Updated Feb 23, 2018

Cape Town's "Day Zero" is a bellwether of global water crises

Cape Town residents line up to refill water bottles. Photo: Morgana Wingard / Getty Images

With reservoirs already extremely low after a punishing drought, Cape Town is now projected to run out of water as early as July. The city of 4 million has implemented drastic conservation measures, restricting residents to 50 liters (13 gallons) of water per day, around 15% as much as the average person in the U.S.

The details: Cape Town’s usage caps mean foregoing everyday comforts — hand-washing clothes and dishes, flushing the toilet once per day and of course leaving lawns to dry out. These measures aim to see the city through the final two months of the dry season.

Severe water shortages are increasingly common around the world. Over the last decade, the Millennium Drought in Australia threatened the water supplies of Melbourne and Brisbane. A years-long drought in California led to cuts in irrigation water in 2014 and state-wide water restrictions in 2015. There have been ongoing shortages in Mexico City, where up to 20% of the population (around 4 million people) have gone without regular access to tap water.

What's next: As urban populations continue to grow, and climate change continues to shift precipitation patterns and drive up temperatures, the risks of water disruptions around the world will only increase.

What cities can do:

  1. Conserve water now, as options are limited once crisis hits. Implement land-use strategies to retain water, like natural areas and wetlands.
  2. Avoid overextending supply lines, which are more vulnerable to disasters and increase the likelihood of overuse.
  3. Prepare for the future effects of climate change on water availability. Existing water infrastructure will become less and less sufficient as supplies dwindle, populations expand and precipitation timing changes.

The bottom line: Cities cannot afford to view their water supplies as guaranteed. To develop disaster and climate resilience will take political will, commitment and major investment.

Aaron Packman is a professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Center for Water Research at Northwestern University.

Go deeper

LATAM Airlines files for U.S. chapter 11 bankruptcy

A LATAM air attendant aboard one of the company's planes in March. Photo: Kike Calvo/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

LATAM Airlines Group SA said in a statement early Tuesday the firm and its affiliates in in the United States, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S.

Why it matters: Latam is Latin America's largest airline and its shareholders include Delta Air Lines. CEO Roberto Alvo noted in the statement the coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on the airline industry.

Novavax starts human trials for coronavirus vaccine

Novavax's Nita Patel with a computer model showing the protein structure of a potential coronavirus vaccine at the lab in Gaithersburg, Maryland in March. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Novavax began clinical trials of a vaccine for the novel coronavirus in Australia on Tuesday, per a statement from the Maryland-based biotechnology firm.

The state of play: 131 volunteers in the Australian cities of Melbourne and Brisbane will undergo injections as part of the study, the company’s research chief Gregory Glenn said during a briefing, per Australian Associated Press.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 a.m. ET: 5,495,061 — Total deaths: 346,232 — Total recoveries — 2,231,738Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 a.m. ET: 1,662,302 — Total deaths: 98,220 — Total recoveries: 379,157 — Total tested: 14,604,942Map.
  3. World: Italy reports lowest number of new cases since February — Ireland reports no new coronavirus deaths on Monday for the first time since March 21 — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: New York stock exchange to reopen its floor on Tuesday — White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy