17 June 2020

Climate adaptation lessons learned from the Cape Town drought

Options Summer 2020: IIASA researchers explored how cities can enhance governance around climate change adaptation using the recent Cape Town water crisis as a case study.

© Timwege | Dreamstime

© Timwege | Dreamstime

A mere century ago, the vast majority of the global
population lived in rural areas. Today, however, more
than half of all people live in cities.

As people continue to flock to cities, the need for
adequate water and sanitation infrastructure will
become more important than ever before. Nowhere
has this pressing need been documented more
extensively than in South Africa.

The city of Cape Town is an excellent case study for
efficient water supply as it has seen a rising influx of people. Since 2015, the city has faced a long period of severe drought, largely due to climate change. By mid-2017, the city faced an existential threat of running out of water.

Luckily, this day never came, but the crisis exposed vulnerabilities in the city’s water supply system. Moreover, it became an example on the world stage for how cities—especially those in the Global South—can enhance governance around climate change adaptation. In a recent study, IIASA Risk and Resilience Program researcher Wei Liu, interviewed two researchers that have devoted years to studying the Cape Town drought.

“It is clear that the responsibility for water issues can no longer only be the remit of government,” explains interviewee Gina Ziervogel. “We need to build systems and relationships of mutual accountability for effective water management between spheres of government, enhance horizontal management between municipal departments and entities, and strengthen leadership and the capacity to enable flexible and adaptive decision-making.”

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Last edited: 04 June 2020


Wei Liu

Guest Research Scholar

Equity and Justice Research Group

Population and Just Societies Program

T +43(0) 2236 807 255

Research program involved

Options Summer 2020

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Ziervogel, G., New, M., & Liu, W. (2019). Making cities water-wise and climate-resilient - Lessons and experience from the Cape Town drought. Landscape Architecture Frontiers 7 (3), 94-99. 10.15302/J-LAF-1-030002.

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