Day Zero: Avoiding a Global Water Crisis

From the air we breathe to the water we drink, pollution has pervaded every activity essential for human beings. With the current state of water pollution and climate-change-induced drought, the world may be heading towards a water crisis. Certain pockets of the world have already confronted severe water shortages, leading up to Day Zero. Day Zero refers to the “day when a city’s taps run completely dry, forcing people to stand in queues to collect their daily quota of water.” Several cities such as Cape Town in Africa and Chennai in India have been the closest victim of the crisis. Day Zero has been prominently occurring in multiple cities such as Cape Town and Chennai, India.

The first crisis

In 2018, South Africa’s Cape Town suffered from severe water shortages and received worldwide attention. It was at this point that Cape Town was heading towards Day Zero. The city has a high demand for water and inadequate supply which is the major cause of the water shortage.

The pertinent question as to how Cape Town tackled the water shortage is of utmost relevance. If there had been in action, 4 million inhabitants could have been left without water (Harding, 2021). One of the foremost and the most logical measures taken by the city was to ration water at 50 liters per person per day, with punitive tariffs for those who exceeded the rationed amount, which proved to be effective in keeping Day Zero at bay (Khan, 2019). The rationed quote of water was far less than the global average of 185 liters per day per person. Additionally, water consumption was also drastically reduced by 40 percent for agricultural activities. Collectively, these efforts helped the city overcome Day Zero.

As per predictions for January 2020, some rain has been recorded across Southern Africa which has filled up reservoirs. But, the forecast is for dry weather which does make several cities in the African subcontinent vulnerable to the water crisis making them face Day Zero. Some cities have even taken to cutting down trees – deforestation – so as to divert the water from these plants towards human consumption. Sadly, these are not effective long-term measures. The key issue to be targeted is the gap between the supply and demand of water. Second, the management of water within the city through effective policies and taking preventive action to conserve water.

Thus, Day Zero is any city’s worst nightmare. With climate change getting worse, it is important to raise more awareness about the situation. The city of Chennai is also in no better position to tackle water shortages.

Chennai’s crisis

It was not too long ago when Chennai invited Hollywood’s Oscar-winning actor Leonardo di Caprio’s attention owing to its water crisis. Di Caprio’s tweet, “’Only rain can save Chennai from this situation” (‘Only Rain Can Save Chennai From This Situation’: Leonardo DiCaprio, n.d.) in 2019 was probably the talk of the country back then until Covid-19 took over.

Chennai as a city has been confronted with water shortages ever since the colonial days and it has become more pronounced with climate change. Due to its geographical location, it is highly dependent on external support to procure water from neighboring states like Kerala and Karnataka. In 2019, the city officials on June 19th declared Day Zero when almost no water was left for the inhabitants. The primary cause of the water crisis was the shortage of rainfall during the preceding two monsoon seasons which was further made worse by the heat waves that summer. That very year Chennai witnessed good rainfall, but getting past the summer drought was an arduous task on the city’s part. The entire situation was further aggravated by the mismanagement on the government’s part.

Regardless of the area under consideration, water shortages are a concern worldwide and these two cases of Cape Town and Chennai are a lesson to be learned by cities. Day Zero is almost a reality for several countries owing to the present demand for water, climate change, pollution, and other allied environmental concerns.


Avoid another “Day Zero” water crisis by Saving Water. (2021, March 21). EarthFokus. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from

Harding, A. (2021, November 10). Cape Town’s Day Zero: ‘We are axing trees to save water’. BBC. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from

Heggie, J. (n.d.). Day Zero: Where next? National Geographic. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from

Khan, A. (2019, January 17). Cape Town’s ‘Day Zero’: Where Are We Now? China Water Risk. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from

‘Only rain can save Chennai from this situation’: Leonardo DiCaprio. (n.d.). Twitter. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from Sunder, K. (2021, January 6). How to stop another ‘Day Zero’. BBC. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from

Published by LakesOfIndia

Lakes of India is an E.F.I initiative aimed at sensitizing the larger public on freshwater habitats across the country. A blog platform where one can read about lakes across India. You can become a guest blogger to write about a lake in your hometown and initiate an action to protect that lake.

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