This article outlines the dire situation in Cape Town, South Africa, that may require the city to initiate what it calls “Day Zero” and shut off all water supplies to residents, restricting them to 25 litres of water per day which would be allocated through city-controlled sites. In an associated February 6 article, Cape Town delays water cut-off date amid drought, the same writer revisits the situation which, although somewhat improved, still holds the real possibility of water rationing.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Environmental studies, world issues, man in society

Key Questions to Explore:

  • Why is there such a water shortage?
  • What is the plan to address it?
  • How well received is this plan?
  • What is the likelihood that this plan will be implemented?
  • Is this a one-off, or is it the harbinger of a future world crisis?

New Terminology:

Day Zero, agricultural drawdowns

Materials Needed:

Copies of the articles for the students

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

Some people argue that there will be another major international conflict and that it will be fought, not over energy sources such as oil, but over control of fresh water which is so vital to human survival. Adding to this view is the impact that climate change is having on weather patterns around the world. More and more there are reports of severe droughts that have placed fresh water supplies in jeopardy, all this occurring as the human population continues to grow. While alternatives to fossil fuels are being developed, there is no substitute for fresh water. The Cape Town situation is but a harbinger of future events and, as the world becomes increasingly aware of this threat, there will be increased conflict between nations over control of fresh water supplies. This lesson will highlight this challenge for the students and help them understand the importance of examining this developing challenge.

Action (lesson plan and task):

This lesson will involve having the students engage in an activity called “Pass the Mike”.

Direction to the teacher on how the game “Pass the Mike” is played.

Below, the teacher will find a list of questions which will not be presented to the students until the start of the game. To begin the game, all notes and copies of the articles must be put away.  The teacher will then take a handheld instrument which will be called “the mike” and give it to one of the groups. When doing so, the teacher will indicate which question that group must answer. The group will then pick a member who must go to the front of the room and give as complete an answer as possible. The teacher will award a mark out of five for the answer and, if there is missing or incorrect information that can be added or corrected by another group, that group will be awarded a bonus point. Once that question has been fully answered the person holding the mike will determine the next question that is to be addressed and hand the mike to another group of his or her choosing. Once a student has held the mike that person is not eligible to hold it again. The selected group must pick a member and follow the pattern. This will continue until all questions have been answered. Each group must have the same number of opportunities as each of the other groups. The group with the greatest number of points wins.

  • Begin the lesson by asking the students to identify what natural resources tend to be the source of international friction and have them explain why that is the case.
  • Once they have completed the list ensure that water is on it; otherwise indicate that they have missed an important one and add it to the list.
  • Indicate to them that fresh water shortages are becoming increasingly a problem and that Cape Town, South Africa, as an example, might have to cut off direct access to fresh water for all of its nearly four million residents.
  • Divide the class into four groups and indicate to them that they are going to be given two articles which they must read to prepare for a series of questions that will be asked of the material during a game called “Pass the Mike”.
  • Explain to them how to play the game and then give them the two articles from which to prepare.
  • Allow them time to read and prepare and then begin the game by assigning one of the questions to one of the groups.


  1. What is “Day Zero”?
  2. How does it work?
  3. How will this affect the population?
  4. How many people reside in Cape Town and how much fresh water do they tend to consume?
  5. How much will they be restricted to?
  6. By comparison, how much fresh water does the average Canadian consume?
  7. What has caused the Cape Town problem?
  8. What are the concerns that the Cape Town government has about imposing “Day Zero”?
  9. What services and government agencies will be affected by “Day Zero”?
  10. As a volunteer stop gap measure, how many litres of water is the government asking people to restrict themselves to?
  11. What is the government prepared to do to address those who continue to use excessive amounts of water?
  12. What is the amount of fresh water the city hopes to establish as a daily ceiling of consumption?
  13. How is it that the city apparently will be able to avoid an immediate imposition of “Day Zero”?
  14. What is the total water consumption that the city has been able to reach through voluntary participation?
  15. What are the major industries in the area?
  16. What is meant by agricultural drawdowns?
  17. How will this imposition of “Day Zero” affect these jobs?
  18. How will this imposition affect prices?
  19. What will bring relief to this situation?
  20. What role has climate change played in this situation?

Consolidation of Learning:

  • The students will answer the questions and engage in discussion of the information.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • The students will be aware of the serious threat that a fresh water shortage presents for humanity.

Confirming Activity:

  • Once the game has been completed hold a plenary session during which the students can discuss the potential seriousness of this situation and discuss whether or not they consider it to be a “one off”.