Running out of water, or clean air, or energy is no longer the stuff of make-believe, apocalyptic films.
It’s a harsh reality that demands real attention and clear communications.
Take the case of drought-stricken Cape Town, which has only just avoided running out of water – a problem caused by the El Nino weather pattern.
For months the city has been preparing for ‘Day Zero’ when the taps run dry and citizens are forced to queue for water.
Capetonians have been restricted to 50 litres of water per person, per day, to stave off the crisis.
Just three months ago, the situation was dire, with serious concerns the water shortage would spread beyond the capital of the Western Cape Province.
Fortunately, the crisis has been averted for another year, with strict rationing and forecasts of above average rainfall this winter.
At the start of the crisis, the governing Democratic Alliance (DA) took drastic measures, including a sharp increase in water tariffs, upsetting the city’s residents.
In a bid to restore public confidence, DA leader Mmusi Maimane replaced Mayor Patricia de Lille as the person in charge of the water shortage and declared that Day Zero had been delayed until August 2019.
But, the Water Shedding Western Cape Facebook group (with 157,000 members) was unconvinced, accusing politicians of duplicitous measures and irresponsible statements.
Critics were particularly angry about being financially penalised by higher tariffs while reducing their water consumption – a double whammy for poorer residents. Normally, people are financially rewarded for savings, as has happened with drought-induced electricity shortages in New Zealand.
At the heart of the issue is trust – a significant problem highlighted by multiple studies, including the global Edelman Trust Barometer and SenateSHJ’s own Reputation Reality report. People don’t trust traditional authority figures and institutions anymore – a problem that’s especially acute in a crisis.
Don’t expect a Hollywood-type hero to suddenly appear and make such problems disappear.
This is reality and it will take a very long time to fix the trust deficit, with clear and honest actions and communications.
As a footnote, it’s pleasing to see Wellington Water drilling a series of bores to form part of the Wellington region's emergency water network, in the event of a major disaster such as an earthquake.