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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Gitanjali Rao speaks onstage during The 2018 MAKERS Conference at NeueHouse Hollywood on February 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Rachel Murray/Getty Images for MAKERS)

While Flint’s water crisis has fallen out of the public news cycle, its residents are still living with the aftermath of an estimated 40 percent of homes that drank and bathed in dangerously lead-polluted water. It took several years, in which residents—including children—were turning up with mysterious rashes and other illnesses—before national attention to the crisis forced the city to admit it had a problem.

The city of Flint disconnected from Detroit’s water line as a cost-cutting measure and began to draw water from the Flint River in April 2014. Soon after, shockingly high levels of lead were found in the city's water supply.

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Mukhande Singh (formerly Christopher Sandborn)/Live Water

Do you long for the good old days? When times were simpler, the pace was slower. You know, the days before water was treated to eliminate deadly diseases like E.coli and cholera? Well then, Silicon Valley has the trend for you: raw water.

Raw water is unfiltered, untreated, unsterilized spring water that will set you back upwards of $37 a jug. That is, if you can find it. It’s in such high demand in the Silicon Valley area that it’s often out of stock.

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In the 21st century, our industrialized system has stripped the human element from the most basic human needs. Food, air, and water—these things are elemental, required by all life. Yet the molecules that sustain us are too often consigned to the footnotes of our life story.

But few people read the footnotes until their lives depend upon it. Unless they’re black or poor. Or they live in Flint, Michigan, with brackish, brownish water pouring out of their taps. Imagine, for just one minute, learning that you fed your baby formula with water that was tainted by lead, and that it may be years before symptoms manifest.

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