Crazy idea to capture an iceberg to fix South Africa’s drought

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WHILE Prime Minister Scott Morrison is praying for rain to help Australia’s drought-stricken farmers, South Africa has a different idea to tackle its water scarcity — and it sounds almost as far-fetched. 

A group of scientists is calling on Cape Town to consider towing an iceberg to South Africa to bring relief to a population struggling with the possibility of running out of drinking water.

Earlier this year Cape Town narrowly avoided hitting the dreaded Day Zero, the day it would be forced to shut off the taps. It got lucky when the rain finally arrived — but the threat is likely to return in 2019.

The city’s reservoirs have been dried by three straight years of drought and authorities are blaming climate change and a growing population for putting unprecedented stress on water availability.

Now, a team of scientists and adventurers has proposed a plan to grab an iceberg near Gough Island, in the South Atlantic, tow it more than 2700km and park it in cool waters off the coast of South Africa to be used as a source of drinking water.

If you think this is a new idea, think again. As the BBC reports, a number of countries have explored the idea of hijacking an iceberg through the past century.

In the 1940s, John Isaacs of the Scripps Oceanographic Institute proposed towing an iceberg to San Diego to quench a Californian drought. In the 1970s, Saudi Prince Mohammed al Faisal funded two international conferences to explore his plan to drag an Antarctic iceberg across the equator to Saudi Arabia. And in 2010, the European Union received proposals to tow an iceberg from Newfoundland to the Canary Islands.

But none of those plans materialised, and this latest one is also unlikely to happen any time soon.

The South Africa plan is backed by some of the biggest names in glaciology but the City of Cape Town has said it is not interested in pursuing the bold idea. Although technology and our understanding of icebergs have improved since the concept was first put forth, it remains a huge logistical challenge.

Dragging an iceberg over such a distance would likely require an oil tanker and three tug boats and the fuel costs and complexity might not make it cost-effective, Cape Town officials say.

But with a growing scarcity of potable water affecting cities around the world, moonshot ideas like this might become more and more necessary.

Dr Olav Orheim, director of the Norwegian Polar Institute from 1993 to 2005, thinks icebergs can provide the answer to water scarcity issues.

“There is a never-ending supply. These all melt in the sea. So, all we would be doing is bringing one or two a bit further north,” he told the BBC.

While Earth may be covered in water, fresh water — the kind we care about — represents only 2.5 per cent of that. And almost 99 per cent of fresh water it is trapped in hard-to-reach places like glaciers and snowfields.

In the end, less than 1 per cent of the planet’s water is actually available to fuel and feed the world’s more than 7.6 billion people.

But the amount of water that breaks off Antarctica as icebergs each year could provide the total global consumption of fresh water.

Cities across the world are becoming increasingly thirsty as the demand for water grows and supply dwindles. From Bangalore to California, scientists are offering up grim predictions.

If current patterns of consumption continue unabated, two-thirds of the world’s population will be facing water shortages as a daily reality by 2025.

Professor Mike Young is a water policy expert from Adelaide University and says Australia is no exception.

“What’s happening bit by bit is that water scarcity is becoming increasingly common all around the world, no matter where you look as country after country hits the limit of what it can use,” he told last year.

“Whether that’s in Australia, California, China, India, Pakistan, or right throughout Africa.” News .com