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International Recovery Platform

Unpacking the Cape Town drought: Lessons learned

This paper aims to understand what happened in the Cape Town drought with a view to learning lessons that are translatable to other contexts. Due to the complex nature of the drought only certain aspects are investigated in depth in this paper namely the governance process, including the role of some of the actors and institutional arrangements. However, in order to provide context, issues related to water management, information and communication are included as well. The data for this paper comes from interviews with senior officials and experts who were intimately involved in the drought response. Interviewees were sent a list of barriers and enablers to the drought that was compiled before the interviews, and were invited to add new entries to the list during the interview itself. The paper is structured into three sections. The first section provides context to Cape Town and its water management. The second section tells the story of the drought chronologically, breaking it down into three phases of the drought. Although the drought started from a meteorological perspective in 2015, the more acute phase for the City of Cape Town started in early 2017, which is called the "new normal" phase, followed by the "Day Zero" and disaster management phase from late 2017 and drought recovery in 2018. The third section, based on the themes that emerged during the interviews, puts forward four areas of action that could help municipalities adapt to drought, namely 1) strengthening governance; 2) improving data, knowledge and communication; 3) taking a systemic approach, and 4) building adaptive capacity.


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