The question how to effect behaviour change around water use among households and businesses was one that occupied the minds of city officials during the crisis. In the end dramatic behaviour changes were achieved. The Cape Town experience offers many instructive insights on how to bring these about.
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.
Prof Martine Visser worked with the City of Cape Town at the onset of the drought period, using behavioural nudges to induce water savings by citizens. She shares some of the findings on the effectiveness of the various nudges amongst different groups and the impact on consumption.
A live water map was rolled out in 2018, enabling households to see their own water usage compared to that of their neighbours. Prof Martine Visser, who worked with the City of Cape Town on the project, elaborates on this as a tool to encourage compliance.
With a system of tanks for rainwater harvesting – and more careful water use – citizens in high-consumption, high-income households can dramatically reduce their demand on the city’s supply system, says Kim Kruyshaar.
While sound in theory, water management devices turned out to be a source of contention and discontent among households on which they were imposed by city authorities. Dr Kevin Winter gives a dispassionate account.
Widely implemented by Cape Town city authorities to curtail excessive use by households and deal with accumulating large unpaid water bills, water management devices were contentious and unpopular. Thabo Lusithi shares the views from some of the poor communities where these devices were concentrated.
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.
Was the water tariff in Cape Town – ramped up dramatically during the crisis – reduced too soon in the aftermath, and by too much? David Green, CEO of the V&A Waterfront, argues that it was, inevitably and regrettably disincentivizing alternatives such as desalination.
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.