Fear did more than water restrictions to defeat Day Zero

“A week after the level 5 restrictions were introduced, hot-water usage in Cape Town perversely increased, and the difference between the two samples quickly reduced to two litres per day in the following four weeks, apparently indicating diminished savings subsequent to level 5 implementation,” said Booysen.

“After the holiday, which overlapped with the implementation of level 6 restrictions, the difference between the groups increased steadily, reaching 33 litres per day in the last week of January 2018, as Capetonians used less water in response to the looming crisis and the introduction of level 6B restrictions.”

The researchers also analysed mainstream media and social media reactions to government announcements by searching for terms related to water restrictions and drought.

“We wanted to identify points of heightened public engagement with the threat of empty taps to understand how Capetonians digested, assessed and navigated the barrage of notices and news during the crisis,” said Booysen.

“Our analysis of the terms used … shows that the biggest response was observed not when the restrictions or tariff increases were imposed, but in response to a three-phased disaster plan that warned of disastrous outcomes.

Booysen said these spikes give the impression that the announcement of tighter water restrictions might have had less effect than the scaremongering after the disaster plan referred to the risk of running out of water, the possibility of having to queue at collection points, and the increased threat of fire and disease in crowded settlements.

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