The topic of ‘water’ and everything that falls beneath that umbrella has been a conversation for decades now. Starting in the US with the state of California being in a constant drought, then the Flint, Michigan pipeline controversy, and many other areas across the nation that don’t have access to clean water, or water at all. Now, globally over the past two decades more than 80 metropolitan areas have faced severe water shortages, droughts, and in worst cases – illness from contamination. Future projections and estimations state that there is only going to be a rise in these urbanized areas, degrading those in unsustainable sociological, economical, political, and living conditions even further beneath the ground. 

A recent study, published by Nature Sustainability, breaks down the phenomenon, those majoritarily affected, and the future for these underserved areas. It displays how social inequalities across different groups or individuals are the key players in the production of these crises. The study’s main point of focus was Cape Town, South Africa, as the researchers believed it was a compelling and highly unequal display of crises to build a credible illustration. 

We see in the study that urban elites are capable of overconsuming water and excluding those less privileged or in underserved communities. This unsustainable water use can exacerbate the stated water crises as much, or higher than climate change or population growth. Previously, scientific studies dove into the research and ideology that climate change was the main contributor to the water crisis. For it jeopardizes the availability of freshwater, deconstructs marine ecosystems, changes the genetic makeup of marine life, and can hinder the reproduction of both flora and fauna – decreasing natural resources, global water supply, and habitat environments. Now, through further analysis and a greater mindset, scientists are diving into the societal aspect of the possibility being wider than just natural occurrences. 

The specific analysis is to show how domestic water usage and economic inequalities share a common denominator in the alteration of water consumption trends. One alarming statistic – according to the 2020 census, 13.7% of the population make up the upper and middle class, meanwhile the rest (86.3%) are middle-lower, lower income, or living in informal conditions, such as shacks. The 13.7% live beyond their means, consuming 2,161 liters of water daily, while the lower income and informal households consume under 455 liters combined.

These figures are extremely concerning and will continue to be seen as such. The study goes into further depth on each breakdown of the data collected. There are stark differences between each social class and their consumption of water; contribution within enacted legislation; balance between water usage, shortages and responses, and the critical decreasing methods that can be accounted for.