Water and Climate Change

water handsEMG works to build responses to climate change in the water sector that are just, human-scale, ecologically sensitive, empowering and effective.

The responses are both to build resilience (adaptation) and to reduce water’s contribution to global warming (mitigation).

We work with people on the margins of our unsustainable society, challenge power relationships, create unique spaces to meet and connect, and help people re-imagine their relationships with each other and nature.

We do this through research, facilitation, policy analysis, solidarity building and creativity.


In October 2016 EMG, in partnership with the South African Water Caucus, the Water Research Commission, UBC's Program on Water Governance and Rhodes University's ELRC, hosted a multi-stakeholder symposium on water governance. This was an opportunity to share lessons from the 'Citizen Monitoring of the NWRS2' project, and to talk about what water governance should truly look like in a participatory democracy. 

You can read the proceedings HERE.


This is an update on policy processes and other recent developments in the water sector - available HERE.

Discussed in this policy brief are the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) draft norms and standards, the DWS draft national pricing strategy, citizen monitoring of the National Water Resources Strategy 2 (NWRS2), Catchment Management Forums, the Minister's Budget Speech, amongst other things. 



PRESS RELEASE: South African Water Caucus Response to Minister of Water and Sanitation’s budget speech, 25 May 2016

On 11 May 2016, the Minister of Water and Sanitation, Minister Mokonyane, delivered a speech to Parliament announcing the proposed budget for water and sanitation in the 2016/17 financial year. Following her speech and debate on her proposed budget, a budget roughly 3.2% smaller than the budget for the 2015/16, was approved by a majority of the members of Parliament in attendance.



The South African Water Caucus (SAWC), a national network of community based and non-governmental organisations, is concerned about the budget cut for water and sanitation at a time when South Africa is experiencing a crippling drought and the water and sanitation infrastructure country-wide is in a bad state of repair. We feel that a greater budget is necessary for drought mitigation, urgent interventions in municipalities facing water and sanitation problems and the appointment of staff to enforce water laws in South Africa.

The Minister listed some achievements of the government over the past two decades relating particularly to the broadening of access to water and the provision of sanitation services. The SAWC recognises those achievements and welcomes the Minister’s pledge to ensure that these achievements are built on in the current financial year.

However, the Minister failed to specify any of the challenges faced by the Department of Water and Sanitation (hereafter ‘the Department’) in performing its mandate. We believe that being forthright about the Department’s challenges during a budget speech will not only assist to justify the allocation of funds to the Department’s various programmes, it will also create a platform for constructive engagement with civil society.  

EMG Fact Sheet Series

EMG seminar series 2015

Untold stories

EMG water and climate change seminar series, 2014

Our popular seminar series is still going strong, and is a vibrant space to share what we're learning, hear different perspectives, and strategise with others from civil society, academia, government and communities around the best ways to respond to water and climate change issues.

In 2014, our first seminar was a small gathering focussed on Gender and Water, a theme that most people agree is important and yet which is poorly understood, by ourselves and most others we meet in the sector. Leila Harris from the University of British Columbia was our guest speaker; she presented case studies to illustrate the gendered impacts of various large scale water and development projects, and shared some helpful, nuanced methodologies we can use to explore gender in our work. 

In May, EMG supported the Kuils River Catchment Forum to host a seminar, which brought together voluntary citizen's groups actively involved with cleaning the Kuils River, officials from local government, DWS (Department of Water and Sanitation), and academics from CPUT (Cape Peninsula University of Technology). This seminar was an opportunity to share all the work that has been done by the forum to date, to hear from government officials about the state of the river and wetlands, and government's vision and challenges for this catchment. Finally, we started a process of exploring how to get this loose, fairly informal forum registered and recognised as an official Catchment Management Forum (CMF). Proceedings from this seminar are available here.

In June we co-hosted a seminar with the Phillippi Horticultural Area (PHA) for Food and Farming, looking at the relationship between the Cape Flats Aquifer (CFA) and the PHA. This seminar attracted a large number of concerned citizens, government officials and academics, and proved to be a fascinating gathering with important outcomes. The main messages coming out of the seminar were that the CFA and the PHA are both critically important for food security in Cape Town; that the CFA is in urgent need of a proper management plan to prevent its further pollution; but that its pollution levels at present are not high enough to result in dangerous toxicity levels in vegetables grown in the PHA. We hope that this relationship between EMG and the PHA for Food and Farming will continue into the future. The press release from this seminar is available here.

Finally, our November seminar looked at Water and Wetland Offsets, a growing trend in South Africa and around the world. Water and Wetland Offsets are still very poorly defined. Although carbon offsets and biodiversity offsets have been implemented and researched fairly thoroughly, water and wetland offsets are a fairly new concept, with very different variables, considerations and implications. This seminar was an attempt to open up a conversation about what is really understood and intended by those who are pursuing these kinds of mechanisms, and to start to formulate our own opinions and responses - should we be worried, should we be resisting these trends outright, or is there a pragmatic middle ground? Watch this space for a report coming out of this seminar - and you will hear more from us on this topic next year, as we prepare to respond to DEA's proposed environmental offset policy.


Social audit of the Kuils River - the story of an urban river

The Kuils River Catchment Management Forum is a loose yet thriving network of people who meet regularly to talk about the protection and rehabilitation of the Kuils River, with a particular focus on the area around the Khayelitsha Wetland Park. Earlier this year we commissioned researcher Liane Greeff to conduct a preliminary social audit of the Kuils River, looking at the state of the river, who is using it, and what different people's perceptions are about the river. You can find the report here: Kuils River Social Audit

Civil society guide to the NWRS2

South Africa’s second National Water Resources Strategy is a potentially powerful document, laying out the strategic direction for water resource management in this country for the next 20 years. However, most people do not know it exists, or if they do, it remains very abstract and inaccessible. The South African Water Caucus (SAWC) submitted extensive comments, some of which we were happy to see reflected in the final version published in June 2013, but many of which were ignored. Despite our reservations about aspects of the strategy, we also see opportunities, on paper at least, for civil society to play a meaningful role in monitoring the implementation of this strategy. As a first step, EMG has developed this civil society guide to the NWRS2, which presents the SAWC comments and positions, highlights our particular areas of concern, and identifies ways in which civil society can use the NWRS2 to support and enhance our work. We hope it is useful, and we encourage you to share it and use it as you see fit – and please let us know if you have any comments or ideas to share.

You can access the guide here: Civil society guide to the NWRS2

South African Water Caucus comments on the National Water Policy Review, October 2013 

Access the comments by the SAWC on the Department of Water Affairs draft National Water Policy Review (notice 888 of 2013) here: SAWC comments on the NWPR

Proceedings from EMG seminar on 'Unpacking the language of climate change', October 2013

Adaptation, mitigation, vulnerability, resilience, adaptive capacity, anticipatory capacity... the conceptual language of climate change is a mouthful, and is quite alienating and inaccesible for most people. At the same time, people are already 'adapting' or 'building their resilience' or 'becoming more vulnerable' - they just don't use those words to describe their experiences. In October, a group of us got together to try and get a better understanding of this language, and to relate it to practical lived realities. The proceedings from this interesting discussion are available here.

Recent articles

We have had a number of articles related to our work published recently.

  • An article by Jessica Wilson about the inequitable water tariffs in Cape Town, which appeared in the Mail and Guardian on the 24th of May - view HERE

  • An article highlighting the work that Makhaza residents, in partnership with EMG and CEJ, have been doing to get leaks fixed and debt scrapped, without the installation of the City's dreaded water management devices, published by the Inter-Press Service - view HERE
  • Our work in Makhaza was also featured in the Good Governance Learning Network newsletter for May 2013 - view HERE

EMG comments on City of Cape Town's proposed water tariff increases

Read HERE about the inequitable water tariffs in Cape Town, and for more analysis see Jessica's article in the Mail and Guardian, above.

Proceedings from EMG seminar on the NWRS 2, March 2013

In March 2013 we hosted a vibrant seminar looking at lessons learnt from civil society engagement with the second National Water Resources Strategy (NWRS2). Importantly, we also considered how we as civil society can monitor the progress and appropriateness of such a policy throughout its implementation. Read the full proceedings HERE

Video - Leaks, Debt and Devices: a community seeks alternatives

Watch this beautifully filmed video about a group of women in Makhaza who, in partnership with EMG and CEJ, are looking for positive, empowering alternatives for addressing leaks and debt where they live. Watch the video HERE.



handsEMG has been an active member of South African environmental civil society for 20 years, and we have picked up some useful skills and information along the way - and we would like to start sharing these! We are in the process of developing training materials in the following areas:

  • water services and water rights, including how to read a bill, how to fix leaks, knowing the good and bad about water management devices and other technologies
  • water governance, including how to engage with local authorities, IDP & budgets
  • financing water and tariff setting
  • understanding and reducing your organisation's carbon footprint
  • climate change and water, including water demand management and mitigation
  • rainwater harvesting

sanitation QNetworking and movement building is an important component of our work at EMG.
The South African Water Caucus (SAWC), provincial water caucuses, Climate Justice Now! (CJN), Coalition for Environmental Justice (CEJ) and African Rivers Network (ARN) are among the networks we have helped to build and actively participate in as an organisation.

They provide a space for collective thinking, information sharing, joint actions and campaigns on water and climate change issues.

Through them, NGOs, CBOs, trade unions, communities and individuals collectively challenge injustices and environmental degradation at both local and policy levels.

When most people think about water and climate change, they think about droughts and empty dams. While these are real threats, most urban people will experience climate change indirectly, via their water bills, water restrictions, or other methods of water demand management carried out by municipalities.

EMG has been active in pointing out the links between climate change and water services, exposing unjust practices in water demand management, questioning new supply-side measures and proposing alternative approaches that are more people- and environment -friendly.

Much of this work is captured in our book: water and climate change: an exploration for the concerned and curious and in our research reports.

makhaza wetlandsmallThere are exciting things happening in the communities close to the Khayelitsha Wetlands Park in Makhaza.

These wetlands, and the Kuils River which flows into them, are severely polluted due to discharge from industries and wastewater treatment works upstream, as well as waste from the high numbers of people living in the poorly serviced areas adjacent to them. In spite of these pressures, there is still a lot of life in these waters, and a lot of cultural practices dependent upon the wetland ecosystem.

Now, members of the Makhaza community, with the support of organisations like CEJ (Coalition for Environmental Justice) and EMG, are working with the City of Cape Town Parks Department, regional DWA and others to protect the local wetlands. This kind of initiative is an important step towards adapting to climate change, because it builds the confidence and capacity of citizens to take responsibility and action for their environment, and builds relationships between local people and municipalities.

ngcushwa scene 1-webThe Eastern Cape Water Caucus, with support and facilitation by EMG, has been carrying out action research on water and climate change with small-scale farmers of the Ngqushwa Municipality, Eastern Cape.

Multi-stakeholder engagement is at the heart of the process, with involvement from the Pedi Local Municipality, Amathole District Municipality and the Department of Water Affairs regional office; as well local NGOs and researchers from Rhodes University.

Key issues that emerged from the research, and which the Ngqushwa farmers have taken responsibility for include:

  • Cleaning and rehabilitation of existing small rural dams
  • Rehabilitation of rural infrastructure such as windmills and water pumps to supplement water supply for agriculture and drinking-water for animals
  • Extension of clean piped water into newly developed areas
  • Upscaling rainwater harvesting.

The authorities, NGOs and community groups continue to meet to follow-up and monitor actions arising from the research.

The southern Cape recently experienced its most severe drought in recorded history. In 2009 it had the lowest rainfall since record-keeping began, 132 years ago.

While it is not possible to attribute the drought directly to climate change, climate models nevertheless predict that droughts like this will become more frequent and more severe. Understanding the dynamics of water supply and demand under such severe stress may yield useful lessons for the future.

Over the course of 2010 and 2011 we interviewed officials, managers, and community leaders in various southern Cape towns to understand how the affected municipalities responded. Download the full report here (985Kb PDF).

As a water activist, you can:

  • use less water
  • use less electricity
  • understand your water bill, including how much water you use every month
  • be a role model (don't build that swimming pool!)
  • get to know your neighbour
  • report leaks, fix leaks
  • say no to poor quality housing
  • lobby your elected official
  • participate in your local budget and integrated development plan (IDP)
  • learn more about water and climate change and tell your friends, family and local councillor.

Water & Climate Change - Resources

Water and climate change - an exploration for the concerned and curious (2011) ed. Jessica Wilson, EMG, Cape Town - Hardcopy for R60, or download it in sections -- Main Text (2.1MB), Photo Essay (2.4MB), Guest Essays (380KB)  

Water demand management's shadow side: Tackling inequality and scarcity of water provision in Cape Town (2012) Taryn Pereira and Jessica Wilson, EMG Water & Climate Change Research Series Report 7 (315KB PDF)

The Energy-Water Nexus: Energy demand on water resources (2012) Brenda Martin & Robert Fischer, EMG Water & Climate Change Research Series Report 5 (973KB PDF)

You can't have your gas and drink your water (2012) Liane Greeff, EMG Water & Climate Change Research Series Report 6 (1.3MB PDF)

Drought in Eden: An exploration of municipality responses, community impacts and lesson for water and climate change from the 2009/10 drought in the southern Cape (2010) Taryn Pereira (1.8MB)

Climate Change and Water Services in SA (2009) Jessica Wilson & Taryn Pereira, EMG (500KB)

Climate change mitigation in the water sector: or how to reduce the carbon footprint of water (2009) Taryn Pereira, EMG (1.7MB)

Household Impacts of Water management Devices (2009) Taryn Pereira, EMG (128KB)

Water Handbook for South African activist and decision makers in urban areas (2008), Jessica Wilson EMG (2nd edition)

Straight Talk: To strengthen delivery in the water services sector (2009) Water Dialogues SA Syntheses Report, Ed. Mary Galvin,Water Dialogues SA

The story of an international multistakeholder process (2009) Chapman & Mancini  The Water Dialogues, London

A guide to multistakeholder work (2009) Hilary Colby, The Water Dialogues, London

Thirstyville is not for sale (2003) Illustrated by Carlos Amato, EMG