Parched Injustice : Unravelling the production and distribution of drought risk in South Africa

Sammanfattning: Droughts and water shortages constitute some of the most urgent challenges that society must address. Due to anthropogenic pressure and human-induced climate change, future projections expect droughts to escalate and most heavily affect those who are socially, economically and politically disadvantaged. However, the world seems still unprepared to face future droughts, much less to address their implications. As of today, it is still difficult to foresee when droughts are likely to strike, for how long, and in particular, what their impacts will be. One of the reasons for this impasse is that scientists have not yet fully grasped the socioenvironmental complexity of droughts. To account for such complexity, this thesis combines sociohydrological and critical social sciences. This interdisciplinary effort contributes to better understand why droughts occur and manifest themselves the way they do. Specifically, the thesis aims to apprehend the production and distribution of drought risk over time and across space by (a) unravelling the socioenvironmental processes that over time reshape drought hazard along with (b) revealing the way certain socioenvironmental processes redistribute drought vulnerabilities across space. This thesis shows how different temporal and spatial scales expose distinctive socioenvironmental processes which are entangled with the production of drought hazard and vulnerabilities. The city of Cape Town and Ladismith’s agricultural area in South Africa provide the empirical basis for such analyses as they both witnessed extreme droughts which unfolded as water crises experienced unevenly by their respective populations. The thesis finds that rather than society as whole, power dynamics and social inequalities are much more adept at explaining the way humans unsustainably and unevenly reshape water systems, thereby transforming droughts into water crises. All too often, water consumption by privileged social groups exerts unsustainable pressure on the local hydrology, thereby constituting a serious threat for the long-term sustainability of urban or rural water systems. Power imbalances are amongst the driving mechanisms that determine what human-water dynamics will be sustained over time. As a result, to better understand the production and distribution of drought risk it is necessary to focus on the political economic processes that produce such injustices. Whilst doing so, drought scholars should always account for the agency of non-human processes and their entanglements with power dynamics. Ultimately, if as humans we cannot tame the agency of biophysical processes, we have, at minimum, the responsibility to address the political-economic systems and power dynamics that produce unjust and unsustainable socioenvironmental transformations.