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The impact of the drought would not have been nearly as severe had the water supply system been managed effectively and according to its own rules. Underlying systemic issues significantly exacerbated the situation.

Water resource planning under conditions of uncertainty produced by climate change is challenging. Scenario-based planning, adaptation pathways and negotiated cost-risk trade-offs help in decision-making.

Business has a key role in crisis, with its ability to adapt, innovate and invest to reduce its consumption, often cutting it by half. It also has an important role as influencer, sponsor and communicator.

When water users cut back on consumption, they are playing their part to conserve a scarce resource. But this puts the water provider under pressure as its revenue falls. The pricing structure can help.

The normal rules of political interaction need to be suspended during crisis periods in order to have a coherent response. The line between governance and politics should not be blurred. Leadership is key.

The crisis highlighted the plight of half a million poor Capetonians effectively living Day Zero all the time. While it made social differences more stark, there was convergence of water usage across income groups.

Agriculture and related sectors were heavily impacted, with a R5bn production loss, 30,000 jobs lost, and longer-term damage to vineyards and orchards. Better integration between urban and agriculture is called for.

The unprecedented drought experienced by the southwestern Cape over the three years from 2015 to 2017 is commonly assumed to be the result of climate change. Is this correct? Prof Mark New, University of Cape Town Pro Vice-Chancellor for Climate Change, gives the scientific view.

The crisis highlighted the plight of half a million poor Capetonians effectively living Day Zero all the time. While it made social differences more stark, there was convergence of water usage across income groups.

A surface water scheme is designed to assure supply at normal levels under most conditions. But the design also assumes that supply will be lower and consumption restricted under drought conditions. During the crisis, the system functioned according to plan, says Dr Lloyd Fisher-Jeffes: consumption was severely curtailed, by almost forty five percent, and the city did not run out of water.

David Green, CEO of the V&A Waterfront, an iconic tourist destination, gives a sense of the damage to international tourism numbers inflicted by the Day Zero messaging. There was, he says, a point where it was realised within the industry that the bigger crisis was the economic crisis caused by this messaging.

How long would it take a 100 million litre a day desalination plant – or a sustained saving of 100 million litres of water per day by a city – to produce the equivalent of 1% of dam capacity delivered by rainfall over a weekend? Dr Gisela Kaiser puts the numbers in perspective.

Kim Kruyshaar talks about the sense of community in her neighbourhood during the crisis, and the decision to choose cooperation rather than chaos.

We don’t face a water crisis, posits Andrew Boraine, CEO of the Western Cape Economic Development Partnership – we face a human crisis, a crisis of lack of connectivity between people.

Groundwater abstraction offers a welcome alternative to rain-fed dams during drought periods. But with hundreds of businesses and thousands of households drilling into aquifers, and in the absence of an understanding of the cumulative impact, the sustainability of the resource is in question, says Claire Pengelly.

It has become commonplace to focus attention on water as an environmental concern. Claire Pengelly points out that it is also an important economic concern, with costs to employment, growth and development prospects of towns and regions where projected water supply falls short of demand.

City dwellers take for granted their right of access to potable water provided by government. The experience, attitudes and expectations of South Africans in rural areas such as the Eastern Cape are starkly different, says Amanda Gcanga.

Explore the learning outputs

The learning outputs presented here offer nuanced considerations of the key themes that emerged from the crisis, expert observations and personal viewpoints. These have been distilled from in-depth filmed interviews with a wide range of knowledgeable individuals from government, business, academia and civil society, drawing on their first-hand experience, research and reflections.