Research Press Release

Climate change: Urban droughts intensify existing water inequality in southern Africa

Nature Climate Change

December 23, 2022

Climate-change-driven droughts are expected to further polarize urban water inequalities in southern Africa, suggests a study in Nature Climate Change. The findings are based on a scenario analysis of future droughts in Maputo, Mozambique.

Several regions including Brazil, California, China, Spain and southern Africa have experienced more severe droughts due to anthropogenic climate change and are at risk of unprecedented droughts in the future. Rapid urban growth in the Global South has also put cities under increased risk of water stress. These recurring water crises are driven not only by climate change but also by how society manages water and responds to water scarcity.

Maria Rusca and colleagues develop a social–environmental scenario of possible drought impacts in Maputo, Mozambique, a city where some social groups suffer significantly more from droughts than others. The authors combine insights from Maputo’s 2016–2018 drought and Cape Town’s locally unprecedented 2015–2017 drought with societal responses to urban droughts around the world, historical climate data and future climate projections.

The resulting scenario shows that a future drought in Maputo is expected to elicit water rationing measures that exacerbate existing water inequalities: chronically water-insecure households will likely be disproportionately affected. Other consequences could include disproportionate burdens on women to find alternative water sources, risks of waterborne diseases and food insecurity.

The authors argue that if the responses to drought do not take into account systemic inequalities, they risk addressing the symptoms of drought rather than their underlying social and structural causes, thereby perpetuating unsustainable and unjust water consumption and management.


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