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Kurt Cobb

Kurt Cobb

Kurt Cobb is a freelance writer and communications consultant who writes frequently about energy and environment. His work has also appeared in The Christian Science…

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The Future of Water Management in a Changing World

  • Mexico City and Bogotá are facing severe water shortages due to droughts, aging infrastructure, poor water management, and climate change.
  • The breakdown of confidence in governing classes worldwide makes it difficult to convince residents of the severity of the crisis and the need for voluntary water reductions.
  • Authoritarian leaders may not be able to address climate change and resource depletion effectively due to the need to maintain power and avoid large-scale cutbacks in living standards.
Water Management

'Day Zero' never arrived in Cape Town, South Africa. Day Zero was the name given by Cape Town officials to the day in 2018 they would have to shut down water flows to most of the city taps because of inadequate water supplies—supplies that had run desperately short in the wake of an extreme three-year drought. Day Zero never came for two reasons: First, those officials cajoled Cape Town residents into cutting water consumption in half. Second, the rains finally resumed a few months later.

Now Mexico City and Bogotá are both facing their own possible Day Zero. Droughts, aging infrastructure, poor water management and climate change have resulted in dangerously low water supplies. But, as this piece in Grist points out, it may not be so easy to convince residents of the two cities that the problem is real and that they should trust the pronouncements of their city officials.

The city administration in Cape Town generally enjoys the trust of its citizens who rallied together with widespread voluntary efforts to reduce water consumption. Neither Mexico City nor Bogotá enjoy that same kind of credibility.

Residents of both cities may simply keep their fingers crossed and hope for rain. And, if they do and the rain doesn't come, then Day Zero will arrive.

And, this speaks to the breakdown of confidence in the governing classes practically everywhere. In the face of increasingly abrupt crises without easy answers or temporary fixes (which imply that things will return to normal), government and the businesses which live off them will face unprecedented challenges that require maximum flexibility and the courage to say and do things which the populace does not like. That does not sound like most governments that I know.

In this environment it should be less than strange that some electorates are choosing authoritarians to rule them—even if those voters don't know exactly why. "At least they'll get something done," they say. "At least things will change."

But, of course, change by itself is not always good. And authoritarian leaders to date have not taken up the need to address climate change and resource depletion. Nor do I judge this to be likely in the future as more and more crises join to form one huge polycrisis. Authoritarians stay in power by keeping the people they rule over from revolting, and those authoritarians cannot maintain power long if they continually enforce large cutbacks in the standard of living—which is not only unpopular across the general population, but also more specifically among the business interests upon which authoritarian power largely rests.

The sources in the Grist piece suggest that voluntary efforts at reducing water use in Mexico City and Bogotá will not succeed and that mandatory reductions are in the offing. That will likely only undermine trust in the leaders of both cities, especially if the reductions are done in a way that seems unfair.

Our forms of democratic governance around the world grew up in an age of expanding resources including water. Getting elected has always been achieved by promising "more" and "better." The age we are moving into will require different themes which can convince voters that "less is more." It will take some very clever politicians to succeed at that.

By Kurt Cobb via Resource Insights


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