Urban Forum

, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 363–382 | Cite as

Water, Rights and Poverty: an Environmental Justice Approach to Analysing Water Management Devices in Cape Town



Fair processes and just outcomes are recognised globally as an important part of climate change adaptation and water resource management in particular. Achieving this is challenging, particularly in a developing country context where there is a myriad of pressing needs and conflicting ideas of what is needed across scales. This study takes a qualitative approach to exploring issues of justice and fairness in implementing water management technologies in low-income households. Water management devices (WMDs) are employed as part of the City of Cape Town’s water conservation and water demand management strategy. Through applying an environmental justice approach, this study shows that the WMDs have impacted on justice at the local level. The justice implications relate to the following: limited participation by households and a lack of procedural justice, distributional impacts and rights infringement, and the failure of the policy to fully recognise the diverse needs and vulnerabilities experienced by households. The perspectives of City officials and representatives of households with WMDs installed reveal that there is a mismatch between the City’s stated benefits of WMDs and the growing dissatisfaction of households with their devices. This dissatisfaction stems, in particular, from the inability of households to fulfil their needs with a limited water allocation, and personal convictions that water access is and should remain their unrestricted right. This research suggests that for water resource management and adaptation measures to be effective at the local and city scale, policies will require the inclusion of local communities’ understandings and experiences in order to uphold principles of social justice.


Environmental justice Social justice Water Distribution Technology Policy 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental Geographical SciencesUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of Environmental Geographical Sciences, and African Climate and Development InitiativeUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa

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