It is currently estimated that the day water taps in Cape Town will be turned off will arrive in early June. At that time, authorities forecast, reserves in the South African city’s reservoir system will have fallen to 13.5 per cent of capacity, and valves to about a million homes will be closed. From then on – until the effects of the rainy season kick in, it is hoped – Capetonians will each be allowed just 25 litres of water a day, carefully distributed from collection points. It’s not hard to see why many fear the worst.

Cape Town confronts ‘Day Zero’ as water supply runs dry

However, what has been dubbed “Day Zero” could have been avoided – or at least delayed. A recent public information campaign has helped cut the city’s daily water consumption from 1.2 billion litres to 540 million litres, according to a Guardian news report. If people had been more frugal with resources when they were plentiful, the situation may not have reached such a worrying state. But people are short-sighted; we rarely think ahead when times are good.

We certainly don’t in Hong Kong. According to government data, we are as profligate with water as we are with other resources; per capita usage in the city stood at 130 litres of fresh water a day in 2014 compared with the world average of 110 litres (figures for comparable cities such as Macau and Singapore are far lower). And we are all culpable; how many of us take more or longer showers than necessary; wash half machine loads of clothes; fail to report leaks; leave the tap running between soakings of a toothbrush; or check the taps when leaving a public restroom? How many of us refuse to let the “yellow mellow”, as Dustin Hoffman’s character puts it in the movie Meet the Fockers?

Hong Kong needs a sense of urgency to tackle water scarcity

“Last year, we were discussing whether it was OK to wee in a public toilet and not flush,” the Guardian reports a Cape Town office worker as saying. “Now we are way beyond that.” One hopes that “if it’s brown, it’s still going down”.

We take water for granted, but we shouldn’t. Given the uncertainties of climate change and rising regional demand for the water we import from the mainland, Cape Town today could be Hong Kong tomorrow. With a little more prudence, however, we may delay – or even avert – our own Day Zero.