Experiences and lessons in managing water from Cape Town

Published in Grantham Briefing Papers, 2019

Recommended citation: Parks RM, Mclaren M, Toumi R, Rivett U, 2019, Experiences and lessons in managing water from Cape Town, Grantham Briefing Papers

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Water shortages will become more common in cities around the world during the 21st century due to climate change. Cape Town, South Africa experienced an especially severe drought in 2017-2018 after several years of low rainfall. This drought prompted an estimate of Day Zero, when freshwater reservoir levels supplying the city would fall below 13.5% of capacity and the majority of the municipal water network would be shut down. In response to this crisis, the City of Cape Town municipal government significantly extended an existing set of rules and regulations, and introduced additional measures, to limit water demand. These actions included restricting available water; new tariffs to penalise excess water usage; water management devices installed in domestic properties; and novel communication strategies. The water crisis has had widespread economic and social impacts, with damage to the tourist and agriculture industries; and tensions between sections of society and government. Any city under water stress, like Cape Town, needs a long-term strategy for water supply and demand. Such a strategy should include diversity of water sources, equity of service provisions, thoughtful but forceful messaging, early warning systems and co-operation between local, regional and national levels of government.