Water crisis: Lessons from South Africa

There’s a giant clock ticking until the next major city runs out of water.

Cape Town almost became the first major city in the world to run out of water in 2018. Four years later, the city has learned valuable lessons while the country remains stagnant, and its largest city, Johannesburg, is facing a water crisis, too. But this time, there’s no drought.

It could take a trillion dollars a year to stop a countdown that affects us all. That’s what the World Resources Institute estimates the world would need to spend every year — 1% of global GDP — to deliver sustainable, clean water for the world.

In our most ambitious mini-documentary yet, Semafor’s Joe Posner meets up with South African journalists Sam Mkokeli, and Latashia Naidoo to report from where the reality on the ground suggests the clock is going to repeatedly hit zero.


0:00 – Intro
2:00 – The View from Coca-Cola
3:30 – Cholera outbreak in South Africa
4:28 – Johannesburg water shortage
5:48 – South Africa’s Water corruption
8:14 – Cape Town’s 2018 crisis
9:20 – 50 Liters a day
10:00 – The Day Zero playbook
12:00 – Why Cape Town was vulnerable
13:00 – Cape Town’s water investments
14:50 – Why South Africa didn’t learn Cape Town’s lessons
17:20 – Politics can poison the water supply elsewhere, too
17:41 – Singapore’s success
18:50 – A crisis for democracy
20:34 – South Africa’s enduring inequality
23:00 – A glimmer of hope
24:00 – The world needs to invest more
25:58 – What you can do