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(In)Equity in Water Distribution during the ‘Day Zero’ Crisis, Cape Town

Author / Authors:

  • Nadia M. A. Francisco



Depleting water resources due to imbalances in demand and supply are a combined consequence of climate change and rapid urbanisation. Effects trickle down to low-income and vulnerable communities, which are often caught in the ‘poverty trap’ that keeps them from obtaining opportunities and economic growth. This paper investigates the term ‘water equity’, attempting to disintegrate the concept into measurable components so that equity in water distribution can be analysed. The measurable components are quantity, access and cost, while considering social and political influence of the locality. As political agendas can cause unequal and unequitable resource distribution, how do decisions change during a drought, and how can management and response strategies improve equitable distribution? In this paper, the City of Cape Town, where equity in service delivery is embedded in the national constitution, and which was affected by the ‘Day Zero’ drought crisis, is taken as a case study. It is analysed in terms of water distribution just before and during the drought (2013 to 2018) to compare findings. ‘Day Zero’ is a term coined by national officials referring to the date when the collective level of the dams of the Western Cape Water Supply System (WCWSS) would drop to 13.4% and harsh restrictions on water use in the city would be imposed. Findings show that though the city has made significant im¬provements towards equity, the drought highlighted loopholes in equity provision; accessibility in low-income neighbourhoods is a main hinderer of opportunity provision.

Trialog - A Journal for Planning and Building in a Global Context #142 “Decentralized water management in rapidly growing cities”. Volume editors: Wolfgang Dickhaut, Ajith Edathoot, Tim Fettback, Mahmoud Moursy


  • Journal Article