Water scarcity: The pools of the rich “make cities thirsty”
A study published in the journal Nature Sustainability reveals that social inequalities, rather than environmental factors or population growth, are causing water crises in cities. The research, led by Elisa Savelli of Uppsala University and scientists from the University of Reading, the Free University of Amsterdam, and the Free University of Manchester, focused on Cape Town, South Africa, where an urban water crisis has left many disadvantaged people without basic access to water for drinking and hygiene. The team used mathematical models to analyze the domestic water use of urban residents of Cape Town and identified five social groups, from the “elite” to the “informal dwellers.”
The study concludes that wealthy elites, with large swimming pools, manicured lawns, and excessive use of water for personal leisure, such as washing their cars, are leaving poorer communities without access to water in cities around the world. The researchers found that elite and upper-middle income households, representing less than 14% of Cape Town’s population, use more than half (51%) of the water consumed by the entire city. In contrast, low-income and informal households make up 62% of the population but consume only 27% of Cape Town’s water. The researchers note that more than 80 large cities worldwide have suffered from water shortages due to droughts and unsustainable water use in the last 20 years. They predict that this crisis could worsen further as the gap between the rich and poor expands in many parts of the world.
The study demonstrates the close links between social, economic, and environmental inequality. The researchers suggest that instead of focusing on technical solutions, such as the development of more efficient water infrastructures, a more proactive approach aimed at reducing unsustainable water consumption among elites would be more effective. The authors conclude that efforts to manage water supply in cities with water scarcity should consider fairer ways of sharing water in cities to ensure access to basic needs for all residents.