We lost people’s trust

“Water is connection. During the drought, when we almost ran out of water, we saw things come to the fore that we never thought about because so many things are connected to water. Water also has the power to transform. It can transform relationships within and between communities. This continues to motivate me to do the work that I do. 

Before the drought it was very difficult to convince people to use water sustainably, especially since we received some of our best rain in 2014/15. The drought provided the opportunity for the work that I do to be taken seriously. It gave me the opportunity to speak to many of my friends and family about issues like how water is managed, and how to save water, what water demand management is, where water comes from and what city versus national versus provincial government spheres are responsible for. I have learned that people see government as a single entity – they don’t necessarily regard the various spheres of government.

Much of what I’ve learned from the drought translates to the need for improved communication.

When you are communicating issues around drought there is a need to speak skillfully, and listen carefully. Engaging with a community is different than communicating to a community – we could have improved the way that we communicated to people, and that has been highlighted as a lesson going forward.

People respond emotionally, and they need to know the real facts. During the drought this became very difficult. Politics came into it. There was a lot of passing the buck, which didn’t help. Due to a lack of consistent communication, we lost people’s trust. The social contract with the people has been broken.

To have people’s trust is integral. So, you have to build a trusted source of information, which should then perhaps not necessarily be a political one. 

Many positive things also resulted from the drought. People’s water literacy improved; they are now more aware of how their water bills work, for example but we have to work at getting it even better. I am also enjoying the innovations that resulted from the drought, like the Dropula meter system or simpler things like water bags for your toilet cistern to lower your water use.”

Jason’s tips to save water 

We’ve been implementing water saving measures at our home since 2015; pouring the baby’s bath water in the garden, for example. I don’t know how much water we used before the drought, but probably something about 300 to 400 litres per day for a household of three….we’re four now (congrats Jason!). During the drought we came down to 30 litres per person, or 90 liters per day for the household. Now we’re back up to 150 to 160 litres.

My best tips for saving water is to install water sufficient devices. We installed water efficient showerheads, aerators, and sprayers on the taps that the kids use. This prevents lots of water running down the drain when they use the basin. You should also collect the water that runs while tap warms up to use in different places.

Choosing indigenous plants for your garden is also important. It was tough to see our garden die back, but because it’s indigenous it has already bounced back too.

Why you should save water too

“Saving water means trying to be the most sufficient you can be with the water that you have.

If you are wasting water you are showing that you don’t value it. If you better value water you are more likely to manage it. Because I understand the critical situation we are in as a country, I think there is an under-appreciation for the value of water. The reality of Day Zero is that it is being faced by many communities in South Africa.

You should save water, because its the right thing to do.”

-Jason Mingo is a project manager with the Western Cape government, though he spoke to me in his personal capacity. He works in water management, and feels strongly about innovative and sustainable practices when dealing with South Africa’s most precious and finite resource (water, of course).

*Read more stories from people that lived through Cape Town’s water crisis

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