Unprecedented droughts are expected to exacerbate urban inequalities in Southern Africa


A portion of Theewaterskloof dam, close to empty in 2018, showing tree stumps and sand usually submerged by the water of the dam.

A new study published in the renowned journal Nature Climate Change has shown that droughts are expected to exacerbate inequalities in southern Africa.

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. Recurring urban water crises are driven not only by climate change but also by how society manages water and responds to water scarcity.

A research team involving colleagues at Uppsala University and Manchester University developed a scenario of possible drought impacts in Maputo, Mozambique, a city where some social groups suffer significantly more from droughts than others. The team combined 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 access 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 account for systemic inequalities, they risk addressing the symptoms of drought outcomes rather than their underlying social and structural causes. This then further perpetuates unsustainable and unjust water consumption and management.

Read the article in Nature here: "Unprecedented droughts are expected to exacerbate urban inequalities in Southern Africa".

For more information contact:
Giuliano Di Baldassarre, professor in environmental analysis
E-mail: Giuliano.Dibaldassarre@geo.uu.se
Telephone: 018-471 7162

Gabriele Messori, professor in meteorology
E-mail: gabriele.messori@geo.uu.se
Telephone: 018-471 2588

News from the Department of Earth Sciences

Last modified: 2022-09-30