Cape Town is dangerously close to becoming the first modern city to run out of water

A dam near Cape Town.
(Image credit: RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, officials in Cape Town, South Africa, moved up their estimate for a water shortage "day zero" by nine days, leaving just 80 to go until residents could lose piped water to their homes due to critically low levels in the city's reservoirs, The Guardian reports. “It is still possible to push back day zero if we all stand together now and change our current path," urged Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson.

The situation is even more dire in other parts of the country, where the town of Patensie has just 25 percent of their water quota left for the year, and Hankey just 9 percent; both are estimated to have their day zero on March 8, SABC TV reporter Jayed- Leigh Paulse said.

The situation in Cape Town, though, is particularly startling; if it actually reaches day zero, it will be "the first major city in the developed world to run out of water," NPR writes. Hitting day zero would mean residents could no longer get water to their homes and would be required to queue at standpipes across the city to get a ration of just 6.6 gallons a day, The Guardian reports.

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A long drought as well as a booming population and poor city planning have exacerbated the situation. "This is not a one-off," said World Wildlife Fund freshwater expert Christine Colvin. "We need to use this now to reboot our entire system to be prepared for it in the future."

As things stand now, Cape Town's nearly 4 million residents are restricted to a daily limit of 87 liters, or about 23 gallons. As of Feb. 1, that consumption will drop even more, to just 13.2 gallons a day, NPR reports. "For people that are used to the luxury that Cape Town promises, this has come across as a rather drastic measure," said BBC correspondent Pumza Fihlani.

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