trying to help when there’s a clear, hierarchical disaster management centre & plan in control… I hope that that plan, protocols etc will become more transparent and empowering sooner rather than later…




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