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Unprecedented droughts are expected to exacerbate urban inequalities in Southern Africa

Abstract

Climate change-related drought risks are intensifying in many urban areas, making stakes particularly high in contexts of severe vulnerability. Yet, how social power, differential agency and economic visions will shape societal responses to droughts remains poorly understood. Here, we build a social-environmental scenario of the possible impacts of an unprecedented drought in Maputo, which epitomizes a Southern African city with highly uneven development and differential vulnerability across urban areas. To build the scenario, we draw on theoretical insights from critical social sciences and take Cape Town (2015–2017) as a case-in-point of a locally unprecedented drought in Southern Africa. We show that future droughts in Southern Africa will probably polarize urban inequalities, generate localized public health crises and regress progress in water access. Climate policies must address these inequalities and develop equitable water distribution and conservation measures to ensure sustainable and inclusive adaptation to future droughts.

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Fig. 1: Schematic of the SEEA for urban droughts.
Fig. 2: Uneven water supply and sewerage networks in Greater Maputo.
Fig. 3: Cascading effects of water shortages on other urban inequalities.

Data availability

The qualitative data supporting the findings of this Analysis are available within the Analysis and its Supplementary Information (Extended case study: Maputo and Extended case study: Cape Town). Some qualitative data are not publicly available due to ethical restrictions (that is, they contain information that could compromise the anonymity of research participants). These data are available from the corresponding author (maria.rusca@manchester.ac.uk) on reasonable request. Anonymized data will be made available within a month from the request. Data on the filling levels of the water reservoirs of the two cities are available at the City of Cape Town Data portal (https://cip.csag.uct.ac.za/monitoring/bigsix.html), the Direcção Nacional de Gestão de Recursos Hídricos (National Directorate of Water Resources, Mozambique, https://www.dngrh.gov.mz/index.php/publicacoes/boletins-de-bacias-hidrograficas) and the Biblioteca Digital de Teses e Dissertações (Digital Dissertation Repositiry, https://repositorio.bc.ufg.br/tede/handle/tede/10365). The Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) data can be retrieved from SPEIbase (https://spei.csic.es/).

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Acknowledgements

M.R., E.S. and G.D.B. were supported by the European Union H2020 research and innovation programme, ERC Grant No. 771678 (HydroSocialExtremes); G.M. was supported by European Union H2020 research and innovation programme ERC grant no. 948309 (CENÆ); A.B. was supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) grant agreement W07.69.109. M.R.’s fieldwork in Maputo was supported by Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 656738 (INHAbIT Cities) and A.B.’s by NWO 07.69.109.

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M.R. and G.M. conceived and designed the study. M.R., E.S. and A.B. undertook fieldwork in Maputo and Cape Town; M.R., E.S. and G.M. wrote the paper; all authors analysed and interpreted data and G.M., E.S. and M.R. developed the figures. All authors contributed to the revision.

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Correspondence to Maria Rusca.

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Nature Climate Change thanks Mark New and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data figures

Extended Data Fig. 1

Twelve-month SPEI index for the cities of Cape Town (blue line) and Maputo (red line). The thick lines show the 13-month running mean of filling levels (%) of the reservoirs supplying Cape Town61 and Maputo142. The labels on the x-axis indicate the center point of each year.

Extended Data Fig. 2

Summary of the phenomena, locations and authors of the case studies mapped in Extended Data Fig. 3. See refs. 143,144,145,146,147,148,149,150.

Extended Data Fig. 3

Locations of the case studies examined for the Theoretical Synthesis (Pillar 1).

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Rationale for extended case studies, Extended Case Study: Maputo and Extended Case Study: Cape Town.

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Rusca, M., Savelli, E., Di Baldassarre, G. et al. Unprecedented droughts are expected to exacerbate urban inequalities in Southern Africa. Nat. Clim. Chang. 13, 98–105 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-022-01546-8

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