The OECD, the city of Cape Town, South Africa and the Western Cape Economic Development Partnership (EDP), are delighted to introduce the results of a year-long, bottom-up and inclusive policy dialogue on water governance, with over 80 stakeholders from public, private and non-profit sectors, and across all levels of government in South Africa.

The city of Cape Town has been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis, accounting for around 20% of total deaths in South Africa. One of the most important issues brought about by the pandemic was access to hygiene and sanitation, magnifying attention on inequalities in access to water quality services. In Cape Town, about 230,000 households living in informal settlements are more likely to be exposed to the virus than others. This is due to their difficulties in disposing of clean water and sanitation facilities. Looking ahead, megatrends such as climate change, urbanisation, and demographic change will only further exacerbate pressures on water resources and service delivery.

Lessons learned during the critical stages of Cape Town’s 2016-18 water crisis were valuable to manage the short-term COVID-19 challenges. They were also key to help design long-term solutions towards greater water resilience. The water crisis triggered policy actions to cope with water scarcity issues, through risk assessments, communications and stakeholder engagement efforts, and regulatory changes. Indeed, in response to the pandemic, the city rolled out its water tanks programme to supply water to the most vulnerable communities in informal settlements.

Often – and the city of Cape Town is no exception – water crises are eye-openers to governance gaps, revealing challenges in relation to who does what, at which scale, how, when and why. As shown in the OECD Principles on Water Governance, policy responses to water-related challenges will only be viable if they are coherent, if stakeholders are properly engaged, if well-designed regulatory frameworks are in place, if there is adequate and accessible information, and if there are sufficient human and financial resources, as well as robust integrity and transparency frameworks in place.

The Cape Town water crisis opened a window of opportunity for new ideas to emerge, and to secure more acceptance and buy-in of reforms. But there is still room to do more. To meet current and future challenges, this report calls on the city of Cape Town to strengthen integrated basin governance and capacities at all levels of government; advance the water allocation reform; collect, generate and share accurate data; improve the financial sustainability of water and sanitation services; and facilitate peer-learning across service providers and stakeholders.

The OECD stands ready to continue to support Cape Town, working with all relevant stakeholders, in implementing these policy recommendations.



Ángel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General



Alderman Dan Plato

Executive Mayor

City of Cape Town, South Africa



Andrew Boraine


Western Cape Economic Development Partnership

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