Rumours are spreading that what little water remains in the local dam is contaminated so families are boiling the tap water and buying bottled water for the children to drink, an expensive luxury they can ill-afford. There are concerns that water scarcity could force the local children’s hospital to close its doors, and water-borne diseases like diarrhoea, cholera and dysentery have become a real threat to the children for the first time.
And then there are the food shortages. Local farmers remain worried that they won’t be able to grow enough fresh food to support the community. A generous donation from a national supermarket chain has been a godsend, but it’s just a sticking plaster and not a solution to the problem.
Day Zero continues to loom in our future, and all we can do is prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. So we are digging boreholes, installing water tanks and teaching the children how to conserve water.
It would be comforting to think that Cape Town’s water crisis is an aberration, but my work has taught me better. Climate change is resulting in more frequent and severe weather events like droughts and floods, and it is children who are being impacted the most. The disease, poverty, displacement and loss of life which accompany such emergencies are all factors contributing to children losing parental care.
For those of us who have dedicated our lives to protecting vulnerable children this is a worrying new global trend. And so, this World Water Day, as I work to protect the children under my care from the effects of climate change, I also fear for the futures of millions of other children whose own climate disaster is yet to come.
Lezel Molefe is Programme Director of the SOS Children’s Village in Cape Town, South Africa, a sister organisation of SOS Children’s Villages UK – part of the world’s largest charity caring for unsupported children.