Water Crisis

DROUGHT SPECIAL #2: How the City of Melbourne overcame the drought and how Cape Town is tackling the water crisis

City of Melbourne (1997 – 2009)

Australia faced their worst ever drought from 1997-2009. The south-eastern city of Melbourne, with a population of 4.3 million saw dam levels drop to 25.6%. 

Through collaborative governance and policy change Melbourne was able to succeed from the grip of the drought:

  1. Prior to the drought, legislation was passed that stipulated integration of government response in the case of a drought. This instantiated a trickle-down flow of funding from federal to state to city projects, with a regional manager having authority to force all levels of government to cooperate.
  2. Millions were invested infrastructure including a desalination plant (which has never been used)
  3. Rebate programs for residential greywater systems
  4. Government investment in recycled water systems in the urban and agricultural sector

Following these changes, residents and businesses reduced their water use by almost 50% from 1997.

Cape Town’s response

The case of Melbourne highlights some shortcomings of the response to the drought in Cape Town.

  1. Where legislation for a coordinated government response was put in place prior to the drought, the DOC has only just come into action.
  2. While Cape Town hopes to have 3 desalination plants running by March, to generate 16 million L of water per day, this will not even come close to covering the current usage of 500 million L per day. This will be partially funded by a drought levy to be introduced this year.
  3. Governments have not offered and tax savings or subsidies for rainwater tanks.
  4. Recycled water systems have not been implemented, and in fact more than 30% of South Arica’s drinking water is being lost via leaking pipes, and theft.


The stark differences in government response signals the weak institutional capacity of South African governments. It seems that residents are taking matters into their own hands. Borehole drilling has soared in the Western Cape, with the most popular drilling company being booked for the entire year in 2017, and the number of vertical water tanks sold has increased by 186% since October 2016.

3 thoughts on “DROUGHT SPECIAL #2: How the City of Melbourne overcame the drought and how Cape Town is tackling the water crisis”

  1. There is a lot of merit in your criticism of the Cape Town and Western Cape efforts to combat the water shortage challenge. A main shortcoming is the apparent lack of smooth communication lines between all the authorities concerned and the energy wasting scoring of political points. However, there have been some positive developments which your article has not incorporated. It is suggested that you have a follow-up report updating the present situation. We are already moving into February 2018 and your article refers to a drilling company being booked up for the whole of 2017!

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    1. Hi Johann, firstly thanks for your feedback. We really appreciate any interaction/conversation, especially regarding this important topic.
      We are aware that just yesterday after we posted the new blogpost the DA leader Mmusi Maimane postponed the day zero date by 4 days. Things are moving very quickly to the good or the bad side and we try to stay on top of it. The “drought specials” are coming out every week tuesdays and we are updating on Cape Town’s situation as well. So please keep an eye out for that. Also we reacting to movements in this regard on a daily basis on our Facebook page as well, so please feel free to check that out too (https://www.facebook.com/pendulumfoodagtech). We are definitely taking your thoughts into consideration for the next one and hope that you will enjoy it. Have a great day. Best regards, Team Pendulum FOOD & AGRI TECH

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