Water stressed cities: individual choice, access to water and pathways to resilience in sub-Saharan Africa

Lead Research Organisation: CARDIFF UNIVERSITY
Department Name: Cardiff School of Planning and Geography


Building resilience to water crises is recognised as one of the primary challenges facing human society today. The pressures are particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where rapid rates of urbanization and economic growth - combined with the challenge of climate change and unsustainable water management practices - create both slow burn and rapid onset water stress. As governments struggle to provide safe, adequate and reliable supplies of water to households and firms, these actors are implementing other means of securing their water supplies to ensure their own resilience.

This role of individual agency in shaping collective resilience outcomes is one of the least explored areas of resilience research, yet experience demonstrates it is of vital significance when governmental capacity to act is stretched to its limits. My fellowship addresses this gap and strengthens understanding of the interplay between individual choices and the cumulative resilience of urban areas, and their wider communities. It draws together human and more-than-human concepts of resilience to provide a fuller understanding of the scope of structure and of agency in shaping resilience outcomes and the implications of this for strengthening the governance of urban water resilience in water stressed cities.

Initial research has identified the nature of individual water practices and revealed the choices underpinning these practices. The research has highlighted the positive effects individual actions can have, both for personal and for collective resilience outcomes. It has also identified the complex spillover effects resulting from these choices, including risks to water quality, over-abstraction and compound economic and social effects of inequalities in water access. This renewal proposal builds on the research undertaken in the first four years of my fellowship to now consider the implications of existing practices for future governance arrangements, with a particular consideration of co-governance approaches. A key aspect of the proposal is to further explore how individual actions can act to transform the structures of urban water supplies through adaptive (and maladaptive) behaviours. The research combines knowledge from the global south and the global north to support the development of a more inclusive understanding of resilience concepts.

The research continues to focus on four, linked, case-study contexts: Lagos, Nigeria; Cape Town, South Africa; Windhoek, Namibia, and Dodoma, Tanzania. The inter-disciplinary approach is also retained - combining insights from hydrogeology, behavioural science and human geography.


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