Read More: Nat Geo
Cape Town's main water supply, at the Theewaterskloof Dam, is running dry, and the city may soon have to turn off its taps. By late spring, four million people in the city of Cape Town—one of Africa's most affluent metropolises—may have to stand in line surrounded by armed guards to collect rations of the region's most precious commodity: drinking water. Population growth and a record drought, perhaps exacerbated by climate change, is sparking one of the world's most dramatic urban water crises, as South African leaders warn that residents are increasingly likely to face "Day Zero." That's the day, now projected for mid-April, when the city says it will be forced to shut off taps to homes and businesses because reservoirs have gotten perilously low—a possibility officials now consider almost inevitable. "The question that dominates my waking hours now is: When Day Zero arrives, how do we make water accessible and prevent anarchy?" says Helen Zille, former Cape Town mayor and the current premier of South Africa's Western Cape province, in a guest newspaper column published last week. For years, a shutdown of this magnitude in such a cosmopolitan city had been almost inconceivable. But as overdevelopment, population growth, and climate changeupset the balance between water use and supply, urban centers from North America to South America and from Australia to Asia increasingly face threats of severe drinking-water shortages. Nowhere has that threat seemed to come on faster and catch more by surprise than it has in Cape Town. "I'm afraid we're at the 11th hour," says South African resource-management expert Anthony Turton. "There is no more time for solutions. We need an act of God. We need divine intervention."