Anatomy of a Water Crisis: Climate, Demographics, Communication, Behaviour and Politics in Cape Town

  • Date: Monday 19 March 2018
  • Time: 16:00 - 17.15 (followed by drinks reception)
  • Venue: School of Music, Lecture Theatre 1
  • Speaker: Professor Mark New (Director, ACDI, University of Cape Town)
  • Event: Piers Sellers Prize lecture

The Piers Sellers Prize lecture is by Professor Mark New, Director, African Climate & Development Initiative and Pro-VC for Climate Change, University of Cape Town and 2018 Piers Sellers Prize winner

The lecture will be followed by a formal drinks reception. Places are free but must be reserved in advance; please book here.


Cape Town has been in the news over the last few months because of its water crisis.  A multi-year “drought” has progressively depleted reservoirs in the water resource system that supplies the city, nearby towns and agriculture.  After the 2017 rainfall season, it became clear that – under current patterns of water use – the water resource system would fail before the start of 2018 rainfall season, and the term “Day Zero” was coined – the day at which the reservoirs would have no more extractable water.  In this talk, I’ll discuss the physical nature of the drought, and the possible influence of climate change on drought risk, assessing whether the last three years are indeed the “new normal” the City is talking about.  I’ll then discuss the supply-side and demand-side interventions the City instigated to postpone day zero, and the effect these had.  I’ll also talk about the impacts of decisions about water allocation to agricultural sector and their potential longer term economic impacts.  Finally, I’ll comment on how a political crisis within the City executive, and poor management of within the national Department of Water and Sanitation, led to a weakened governance setting that most likely exacerbated the severity of the impact of the drought.


Professor Mark New was appointed Pro-VC for Climate Change and Director of the ACDI in July 2011. He holds a joint appointment as Professor of of International Development at the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom. His research focuses on climate change detection, processes, scenarios, impacts and adaptation.  He sits on the SA Global Change Science Committee, the Africa Future Earth Science Committee,  is on the editorial board of Environmental Research Letters, and has served on various other science committees and reference groups. Mark is also the AXA Research Fund Chair in African Climate Risk.

Current research

In his research on climate change monitoring and detection, Mark New has worked on the development of global and regional climate datasets which have underpinned climate impacts assessments and integrated modelling, the detection of climate extremes, and issues around uncertainty and accuracy of climate data.
His work on climate change scenarios includes the UNDP climate change profiles which provide a consistent set of climate scenarios for over fifty developing countries, and scenarios for islands of the Caribbean as part of the CARIBSAVE project; a key interest with regard to scenarios has been approaches to represent uncertainty in future climate.
His research on impacts and adaptation has addressed broader adaptation policy issues around high-end climate change and dangerous climate impacts, approaches to adaptation decision making under uncertainty. Much of this work has been applied through the lens of water resource planning, such as in the EPSRC project he leads, ARCC-Water – Adaptive and Resilient Water Systems.


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