Drought posters: too much?

Local authorities in Cape Town have come under fire this week for their latest attempts to convince tourists of the severity of the drought in the Mother City, with critics saying the posters “go too far”, and are “frankly rather scary” and “wholly distasteful”.

The summer tourist season is approaching, and many residents have expressed concern that transient visitors will either be unaware of our water crisis or simply won’t care, and would therefore waste our precious resources. Tourism is huge business in the Western Cape, with 1.5 million international visitors spending a massive R18 billion in the province in 2016. It’s clear that without that money, Cape Town would be in deep trouble, but running out of water completely would obviously be a disaster.

However, those same residents were stunned at the authorities response, with shocking posters which are set to be displayed prominently in the arrivals area in the airport and at popular tourist sites around the city.

Elsie Grootbek of Newlands was aghast:

Look, of course I know that the drought is a big issue, but South Africa does have a bit of a reputation and posters like this really don’t help with that. This is terrible. Which moron actually thought that this would be a good idea?

Reaction to other posters was equally incredulous. Fanie Praatbaie, a guest house owner in Melkbosstrand, couldn’t believe the posters and was concerned what effect they might have:

It’s bad taste and really off-putting. We’ll talk to our visitors, one to one, and explain the water crisis. We don’t need this sort of thing welcoming our tourists. It might even spark vigilante action if one of our guests takes a 4 minute shower or something. It’s hugely worrying.

However, government representatives were quick to point out that this ‘shocked’ reaction was exactly what they were after.

Spokesperson Willem van der Maydup told us:

It’s really not meant to be threatening. It’s just designed to make people think when they turn the taps on in their hotel rooms. Water is the lifeblood of any city, and we want visitors to value our water as if it were their own blood.
I showed one of the posters to my 6 year old son last week and it’s clearly had an effect: he hasn’t even gone into the bathroom since then. Or slept.

It’s unclear whether the backlash will force the authorities to change their mind on the controversial campaign, but with the local tourism season just around the corner, it may be too late to come up with an alternative means of getting their important message across.

Anton’s grave warning

No. Not you, Anton. This Anton:

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a lot of emails from readers struggling to work out exactly what might happen regarding the drought situation during the upcoming summer, and I’ll be absolutely honest here, I’ve fobbed them off with answers that most politicians would be proud of. I’ve meandered around the subject, filibustered relentlessly, and fed them current statistics which actually have no bearing whatsoever on the medium-term status of our water supply here in the Western Cape.

But that’s because I’m just a humble blogger. I don’t have the massive resources of Provincial Government backing me up. I can’t call upon supercomputers, meteorologists, hydrologists and Mystic Myrtle from Accounts to give me expert advice and information on how things are likely to progress from this moment onwards.

Anton has all of this (and, I suspect, more) right at his fingertips, and wow… doesn’t it just show…

Because here’s what he said yesterday:

I mean… who knew?

I had several possible scenarios for the summer planned out on the giant Western Cape water crisis whiteboard which dominates our bedroom, but I have to say that each and every one of them suggested that things were bound to improve on the drought front – at least until the next rainfall season. I certainly couldn’t have predicted that things would – and here I borrow the erstwhile MEC’s exact words – “in all likelihood” “get worse”.

And looking now, I still stand by my previous thoughts, too, because actually, without the assistance of experts, who ever could have come up with this sort of prediction: that 6 or more months of hot, dry weather locally could possibly make a drought worse (in all likelihood, at least)?

Of course, now I will have to get my (waterless) eraser out and revisit my mental machinations on the most probable consequences of the dry season on the Western Cape water crisis.

I sincerely hope that I haven’t predicted the outcome of the next rainfall season incorrectly as well. Right now, I can’t see it having any positive effect. How will water, falling from the sky make any difference to our dam levels? It clearly won’t, and it’s laughable to think otherwise.

Although, thinking again, maybe we should wait for the experts to confirm that.

After all, insight like this is exactly why we pay them the big, big bucks.

Southernmost sculpture

News from Cape Agulhas is that the new … the new… “thing” at the Southernmost Tip of Africa is nearly completed. I use the word “thing” simply because I’m not sure what other word I can use to better describe it. It’s a sculpture, yes, but it’s surely more than that as well.

The people building it are calling it The Agulhas Icon, which is all very well, but also suggests that they’re a bit unsure of what – other than iconic – it is.

For years, the Southernmost point in Africa – and the official meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans – has been marked by a small cairn unveiled by one P.W. Botha (who he?) on 23rd August 1986, and which people have climbed onto, been photographed next to, or blogged from several metres behind ever since. And that’s not going to change. It’s what is just next to the cairn which is being revamped.

The design is by Strijdom van der Merwe – and that’s great because I really like his stuff. It’s a circular area, sensibly based around a combination of a compass and the African continent.

The artistic representation of the African continent taking shape. It is important that this iconic form is visible on Google Earth as this will be the iconic destination point marker online.
Well-known geological features such as Cape Point, Table Mountain, Namib dunes, Victoria Falls,
Rift Valley, Sahara Dunes and the Nile River will be visible.

Low walls will encourage visitors to sit and stay for a while, soaking up the atmosphere, sheets of steel will dramatically emerge from the four points of the compass – with the Southerly point obviously given the greatest prominence – while lines created from the local stone will dissect and trisect and… well you get the idea… the space. A few teaser progress images were released this week, and I think it looks fantastic.

It’s very bold, very strong, very… Iconic.
A really cool and important addition to the area.

Plague in Madagascar: not good, but not unusual either

Microbiology in the news again. This time it’s an outbreak of the plague in Madagascar, and it’s causing a bit of a stir.
Now, don’t get me wrong – an outbreak of plague is never a good thing – but once again, a little perspective is called for here. Surprise (and if I may be so bold) “surprise”.

Plague is one of those diseases which captures the public’s imagination, with historical tales about the Black Death sweeping across Europe in the Middle Ages and killing an awful lot of people in its path. And because of that history, plague has a cool nickname and a “superstar” disease status, and news outlets – desperate for clicks – are getting overly excited about it, just like they did with Ebola.

But the fact is that plague is not just a historical disease: yes, it was infamously around a few hundred years ago, but it never really went away. As with many diseases, its prevalence has merely declined due to better hygiene, better education, better pest control and better medical treatment. But even in (supposedly) developed countries like the USA, there are still up to 20 documented cases of plague each year. Worldwide, there are a few hundred reported cases each year, with a mortality rate of around 25%. However, it’s likely that there are many more unreported cases, given that it is now primarily a disease found in rural areas of less developed countries.

The bad news is that Madagascar is a less developed country than the USA (albeit that its gun control laws are somewhat better), and this makes outbreaks of plague (or any other infectious disease) more likely to occur there and more difficult to control once they do.

The better news is that while this is a terrible and potentially disastrous situation, at this point, it’s certainly not unusual. Madagascar is the plague capital of the world (look, it’s not a claim that they stick on their tourism posters) with around 80% of the world’s cases each year, and outbreaks occur almost annually around this time of year, as the temperatures start to rise and the rat and flea populations – vectors of the disease – start to increase.
Additionally, because of this recent history, the authorities will be better set up to deal with the outbreak, despite the challenges mentioned above. And as we saw with Ebola in West Africa in 2014, that’s really important. Also, as long as you can get treated promptly, as a bacterial disease, plague is eminently treatable with simple, basic, cheap antibiotics.

I’m in no way belittling a very serious situation, but if you didn’t get all panicky and excited about the plague outbreaks in Madagascar in, say, 2014 and 2015, then right now there’s really no reason to get carried away about this one either.

That big day

With apologies to Jasper Carrott.

It was on a Sunday morning that to Hillsborough we did roam.
I hadn’t got a ticket, so I had to stay at home*.
I loaded up with tele snacks and several crates of beer.
I chucked a toilet roll at next door’s cat for atmosphere.

A nice, uneventful Sheffield United win would be perfect. But local derbies don’t always go that way, of course…

And just as a note, yesterday’s was an interesting evening. I’m just putting that here to remind me to tell you about it.

 

* Actually going to a friend’s house to watch it on his imax style tv.