accessibility & help

Cape Town water shortage

At a time when the news is full of stories of flooding, it is easy to forget that some parts of the world have not seen rainfall for several months or sometime longer. These photo, discussion, gap-fill and role-play activities focus on water shortages in Cape Town, South Africa. Young people will think about the reality of water shortages and how people’s lives are affected and what they can do to adapt. They will also consider the emotions involved, how to support people who need help and the places where water shortages are a constant reality.

Suggested age range: 11–16

Curriculum links: PSHE

Carrying water

Display the image. Invite learners to think about where the people are. Why are they filling water bottles?

Explain that the picture shows residents of Cape Town, South Africa, refilling water bottles at a water point in late January 2018. They are collecting water to add to the very limited amount they are permitted to use through their household taps. Since the beginning of February, the city’s four million residents have been restricted to just 50 litres per person per day from their taps at home.

One reason for the shortages is a severe drought.

Ask learners to imagine the girl’s mood. How do they think she might be feeling about the drought and having to collect and carry water home after school?

Working in small groups, think about:

  • How much might she be able to carry?
  • How much do they think they could carry comfortably?
  • How much water do they think they would need for a five-minute shower?

Note: one litre of water weighs approximately one kilogram. (You could bring in a large bag of flour or sugar to demonstrate this, or a bottle of water.)

Display or read out the quote from a young woman at the spring:

“I am strong and healthy, but also a single parent. Carrying 25 litres of water is nearly impossible for me for more than five metres without setting it down.”

Ask learners to imagine they lived a 15-minute walk from the spring. How long do they think it would take to carry the water home without any help?

Think of other people who might find it difficult to carry water home. Who might be able to help them?

Where the water goes

People in Cape Town currently have a daily allowance of 50 litres of water.

Ask learners to guess on average how much water people in the UK consume each day. (Answer: 150 litres per person – a big difference.)

Then think about where the water goes. Remember that the 50 litres isn’t just for your personal drinking or washing. It has to cover everything – cleaning, food preparation and, of course, flushing the toilet.

Ask young people working in groups to make a list of the water essentials. Share ideas and record on the board.

Then compare it with this list provided by the government of the Western Cape.

  • Brushing teeth and washing hands
  • Cooking
  • Dish washing
  • Drinking
  • Flushes
  • House cleaning
  • Laundry
  • Pets
  • Shower

What did groups miss? What did they think was essential that wasn’t on the list? Are there any on this list that they don’t think are essential?

Still in groups, consider how learners would allocate their daily 50 litres to the nine uses above.

Display this pie chart with the proportions recommended by the local government, but with the uses missing. Can the group guess which of the uses above goes where?


Graph showing the amount of water per person per day© Info


Discuss findings and compare with the official guidelines presented on a government poster. Or use the completed pie chart below.


Graph dividing 50 litres of water© Info


What were the biggest discrepancies between what the groups thought and the official advice? Can the young people explain them?

Look at the additional notes in each segment on the poster. Which of the advice is the most helpful? What do learners think about only being able to flush the toilet once a day? Or having to have a stop-start shower?

Extension activity: Ask learners to make their own pie chart, based on the list they made of essential uses. How would they divide up their 50 litres?

Day Zero

Ask learners to think about what is meant by “Day Zero”, in terms of water shortages.

Then discuss if learners have ever experienced water shortages. If they haven’t, ask them to imagine it:

  • Where were they, and how did they adapt?
  • What did they find most difficult?
  • When did the water shortage last?
  • How did they feel when it ended?

Water restrictions are a way of rationing the water that exists, so it lasts longer. The local government in Cape Town has warned that in the next few months all the water to households may be turned off. This day is known as Day Zero.

The government has a website showing the latest calculation for when Day Zero might arrive.


  • How might the risk of the taps being turned off change people’s use of water?
  • How might they feel, knowing the water could one day run out?
  • What do they think they might do differently?

In pairs, consider how they could help and encourage other people in their community to save water.

Missing watery words

Once young people have completed the following gap fill activity (display or hand out), discuss the sentences. Which do they find most interesting? Which were they surprised by?

  1. supplies
  2. flooding
  3. hosepipe
  4. non-potable
  5. diarrhoea
  6. drought

  1. Street cleaning and fire hydrants use _____ water that is not meant for drinking.
  2. When water is running out, _____ bans are a common way to get people to use less.
  3. Water shortages can be caused by _____, which is a period of very low rainfall.
  4. Surprisingly, people can also not have enough reliable, clean water in times of ____.
  5. Water _____ should not be disrupted during times of conflict and are protected under the “rules of war”.
  6. Lack of safe drinking water in less developed countries can lead to the spread of illnesses such as _____ and cholera.


1d; 2c; 3f; 4b; 5a; 6e

Water supplies: developing empathy

Cape Town is a modern, highly developed city and so the water restrictions here make the news. However, there are many people around the world, including many in the townships (the poorer suburbs) close to Cape Town, who have never had tap water in their homes. They always have to carry enough water for their daily needs from sources outside their homes.

Ask learners to suggest other places in the world that often have water shortages.

In pairs, imagine a conversation between two people:

  • Someone who lives in central Cape Town and is experiencing limits on tap water for the first time.


  • Someone who lives in informal, underdeveloped housing on the outskirts of the city and has never had tap water supplied to their home.

Think about the kind of conversation they might have. Could they share useful tips on water saving? How could they empathise with each other’s current situation? What would they have in common? What would be different?

Prepare a series of imagined role-play dialogues. A short episode could be performed for the wider school as an introduction to the Cape Town water shortages, and to think about water shortages in general.


This resource was written by P J White of Alt62 and published in February 2018.