Options Magazine, Winter 2023: In many parts of the world, access to freshwater is becoming increasingly scarce. Nowhere is this truer than in South Africa, which experienced a significant drought from 2015 to 2018.

The example of South Africa highlights the complex dynamics of the different parties that are vying for water supply for both urban and agricultural uses.

Former IIASA Young Scientists Summer Program participant Simone Theron, along with her coauthors, including IIASA researchers Stefan Hochrainer-Stigler and Silvia Tramberend, employed a mixed-methods approach by combining a sustainable livelihoods framework with semi-structured interviews to measure the impacts of the drought on irrigated apple production in the region.

Their results show a progressive weakening of natural and physical capital between 2015 and 2018. However, their findings also show that human intervention greatly mitigated the impact of the drought on apple production.

This indicated the importance of developing policies that focus on local vulnerabilities, especially regarding climate change adaptation planning. “This research shows that there are important interlinkages between sectors and the decisions of risk bearers during disaster events,” explains Hochrainer-Stigler, a senior researcher in the IIASA Advancing Systems Analysis Program. “The wrong decision, or the right decision that takes too long, can exacerbate an already stressful situation, and make matters much worse. A systemic perspective focusing on the connection between actors and decisions can assist in determining ways forward. This perspective can not only help to decrease negative feedback loops within the system, but also jointly adapt to current and future risks.”

By Jeremy Summers


Theron, S.N., Midgley, S., Hochrainer-Stigler, S., Archer, E., Tramberend, S. , & Walker, S. (2023). Agricultural resilience and adaptive capacity during severe drought in the Western Cape, South Africa. Regional Environmental Change 23 (3) e98. 10.1007/s10113-023-02091-6.