Helen Zille. Picture: THE TIMES
Helen Zille. Picture: THE TIMES

Western Cape premier Helen Zille has assured residents of Cape Town that the water supply to public and private healthcare facilities will be maintained in the event of "day zero" — the day on which the municipal supply drops so low it will turn off the taps.

Cape Town is confronting the worst drought in recorded history, and estimates that at current consumption rates it has only enough water to continue providing piped water to homes and businesses until April 16. If day zero happens, residents will be rationed to 25 litres of water a day, which they will have to obtain at designated collection points.

"An agreement has been reached with the City of Cape Town for facilities located in the Metro that water will not be shut off at hospitals and health facilities (both public and private) should we reach day zero," Zille said in a statement issued shortly after she briefed health facility CEOs on Tuesday afternoon.

Despite this promise, the province had made plans to guarantee alternative water supplies for hospitals in the "extremely unlikely" event that taps had to be turned off at these facilities as well, she said. The province was trying to ensure clinics and day facilities remain open as well in this unlikely scenario, she said.

"Should we reach day zero, facilities are being equipped to ensure they remain fully operational and available to the public. This means other water sources are being planned for such a scenario. Groundwater will be used to augment the supply at large facilities. Some facilities already have boreholes, which are being reinstated. And in other cases, new boreholes are being sunk."

The province has identified 18 high priority health facilities, of which 16 have sufficient groundwater to provide for their needs. Work was underway to secure supplies for the two outstanding facilities — Groote Schuur Hospital and Caledon Hospital — as they did not have sufficient groundwater.

The priority facilities include Tygerberg, Groote Schuur and Red Cross Hospitals, as well as Lentegeur, New Somerset, Mowbray, Mitchell’s Plain, Karl Bremer and Stikland Hospitals. Nine rural hospitals have also been earmarked.

"Plans are in place to ensure the water is tested and reticulated into the hospital systems" Zille said. "Because Groote Schuur Hospital is located in difficult and low-yielding geo-hydrology, permission is being requested from South African National Parks to explore for water on their land adjacent to the facility. This is also the case for Caledon, where permission has been granted by the municipality to drill on their adjacent property to obtain sufficient water yields for the facility."

Lower priority facilities that did not have groundwater could be supplied with tankers, she said, emphasising that day zero was not a certainty, and that it could be avoided if Capetonians reduced their consumption to 50 litres per person per day.

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