Currently earmarked for 11 May 2018, #DayZero has serious ramifications for the city and its almost four million residents

When the dam levels reach 13,5%, the Cape Town will begin to shut down its reticulation system in residential areas, which essentially means the taps will run dry.

The Bonitas medical team has considered the health risks when there is a serious drought and proper hygiene cannot be maintained.

“We have researched the potential health risks in the time of a water crisis and compiled easy-to-follow guidelines. Even before taps are turned off, when clean drinking water is not readily available there is a high risk of some diseases which we need to anticipate and mitigate,” says Gerhard Van Emmenis, Principal Officer of Bonitas Medical Fund.Van Emmenis.

Related: #DefeatDayZero: Maimane’s latest Cape drought update

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An increased incidence of certain infectious diseases

The risk for infectious disease increases when hygiene is not maintained and sanitation is poor.

Some of the diseases that may increase in frequency during water shortages include:

  • Gastroenteritis which results in diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Transmission may occur due to eating improperly prepared foods, drinking contaminated water or through close contact with an individual who is infected. Poor personal hygiene and lack of sanitation increase the incidence. Treatment involves getting enough fluids. For mild or moderate cases, drink oral rehydrate but for more severe cases, admission to hospital and intravenous fluids may be needed.
  • Hepatitis A can cause nausea, diarrhoea and jaundice but it is not usually serious and most people make a full recovery within a couple of months with no long-term side effects. Hepatitis A can be prevented by vaccination, good hygiene and sanitation.
  • Acute respiratory illnesses are more easily spread from person to person.
  • Other infectious disease threats arise when drought leads to the contamination of surface waters and other types of water that are used for recreational purposes.


Dehydration occurs when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions.

The most common cause of dehydration is severe diarrhoea and vomiting. You can usually reverse mild to moderate dehydration by drinking more fluids, but severe dehydration needs immediate medical treatment.

Air quality reduction

The dusty, dry conditions and wildfires that may happen during a drought can be harmful to the lungs.

Fire and dry soil and vegetation increase pollen, smoke, dust and fluorocarbons in the air. These substances can irritate the lungs, making chronic respiratory illnesses like asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) worse. This may also increase the risk for acute respiratory infections like bronchitis and pneumonia.

Other drought-related factors affect air quality, including the presence of airborne toxins originating from blue-green algae (cyanobacteria). These toxins can become airborne and have been associated with lung irritation, which may lead to adverse health effects in certain high-risk populations.

Food supply shortages

Crops may be contaminated as water supply dwindles and livestock may become malnourished, diseased and die, and/or have to be slaughtered.

Groundwater and surface water may also become polluted with viruses, bacteria and protozoa when rainfall decreases. Even private wells pose a higher risk of drought-related infectious diseases.

Mental health concerns

As a result of the above, food prices may increase dramatically which could result in economic hardship and possibly malnutrition.

People may experience mental illnesses such as increased anxiety and depression, especially those who rely on the water supply to earn a living and are likely suffer financial hardship. Examples include farmers, landscape gardeners, nursery owners, car washes, pool services, gyms and their employees.

#DayZero: 10 Tips to help you stay healthy

Here are 10 tips to help you stay healthy ahead of the taps being turned off…

  1. Boil water or use water purification tablets for the rainwater we are able to capture. However, preferably use this for flushing the toilet, not for drinking.
  2. Add Milton to water to wash raw veggies – with the listeriosis outbreak as well as the possibility of a Hepatitis A outbreak we can’t afford not to wash our fresh produce!
  3. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser or wet wipes to keep hands clean (and hand cream, because that stuff gets pretty harsh after a while!).
  4. Bicarb and vinegar are excellent for cleaning especially as they don’t ruin the water for grey use.
  5. Dodgy tummy prep: Stock up on rehydrate, probiotics and medicine for stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea.
  6. Use vinegar in the toilet and drains to help combat odours and bacteria.
  7. Clean with micro-fibre cloths or rags, as sponges become unsanitary. It’s far easier to clean cloths – wringing them out and hanging them up immediately can delay them smelling. You can also throw rags away. Alternatively use wet wipes to wipe down surfaces.
  8. Stock up on bottled water exclusively for drinking while the water stations are being sorted out. The recommendation is five litres a day per person and to have four days’ worth of fresh water per person. Do not drink non-potable water (grey water).
  9. Vaccinate against Hepatitis A if you have never been vaccinated (especially healthcare workers, communal food handlers, patients in long-term care facilities and immune-compromised people.)
  10. Mental illnesses such as increased anxiety, depression and even suicide can be managed with the right help. If you or your family have any of the above symptoms, visit your doctor for a mental health assessment sooner rather than later.

“We know it is a difficult time for Capetonians,” says Van Emmenis, “It is stressful trying to save as much water as possible while trying to remain healthy through this time. Our advice is be informed and for those at high risk – such as infants (less than two years old), the elderly and immuno-compromised, people in old-age homes, nursing homes, hospitals and schools, people with chronic conditions and diseases – make sure you are alert to possible health risks as the water shortage continues.”

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.