(CNN)In Cape Town, South Africa, they’re calling it “Day Zero” — the day when the taps run dry.
Cape Town is South Africa’s second-largest city and a top international tourist draw. Now, residents play a new and delicate game of water math each day.
They’re recycling bath water to help flush toilets. They’re being told to limit showers to 90 seconds. And hand sanitizer, once somewhat of an afterthought, is now a big seller.
“Unwashed hair is now a sign of social responsibility,” resident Darryn Ten told CNN.
The genesis of the crisis
So how did this happen? How does a major city in the developed world just run dry?
It’s been a slow-motion crisis, exacerbated by three factors:
Coping with the shortage
The shortage is forcing some residents to get creative.
Alistair Coy, who’s vacationing in Cape Town from the United Kingdom, strains the water that’s left over from boiling potatoes into a bucket.
Many residents are reusing bucket water, such as Anne Verbist, who recycles her tap water to tend to her plants.
“We catch all water from the tap to wash hands and dishes and use it for the plants,” she said.
But creativity is also creating problems.
“People (are) buying anything that can hold water,” resident Richard Stubbs said. “No buckets, no (gas cans) or drums (are) in stock. So people (are) buying bins, vases and large storage boxes.”
Some then fill up these containers with water from the city supplies — further feeding the crisis.
Worries about drinking water
Verbist and some other residents said that while they use tap water for household needs, they are reluctant to drink it.
“They claim it is fine to drink, but the kids were having tummy issues,” she said.
So now, she and her family trek to the Newlands Spring to get their allotted liters of water twice a month. They tried to replenish their drinking water reserves Monday, but the line was too long. They went back the next day.
Lincoln Mzwakali said his tap water “tastes funny” as well, so he relies on the spring.
“Many neighboring communities have started depending on it,” he said.
CNN asked the city of Cape Town about the water quality concerns that some residents reported but has not received a response.
Long lines and bare essentials
It’s not lost on residents that “Day Zero” is fast approaching.
“It’s frightening, especially when you actually see the dams where we get our water from,” Verbist said.
Water levels at dams supplying the city have dropped 1.4% in the last week, and video taken Tuesday of the city’s largest dam, Theewaterskloof, shows an almost-barren reservoir bed.
Some who have money to leave Cape Town until the crisis subsides are doing so. Darryn Ten plans on doing just that.
“Basically, everyone I know who is in the position to be able to leave is doing so,” he said. “The consensus is that everyone who can get out of town should do so in order to help lessen the burden.”
But there are those who can’t — the elderly, disabled and the impoverished.
“They don’t have the money to buy water,” Verbist told CNN.
“It’s been a hard transition because a lot of Capetonians aren’t understanding how we got to this point when the municipality was well-informed that we would experience a drought,” Mzwakali said. “There are a lot of angry people and not enough answers on how this is going to be resolved.”