The W12 Congress will begin with two days of meetings at the University of the Western Cape whereby six “task teams,” each made up of local and international academics and water experts as well as city delegates, will consider thematic areas related to the escalating water crisis. Those areas are Politics, Economics, Natural Science, Technical Science, Civil Society, and Social Sciences.

Throughout the Congress, each task team will not only consider its own area extensively, but will also integrate with the other task teams in an intersectional and comprehensive approach designed to produce a coordinated, long term plan for preserving access to water. The program is uniquely structured to target tensions between the different task teams, while bringing in city perspectives and ultimately creating a Major City Best Practice Water Protocol. Each task team will be led by a convener (or co-conveners), who will invite participating members and coordinate the work of the whole team.  

Task teams are at the core of the congress. They bring specialized expertise from six critical sectors and provide the opportunity for cross-sector collaboration among multiple stakeholders.Task teams will develop systemic responses to the escalating water crisis and will imagine different structures and systems for the cities of the future. The unique structure of the W12 Congress provides long-term, informed perspectives that can lead to genuine progress for cities affected by escalating water shortages.

For more information on task teams, click here.


Economic factors are central to analyzing the escalating water crisis. In most of the cities represented at the conference, there is no question about the desirability of providing water to its citizens. If cost were no object, water could be provided, at least in most cases. Already in the present, however, sufficient funds are not available at the city, provincial, or national levels to build and sustain the infrastructure needed. Combining climate models, economic projections, and calculations of social need make it clear that the economic crisis of water scarcity will grow rapidly over the coming years in major cities around the world.

The taskforces will explore the potential of a variety of different economic models, considering the roles of private sector, public sector, and NGOs. Forecasting the economic effects of climate disruption is highly contentious, since many of the core assumptions are disputed. An inexpensive way to sequester massive amounts of carbon back into the earth, for example — if such a technology could ever be developed — would massively change the economic projections.

Still, it is at least fair to say that, given current technologies and economic structures, climate change is likely to cripple the economies of many major cities over the coming three decades, at least in the forms in which these economies exist today.

The task team will look in particular at the prospects for developing collaborative governance frameworks to deal with water security issues. Water is often viewed as a commons issue. The challenge is for the institutional barriers and inward focusing governance approaches to extend into this commons space, given the likely resistance from state government agencies and/or industry. Still, a non-competitive commons space could provide a means for governments and industry to engage meaningfully and proactively with multi-stakeholders across sectors, for example in public-private-research interactions. We will explore to what extent collaborative governance networks, whether local, national, or international, could serve as the basis for broad water management programs in different regions of the world.


Large cities are increasingly becoming international actors. Many cities have a higher profile than many countries in terms of population, influence, economy, vulnerability to climate change, etc.  We expect to see the direct representation of large cities in global decision-making processes over the

coming decades, as they are going to be most directly affected by climate change.  Around the world this shift is raising important questions about the relative political roles of cities, provinces, and national governments.

Technical Science

This task team deals with water resource management, i.e. the bulk provision and individual distribution of water within cities.  The challenge is how to do this in an increasingly uncertain climate and in times of crisis and extreme events (whether floods, fires or droughts) that can disrupt the provision of water to cities. The bulk water divisions within cities are the most important in that respect: how do they best bring water into cities? What about diversified supply and reusing water? The group will consider the different levels of water resource management, including water supply and demand management, groundwater abstraction for aquifer recharge, or desalination. 

Given the predicted climate changes, water resource managers now have to build redundancy and resilience into their systems to allow for unpredictability. This calls for a broader planning process than in the past.  We need data on trends (how usage correlates with population and the systems in place to meet those needs), as well as predictive data of projected changes going forward (e.g., decrease in net precipitation and increase in population).

Most cities have either a resilience strategy or a water strategy, and many are working toward a sustainability development strategy. Many city resiliency strategies are linked to the broader sustainability goals of the nation, which are linked to the SDGs for the United Nations. Each country would be able to articulate a set of learnings about strategies they have developed and how well they are working. 

The time frame for this kind of water strategy plan is often 20-30 years, much longer than the political cycle, given the time required to plan and build a new dam or a desalination plant. There are also challenges with data collection, since predictions of water needs are based on population growth, consumption patterns, climate, rainfall predictability, etc. Also, spending on big capital projects is difficult in countries where education or health systems are not working well. Finally, in addition to needing good data, technical experts need access to legislative processes, lobbying voices to help communicate water needs, etc. 

Natural Science

This task team looks at the effects of major droughts (or other extreme water events) on ecosystems and the natural environment.  We distinguish between drought as a hydrological phenomenon and the social consequences of drought, because they tend to have rather different effects. The task force will thus need to include the differences between the natural effects and the human-induced effects.  For example, Cape Town had two years of the deepest droughts ever recorded.Largely exacerbated by climate change, they occurred outside of the usual (15 year or 70-90 year) cycles. Other cities face very different kinds of hydrological challenges. But social factors play a major role as well, including corruption, population growth, unemployment, informal settlements, pollution in wastewater treatment, pollutants in rivers, degree of dilution of pollutants, and a variety of conservation issues. 

Technical and practical issues of management also fall under our purview. City engineers work with the science of their specific fields, as well as with environmental impact assessments and with established requirements for ecosystem management. But they also work under the political constraints in their particular city. As water scarcity increases, these constraints and pressures also increase. It’s not just that there will be less rainfall, but weather events are also likely to become more severe for many of the participating cities: deeper droughts, bigger floods, with the floods becoming less frequent and the droughts probably more frequent. 

In order to deal with such huge fluctuations in water supply, we have to think in the long term, with 2050 being a reasonable timeframe. Planning is not only for a longer time period, but also for an increase in unexpected events. The climate change that is underway requires thinking far beyond the normal five-year planning cycle. For example, we will ask delegates from the cities what are their strategy policies and action plans both for the five-year horizon and for the 30-year projections of net precipitation, average temperature, etc.

Climate models suggest less usable fresh water combined with more erratic and unpredictable and severe climate events. When one combines that with a rapid increase in population, decrease in agricultural production, and decreased support from national governments, one begins to recognize some rather similar parameters across many cities. The science tells us very clearly the urgent kinds of pressures that will be exacerbating water scarcity over the coming three decades. We hope to encourage planning that has that longer-term realism in mind.

Social Sciences

This task team looks at water-related issues in cities from a social science perspective, including sanitation and access to potable water. Three different types of representatives from the participating cities are sought: specialists in the provision of human services, with a focus on services provided by city governments; activists, including many from civil society, who draw attention to injustices in the systems currently in place in the various cities; and researchers who specialize in the best practices for providing services.

Many urban needs are water-related, beyond the liters of potable water available per person per day. Sanitation is largely a water issue. Flush toilets have become the standard for the modern city and yet access to a flush toilet cannot be presupposed in many cities.

Sanitation failures have impacts that cut across many of the sectors of urban society, exploding outward, for example, into the areas of health, economics, and education. 

This task team therefore has both a descriptive and a normative function. On the descriptive side, we want to learn what water-based services are provided in the participating cities and how they are provided. Participants will be asked to describe where their challenges lie, but also some of the solutions that they have found and achievements that they are proud of. But it is also important to recognize where basic human rights are not being observed and where basic human needs are not being met. This means that issues of equity and of water justice are also part of our mandate.

Civil Society

This task team includes perspectives from the arts such as literature, poetry, music, creative and performing arts, which are not normally understood as civil society. It also includes activists to speak to the people who work with others on the ground and know the gripes and concerns and anger often expressed towards the municipality. Civil society groups, such as community-based organizations, are often closer to the ground.

It is a way of keeping the others on their toes and responding to the kind of experiences of water shortages on the ground which none of the others would necessarily do.

We are focusing on locally-based stakeholder institutions outside of government, business, and industry, including NGOs, NPOs, CBOs, and FBOs.

W12 Task Team Conveners

Civil Society | Ernst M. Conradie

Ernst M. Conradie is Senior Professor in the Department of Religion and Theology at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa where he teaches systematic theology and ethics. He specialises in the field of Christian ecotheology, especially in its intersections with systematic theology, ecumenical theology, environmental ethics and science and theology discourse. His most recent monograph is entitled Redeeming Sin? Social Diagnoistics amid Ecological Destruction(Lexington Books, 2017). With Hilda Koster he is co-editor of the forthcoming T&T Clark Handbook of Christian theology and Climate Change.

Civil Society | Jeremy Fackenthal

Jeremy Fackenthal is Managing Director of the Institute for Ecological Civilization.  He is a scholar, filmmaker, and teacher who passionately explores the intersection of arts, philosophy, and practice as a means of communicating an ecological civilization.  He holds a PhD in Philosophy of Religion from Claremont Graduate University in the United States.  Jeremy resides in Southern California, continues to do documentary film work, and writes on critical theory and process thought.  He is the editor of Whitehead and Continental Philosophy in the Twenty-First Century: Dislocations (2019) and director of the short documentary Spitting Fire (2018).

Politics | Larry Swatuk

Larry Swatuk (PhD) is Professor in the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development (SEED) at the University of Waterloo, Canada. He is also Extraordinary Professor in the Institute for Water Studies, University of Western Cape, South Africa. For the last twenty-five years, Dr. Swatuk’s research has focused on the politics of the environment, with a particular focus on freshwater governance and management in Southern Africa. Prior to joining the University of Waterloo, he spent eleven years at the University of Botswana as Associate Professor of Natural Resource Governance in the Okavango Research Institute in Maun and a lecturer in the Department of Political and Administrative Studies on main campus in Gaborone. During this period he assisted in the development of WaterNET, a SADC-wide, multi-university research and training initiative for integrated water resources management. Dr. Swatuk is author of, among other things, Water in Southern Africa (UKZN Press, 2018); and co-editor (with Dr. Corrine Cash) of Water, Energy, Food and People: the “Nexus” in an Era of Climate Change (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018).

Natural Sciences | Jenny Day

Prof Jenny Day is a freshwater ecologist. She taught in the Zoology Department at UCT for many years, as well as acting as Deputy Dean and Head of Department at various times. She ‘retired’ in 2012 but is still active in teaching and research into South Africa’s rivers and wetlands. She has published numerous papers and research reports on various aspects of freshwater ecosystems, as well as the recent book Freshwater life: a field guide to the plants and animals of southern Africa, and the older Vanishing Waters, a textbook on limnology for southern African students. Jenny’s particular interests include the management and conservation of wetlands, the ecology of temporary wetlands, and the effects of water quality on freshwater invertebrates. She is currently Chair of Cape Town City’s Protected Areas Advisory Committee fortunate enough to live on the banks of Zeekoevlei in the southern suburbs of Cape Town.

Technical Sciences | Kirsty Carden

Future Water Institute, University of Cape Town
Kirsty Carden has 30 years of experience working in academia, for government and the private sector in the field of urban water management. She is a Senior Research Officer in the Department of Civil Engineering at UCT and is currently the interim Director for UCT’s interdisciplinary research institute, Future Water. Her research interests include: urban water management and service provision in a South African context, sustainability assessment in water management, and integrated approaches geared towards sustainable urban development and water sensitive cities (including social learning related to water sensitive design).

Technical Sciences | Jessica Fell

Future Water Institute, University of Cape Town
Jessica Fell has two years of experience working in water related research and is currently a Junior Researcher at the Future Water Institute at the University of Cape Town. Her research interests include water sensitive cities, smart water monitoring and the Internet of Things and drainage in informal settlements.

Social Sciences | Mafaniso Hara

Professor of Natural Resource Governance at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), University of the Western Cape (UWC), Cape Town, South Africa.

His current research and development interests are in governance, livelihoods, and food and nutrition security associated with renewable natural resources and climate change in developing countries in Africa. He has published extensively based on his research in past thirty years, particularly on issues of inclusive and equitable governance of natural resources. He is currently Project Leader and Principle Investigator on a Water Research Commission (WRC – South Africa) funded project titled “Towards enhancing contributions of inland fisheries to rural livelihoods: An empirical assessment of freshwater fish stocks, fisheries potential market value chains, governance and co-management arrangements”. Has also overseen completion of a project left by a colleague titled “Land Tenure, Tenancy And Water Services Delivery In South Africa” in the last five years. With reference to holistic and an Ecosystems Approach to natural resource governance, he has led and completed two regional European Union funded projects in the last decade, namely Defragmenting Resource Management in Southern Africa (DARMA) reported in a special issue of Aquatic Ecosystem Health & Management 21 (2), April-June 2018, and Cross-sectoral Commons Governance in Southern Africa (CROSSCOG) reported in Development Southern Africa Vol. 26, No. 4, October 2009.

Economics | Charon Büchner-Marais

Charon Büchner-Marais is a project manager at the Stellenbosch University Water Institute (SUWI) and Centre for Complex Systems in Transition (CST) research fellow, and holds a PhD from University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB). Charon is the lead researcher and director of Co-Go, the Collaborative Governance Network for water security initiative, and coordinator of the Stellenbosch River Collaborative (SRC). She is also associated with the Water Governance research group hosted in SUWI and CST collectively. 

Doctor Büchner-Marais specializes in the role and impact of transformative collaborative governance relations in complex cross-sector alliances (SDG 17). She is interested in the persistent challenges to ‘govern the commons’, framing insights of how corporate actors engage with a variety of stakeholders and public and private partnerships to make and sustain shared commitments to an endangered commons. These insights inform Co-Go’s developing commons-based economy approach building knowledge systems and shared-value consciousness for water security. 

Economics | Gregg Brill

Gregg is the deputy director of the Green Economy Programme within the Provincial Department of Economic Development and Tourism. He is responsible for developing projects and programmes that aim to increase economic water resilience in the Western Cape. Gregg contributes to a number of other programmes within provincial and local government departments, including the development of financial mechanisms and models toward improving economic water resilience at municipal level, sustainable water management plans, the enhancement of economic sectors and opportunities, the implementation of ecological infrastructure options and many more. Prior to joining DEDAT, Gregg worked in academia and the private sector, with experience in sustainability, natural resource management, and rehabilitation and disturbance ecology. Gregg has a PhD in Environmental and Geographical Science from the University of Cape Town, where his researched focussed on the uses, values, impacts and management of water-related ecosystem services in Cape Town and Table Mountain National Park.