How a water-resources crisis highlights social-ecological disconnects

jan-claas.dajka [ at ]


The sustainable management of water resources is required to avoid water scarcity becoming widespread. This article explores the potential application of a social-ecological framework, used predominantly in the fields of ecology and conservation, as a tool to improve the sustainability and resilience of water resources. The "red-loop green-loop" (RL-GL) model has previously been used to map both sustainable and unsustainable social-ecological feedbacks between ecosystems and their communities in countries such as Sweden and Jamaica. In this article, we demonstrate the novel application of the RL-GL framework to water resources management using the 2017/18 Cape Town water crisis. We used the framework to analyse the social-ecological dynamics of pre-crisis and planned contingency scenarios. We found that the water resources management system was almost solely reliant on a single, non-ecosystem form of infrastructure, the provincial dam system. As prolonged drought impacted this key water resource, resilience to resource collapse was shown to be low and a missing feedback between the water resource and the Cape Town community was highlighted. The collapse of water resources ("Day Zero") was averted through a combination of government and community group led measures, incorporating both local ecosystem (green-loop) and non-local ecosystem (red-loop) forms of water resource management, and increased rainfall returning to the area. Additional disaster management plans proposed by the municipality included the tighter integration of red and green-loop water management approaches, which acted to foster a stronger connection between the Cape Town community and their water resources. We advocate the wider development and application of the RL-GL model, theoretically and empirically, to investigate missing feedbacks between water resources and their communities.

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DOI 10.1016/j.watres.2021.116937

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Gittins, J. R. , Hemingway, J. R. and Dajka, J. C. (2021): How a water-resources crisis highlights social-ecological disconnects , Water Research, 194 , p. 116937 . doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2021.116937

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