The quaint little town of Phalaborwa is situated at the gates of the Kruger National Park, an international heritage asset in South Africa. It is just a few kilometres away from the mighty Olifants river from where it draws its water. This Christmas, the town was plunged into a water crisis like no other before. Taps ran dry and for four days residents had to manage with bottled water that they obtained from supermarkets and filling stations in the area. This crisis was compounding another crisis involving an electricity black-out affecting large parts of the town. Authorities issued statements indicating that they were aware of the situation and that they were resolving it. At first there were conflicting statements as they said that the water purification plant on the banks of the Olifants river was unable to cope as the river was delivering gallons of muddy water into the purification system and they could not keep up with purifying the water. Later on a video emerged indicating that there was a burst mainline pipe and that they needed to fix it first to enable them to resume supply of water to the town.
The municipality released some water tankers to strategic areas where residents could collect water to ease the crisis. Temperatures were going into the mid 30s. It was very hot. By this time all the supermarkets and filling stations had run out of bottled and purified water. There was not a drop of water in the whole town except for those with swimming pools who could use the swimming pool water for other domestic purposes. In a communication on 26 December 2020, the municipality indicated that they will resume the supply of water by 12:30 on Sunday, 27 December 2020 as they first had to fill up the reservoirs before releasing the water to the households and business. At least large parts of the town had by now, been able to regain electricity supply. Most residents reported this as the worse Christmas they have had in years.
Residents said that the situation reminded them of the crisis that faced the city of Cape Town between January to July 2018 when the city was faced with a water crisis of major proportions. Hopefully the Phalaborwa crisis will not last that long for the sake of the residents. However, each passing day is a day too long for those who are sitting at home without water in temperatures of up to 38 degrees Celsius. With proper planning and utilisation of resources, authorities can avoid such major calamities in the future.