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A City of 4 Million People Is About to Run Out of Water

Cape Town is facing a Mad Max scenario as it prepares to be the first — but not the last — major urban area to run out of water.

Cape Town is getting ready for “Day Zero.” That’s the day this affluent coastal metropolis — South Africa’s second-largest city — will shut off water for four million people. In February, the government announced that Day Zero will arrive on May 11. That date could move, depending on a number of factors, including rainfall and usage levels by citizens and businesses. But the message is clear; there is no longer enough drinking water to meet the needs of the population. The city’s reservoirs have fallen to record low levels. Once they hit 10 percent, the pumps begin to draw up silt and debris, so at 13 percent, the city will turn them off.

Some worry that a “Mad Max” scenario in which people battle over scarce resources will occur, but Cape Town officials say they are planning for order, not chaos. But the world should be on alert: Cape Town is only the first of a long list of cities around the world that will face the same challenge.

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