Vi­tal to update cit­i­zens on who is sav­ing wa­ter, and who isn’t

Anal­y­sis

The New Age (Gauteng) - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - The­con­ver­sa­tion.com David Olivier is a post­doc­toral re­search fel­low at the Global Change In­sti­tute, Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand. This ar­ti­cle first ap­peared in The Con­ver­sa­tion

DAMS in Cape Town are half of what they were this time last year as the city con­tin­ues to bat­tle drought. Last year’s short­age gave the city the dri­est sum­mer in 100 years.

Un­less Cape Town has a mirac­u­lously wet spring, the sum­mer of 2018 seems set to achieve some un­for­tu­nate new records.

Slow­ing down res­i­den­tial wa­ter use is ob­vi­ously hugely im­por­tant – res­i­dents con­sume 65% of the city’s wa­ter. But to get res­i­dents to use less, the city’s man­age­ment must get res­i­dents’ buy-in.

This can only be achieved if there is trust and trust will only be de­vel­oped when res­i­dents be­lieve that the wa­ter au­thor­ity is han­dling re­stric­tions in a way that is nec­es­sary, ef­fec­tive and fair.

Aus­tralian re­searchers study­ing house­hold wa­ter use found that peo­ple’s will­ing­ness to save wa­ter re­lated di­rectly to the trust they felt in the lo­cal au­thor­ity pro­mot­ing wa­ter sav­ing. The re­searchers also drew on a Mex­i­can case study which found that res­i­dents who trusted the lo­cal au­thor­ity in a town called Sonora dur­ing an eight-year drought were much more likely to save wa­ter.

These and other stud­ies, show that trust is built when re­stric­tions are equal to the sever­ity of the drought, when no one gets away with wast­ing wa­ter and when there is no favouritism to­wards cer­tain sec­tors or users. Nec­es­sary, ef­fec­tive and fair

To build trust, the public needs to be­lieve that re­stric­tions are nec­es­sary – peo­ple must be­lieve that the ap­pro­pri­ate re­stric­tions have been in­tro­duced at the cor­rect time.

Queens­land, Aus­tralia, for ex­am­ple, ran a cam­paign called Tar­get 140, dur­ing their worst drought in 100 years.

The aim of the cam­paign was to re­duce wa­ter use to 140 litres per per­son per day. One of the greatest hin­drances was that peo­ple had al­ready en­dured two years of wa­ter re­stric­tions. So they felt de­spon­dent that their best wa­ter­sav­ing ef­forts hadn’t been good enough and were re­luc­tant to save even more.

But the cam­paign be­came a suc­cess after the Queens­land wa­ter com­mis­sion showed res­i­dents how dam lev­els were drop­ping.

It was able to con­vince cus­tomers that in­ten­si­fied wa­ter re­stric­tions were ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary.

Ef­fec­tive strat­egy

Res­i­dents can lose in­ter­est in con­serv­ing wa­ter if they be­lieve that oth­ers are get­ting away with wast­ing wa­ter. A study on wa­ter re­stric­tion ef­fec­tive­ness in Los An­ge­les found that hardly any wa­ter was saved as long as wa­ter re­stric­tions were not en­forced.

Peo­ple need to know that wa­ter re­stric­tions are go­ing to be ef­fec­tive.

Fair dis­tri­bu­tion

Cus­tomers must trust that re­stric­tions are ap­plied ap­pro­pri­ately to all wa­ter users.

Case stud­ies show that one of the most com­mon com­plaints by res­i­dents is that oth­ers, par­tic­u­lar groups or other res­i­dents, are the real wa­ter wasters.

Queens­land’s Tar­get 140 Cam­paign man­aged to con­vince cus­tomers that se­vere re­stric­tions on the res­i­den­tial sec­tor, which used 70% of the wa­ter, were fair. Re­as­sur­ing res­i­dents of the fair­ness of re­stric­tions was vi­tal to sus­tain buy-in.

Is Cape Town build­ing trust?

The city of Cape Town has done a good job in cov­er­ing the bases when it comes to ex­plain­ing wa­ter re­stric­tions in terms of their ne­ces­sity and their ef­fec­tive­ness. But it hasn’t done that well in ex­plain­ing that wa­ter re­stric­tions are be­ing done fairly.

On the pos­i­tive end of the scale, the city has done a good job in demon­strat­ing that those who waste wa­ter are held ac­count­able. This has been achieved through the nam­ing and sham­ing of top wa­ter users. And wa­ter man­age­ment de­vices were in­stalled on pri­vate prop­er­ties that hadn’t cur­tailed ex­ces­sive use.

But, on fair­ness, the city has only spo­rad­i­cally com­mu­ni­cated the break­down of wa­ter dis­tri­bu­tion from the 14 dams that sup­ply its wa­ter, it’s rarely shown the break­down of wa­ter use per sec­tor and scant men­tion has been made of re­stric­tions placed on other sec­tors.

What can the city do dif­fer­ently?

Cape Town is em­u­lat­ing some of the best el­e­ments of a save-wa­ter cam­paign. Its wa­ter­sav­ing tar­get is close on half of Queens­land’s, which is con­sid­ered one of the most wa­ter­ef­fi­cient com­mu­ni­ties in the west­ern world.

If Cape Town wants to beat Queens­land’s tar­get it needs to spend the spring sea­son con­vinc­ing the public that re­stric­tions are ap­plied ap­pro­pri­ately for all wa­ter users.

This means chang­ing tack in its mes­sag­ing. Up un­til now, the dom­i­nant mes­sage has been aimed at con­vinc­ing the public that re­stric­tions are nec­es­sary and ef­fec­tive. Now it’s time to show that re­stric­tions are fair.

This means show­ing ex­actly how wa­ter is al­lo­cated in the re­gion, break­ing down the dis­tri­bu­tion of wa­ter to var­i­ous sec­tors and demon­strat­ing that non­res­i­den­tial sec­tors are also car­ry­ing their re­spon­si­bil­ity.

This information is al­ready in the public do­main, but it needs greater em­pha­sis.

A chain is as strong as its weak­est link. Build­ing trust and get­ting the public to buy in to se­verely re­duced wa­ter use over 2018, will be best achieved if the city can com­mu­ni­cate the fair­ness of re­stric­tions to for­tify an oth­er­wise ro­bust cam­paign. –

PIC­TURE: FLICKR

WA­TER SHORT­AGE: To get res­i­dents in Cape Town to use less wa­ter, the city’s man­age­ment must get res­i­dents’ buy­in, which can only be achieved if there’s trust that wa­ter re­stric­tions are nec­es­sary, ef­fec­tive and fair.

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