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date: 19 October 2021

Decision-Making in a Water Crisis: Lessons From the Cape Town Drought for Urban Water Policylocked

Decision-Making in a Water Crisis: Lessons From the Cape Town Drought for Urban Water Policylocked

  • Johanna Brühl, Johanna BrühlEnvironment for Development, Environmental Policy Research Unit, University of Cape Town
  • Leonard le Roux, Leonard le RouxEnvironment for Development, Environmental Policy Research Unit, University of Cape Town and Sciences Po, Department of Economics
  • Martine VisserMartine VisserSchool of Economics, University of Cape Town
  •  and Gunnar KöhlinGunnar KöhlinEnvironment for Development, University of Gothenburg and School of Economics, University of Cape Town

Summary

The water crisis that gripped Cape Town over the 2016–2018 period gained global attention. For a brief period of time in early 2018, it looked as if the legislative capital of South Africa would become the first major city in the world to run out of water. The case of Cape Town has broad implications for how we think about water management in a rapidly urbanizing world. Cities in the global South, especially, where often under-capacitated urban utilities need to cope with rapid demographic changes, climate change, and numerous competing demands on their tight budgets, can learn from Cape Town’s experience.

The case of Cape Town draws attention to the types of decisions policymakers and water utilities face in times of crisis. It illustrates how these decisions, while being unavoidable in the short term, are often sub-optimal in the long run. The Cape Town drought highlights the importance of infrastructure diversification, better groundwater management, and communication and information transparency to build trust with the public. It also shows what governance and institutional changes need to be made to ensure long-term water security and efficient water management. The implementation of all of these policies needs to address the increased variability of water supplies due to increasingly erratic rainfall and rapidly growing urban populations in many countries. This necessitates a long-term planning horizon.

Subjects

  • Case Studies
  • Management and Planning
  • Sustainability and Solutions
  • Environmental Economics

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