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Cape Town tightens water limits to 50 liters per person

CNN logo CNN 2/1/2018 By Lauren Said-Moorhouse and Gianluca Mezzofiore, CNN

People queue to collect water from a natural spring in Cape Town, South Africa, Monday, Jan 22, 2018 as the city suffers from one of the worst droughts in recent history. Officials are looking to combat the drought, saying it was looking more likely that it will have to turn off most taps on "Day Zero," or April 21 stating that 60 percent of residents are "callously" using more than the current limit and that the city will fine households that use too much water. (AP Photo/Anwa Essop) © Anwa Essop/AP People queue to collect water from a natural spring in Cape Town, South Africa, Monday, Jan 22, 2018 as the city suffers from one of the worst droughts in recent history. Officials are looking to combat the drought, saying it was looking more likely that it will have to turn off most taps on "Day Zero," or April 21 stating that 60 percent of residents are "callously" using more than the current limit and that the city will fine households that use too much water. (AP Photo/Anwa Essop) Cape Town -- a city once at the forefront of Africa's green movement -- implemented new emergency water restrictions Thursday as the sprawling metropolis prepares for the day their taps run dry.

Residents are now being asked to curb the amount of municipal water they use each day to just 50 liters (a little over 13 gallons). Only a month ago, level 6 restrictions had placed residents on a daily allowance of 87 liters (about 23 gallons), illustrating the severity of looming crisis.

Dubbed Zero Day, officials estimate that if water levels continue to fall as anticipated, South Africa's second most populous city will run out of water by April 16.

Experts are keeping a close eye on daily consumption in a desperate bid to avoid the disaster, warning residents tempted to ignore measures that they face fines and installation of water management meters if they do not comply.

It may seem unthinkable that a developed city of four million could run out of water but it's been a slow-burning catastrophe exacerbated by some uncontrollable factors.

Not only has Cape Town been engaged in the worst drought in a century for the last three years, but combined with a changing climate and rapidly growing population, the situation has intensified.

And as the crisis has taken hold, Capetonians have not been doing enough to curb their usage, further aggravating the water scarcity. Only an estimated 55% of the city's residents are actually using their allotted water per day, according to last week's figures documented by authorities.

The city is now working to upgrade its water systems and help stretch the current supply, but officials say residents need to step up, too.

"It is quite unbelievable that a majority of people do not seem to care and are sending all of us headlong towards Day Zero," the mayor's office said in January. "We can no longer ask people to stop wasting water. We must force them."

As the countdown inches closer, residents have been growing increasingly anxious, with many stockpiling water and installing tanks at their properties.

a screenshot of a cell phone © Defeat Day Zero

One Capetonian, Adele van der Spuy, relayed the daily struggle of so many in a video filmed outside a Makro wholesale supermarket in Cape Town last Friday.

"People were already rushing in and out of the shop to buy water," van der Spuy told CNN. "Some actually went in several times as we were only allowed to buy 5 boxes at a time."

Van der Spuy, who works at GrandWest Casino and Entertainment World, said she had gone to the store to buy water for the employees at her work when she came across the scene.

"Something I never witnessed before. It is eye opening and an indication of the panic and also what lies ahead," she continued.

The woman clarifies that her workplace has a Spaza Shop for staff which sells water from there directly to staff. "This will hopefully assist them as they have to be at work and do not have the time to go to shops during working hours to buy water," van der Spuy said.

Her video is just one of several clips doing the rounds on social media which show water selling out "like hot cakes," van der Spuy said.

"People are queuing in long lines to buy water. Some shops have been sold out for a few days now. It seems like you have to be at the shop as soon as they open in order to get water," van der Spuy added.

CNN's Emily Smith contributed to this report.

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