Johannesburg Endures Water Shortages Amid Heat, Crumbling System

Apr 5, 2024

Global Water Usage

The city of Johannesburg, South Africa, and nearby regions are facing a water crisis. It is taxing the patience and resolve of the urban region’s 6 million residents. A long spell of hot weather has drained reservoirs. But an old water system is mostly to blame for the crisis.

South African residents have long endured power outages. They're often referred to as “loadshedding.” This is when the power grid is overloaded. Now, residents are using a new term for the water shortage. “Watershedding.”  

“We are really struggling,” Moloi, a resident of Soweto Township, told The Associated Press (AP). “We need to cook, and children must also attend school. We need water to wash their clothes. It’s very stressful.” 

Families line up for water that arrives from municipal water tanks. But they often run out of water before the next tank comes, Moloi told the AP. Buying water from stores is too costly for many in a country where 1 in 3 adults is unemployed. A 1.3-gallon bottle of water sells for about 25 rand. That's $1.30 US dollars.  

Water authorities in Johannesburg and Pretoria, the nation’s capital, told people that they must begin greatly cutting back on water use this week or the system could fully collapse. That would involve reservoirs falling below 10% capacity. In that case, workers would need to stop them from running in order to refill them.     

Activists and others said the crisis has been building for decades. They say leaders failed to invest in upkeep of the aging water system. The system became more taxed after apartheid fell in the early 1990s. This event expanded services to the country’s tens of millions of Black residents.  

Reflect: How would a severe drought affect your community?

Based on the infographic, which of the following countries’ residents use less than the global average amount of water per person? (Common Core RI.5.7; RI.6.7)
a. Canada
b. Germany
c. South Africa
d. Botswana
For more formative assessments, visit to start a free trial.

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