Learning from Crisis series


Understanding of the crisis – its causes, management and resolution, and the lessons to be learnt from it – requires a two-tiered understanding of the big themes highlighted by the experience: a grasp, firstly, of what these central, overarching themes were, thrown into such stark relief during the crisis period and its aftermath; and some insight, secondly, into the nuances and complexities within each of these themes – the contrasting viewpoints, the inherent limits and real-world constraints, in some instances the evolution of thinking and the adaptation of practice over the course of the crisis.

From the more than forty hours of interview material gathered over a twelve-month period, CTDRLI co-lead Victor van Aswegen identified some of these central themes to create the series of modules below.

Each module consists of a short film with accompanying text. The films, with an average duration of twenty minutes, draw together the multiple voices of various interviewees, usually between five and eight, into a clear exposition of the subject and a coherent deeper consideration of the key points. The text component of each module contains a highly succinct and a paragraph-length summary of the content of the film, plus a bullet-style executive summary, an outline of the conceptual structure of the film, with timecodes, a detailed index to the content, with timecodes and transcriptions, and a list of the interviewees and their designations.

Adapting to climate change

Duration: 16:37

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.

Data, information, communication, trust

Duration: 17:59

The Cape Town experience showed how severely trust is eroded by the absence of data and information from authorities, and also how this can be fixed by giving citizens clear, regularly updated data and information.

Effecting household behaviour change

Duration: 15:57

Dramatic water usage reduction by households over a short period saved the day. Of the range of measures deployed, the most effective were restriction level increases and the Day Zero communication strategy.

The role of business

Duration: 17:40

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.

The water resilience / fiscal resilience tension

Duration: 13:47

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.

Assessing the Day Zero communication strategy

Duration: 20:03

The Day Zero messaging had major negative impacts, including on tourism, investor confidence, and the social fabric of the city. Opinions diverge on whether, in hindsight, it was necessary or advisable.

You can’t build yourself out of a drought

Duration: 23:03

During the crisis the city government developed a large-scale emergency augmentation plan to bring additional water sources on line. This turned out to be unfeasible. Demand management was its only option.

Inequality and social cohesion in a crisis

Duration: 17:37

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.

Feasibility of the Day Zero disaster plan

Duration: 32:20

The Day Zero disaster plan, prepared for a worst case scenario, entailed the distribution of water to residents through a complex system of manual collection points. Whether the plan would have worked is contested.

System management and operational issues

Duration: 20:35

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

The governance challenge

Duration: 23:01

The current water governance system in SA is fragmented, insufficiently coordinated and severely compromised by a dysfunctional national department. Fundamental change is needed, with a leading role for cities.

Openness, partnerships and collaboration

Duration: 18:09

The crisis period was a real-world demonstration of the value and importance of openness, partnerships and collaboration – between spheres of government, with citizens, between water users, among businesses.

Agriculture and agribusiness

Duration: 22:31

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.

Suspend the politics

Duration: 17:49

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.

A new relationship with water

Duration: 17:07

With low daily per-person usage targets and the threat of no reticulated water, the crisis gave Capetonians a new awareness and appreciation of water, changing the behaviour patterns in households and businesses.

Is Cape Town more drought resilient now?

Duration: 20:57

The city is more drought resilient due to new water- saving infrastructure and practices. It is committed to adding significant diversified sources of supply over ten years. Resilience requires having these in place.