How a water-resources crisis highlights social-ecological disconnects

Gittins, Joshua R. and Hemingway, Jack and Daka, Jan (2021) How a water-resources crisis highlights social-ecological disconnects. Water Research, 194: 116937. ISSN 0043-1354

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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.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
Water Research
Additional Information:
This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Water Research. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Water Research, 194, 2021 DOI: 10.1016/j.watres.2021.116937
Uncontrolled Keywords:
?? water resources managementsocial-ecologicalred-loop green-loop modelwater crisisfeedbackswater science and technologypollutionecological modellingwaste management and disposal ??
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25 Feb 2021 13:45
Last Modified:
18 Jun 2024 00:42