Communication emerged as one of the central themes of the crisis period. The flow of information through society, in particular the flow of information from authorities to citizenry, turned out to be crucial for trust and social cohesion and for effecting behaviour change – and also capable of delivering negative, costly side-effects.
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.
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.
Priya Reddy was City of Cape Town Director of Communication during the crisis. She describes the difficulty she experienced first-hand of segmenting communications markets, of targeting different messages to local and international audiences.
A platform for irate residents to vent their anger or spread misinformation, but also for responsible citizens to share water saving tips and, for city authorities, a direct channel of communication bypassing the middleman of traditional media – social media has changed the game. City of Cape Town Director of Communication Priya Reddy tells of her experience during the crisis.
Cape Town buys both electricity and bulk water from national suppliers for onselling to end users. During the energy crisis this dependence on a national supplier was always clear in public perceptions of responsibility for the crisis. To its own detriment, argues Dr Gisela Kaiser, the City did not make this equally clear during the water crisis.
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.
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.