The mining of coal is incredibly water-intensive and South Africa is a dangerously water-scarce country currently facing a mega water crisis in three provinces (Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape) has been declared a national disaster.

The water crisis has exposed a layer of stark inequality in South Africa: the unequal access to water of mega water users in comparison to the general population. While South Africans struggle with complex water access issues, mega water guzzlers have undisputed access to high-quality water. An estimated two-thirds of South Africa’s water goes towards irrigation for agriculture. Mega water users can use mind-boggling amounts of water where South Africa’s coal-based energy sector consumes more water per second than the global average.

In February 2018, Greenpeace Africa petitioned the South African government to declare the Northern, Eastern and Western Cape’s as national disaster areas. This petition was successful when the Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs declared a state of national disaster in these provinces in March 2018.

The fact is, Day Zero is a reality for millions across the country who do not have access to water. In essence, the concept of Day Zero quite successfully exposed a layer of inequality in South Africa. It is for this reason that Greenpeace Africa has been engaging in the public space about what it means to realise water as a human and constitutional right thereby asking South Africans to stand up and #DefendWater.


Melita Steele, Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager, Greenpeace Africa.

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