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Don’t blame the rain: social power and the 2015-2017 drought in Cape Town

Savelli, E., Rusca, M., Cloke, H. and Di Baldassarre, G. (2021) Don’t blame the rain: social power and the 2015-2017 drought in Cape Town. Journal of Hydrology. ISSN 0022-1694

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2020.125953

Abstract/Summary

Sociohydrology has advanced understandings of water related phenomena by conceptualizing changes in hydrological flows and risks as the result of the interplay between water and society. However, social power and the heterogeneity of human societies, which are crucial to unravel the feedback mechanisms underlying human-water systems, have not been sufficiently considered. In response, this paper proposes an interdisciplinary approach that draws on political ecology perspectives to combine sociohydrological insights with analyses of social power and of the ways in which different social groups distinctively interact with water systems. We draw on empirical evidence of Cape Town’s water insecurity before and during the prolonged drought (2015-2017) that escalated into a severe water crisis, also known as Day Zero. The study integrates times series of reservoir storage and water consumption with 40 interviews and focus group discussions to firstly retrace the historical legacy of Colonial rules, Apartheid and, more recently, neoliberal policies. Within this human-water system, we show how Cape Town’s political legacy has encouraged unsustainable levels of water consumption amongst the (white) elite and tolerated chronic water insecurity amongst (black) informal dwellers. This uneven geography of water insecurity is also discernible in the unequal experiences of drought and water resilience trajectories of diverse social groups across Cape Town. We conclude that accounting for social power and inequalities can advance sociohydrology by identifying those mechanisms (within society) that determine what water is secured and what human-water interactions and dynamics will be sustained over time. Furthermore, by engaging with social power, sociohydrology can play a significant role in informing policies that reduce inequalities in water access and unsustainable water use.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Geography and Environmental Science
Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:95292
Publisher:Elsevier

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