Master’s Student Wins “Preparedness 2030” Award for Thesis on Domestic Rainwater Harvesting in Cape Town

  • 2019•10•04     Bonn

    © UNU-EHS


    UNU-EHS master’s graduate Dominic Sett was awarded the Young Professionals “Preparedness 2030” Award by the German Committee for Disaster Risk Reduction (DKKV) for his thesis on domestic rainwater harvesting (DRWH) as an adaption measure in Cape Town, South Africa.

    Sett’s research is timely as the frequency of droughts and incidence of water scarcity is increasing around the globe and the need for adaptation measures to ensure adequate water supply is growing.

    On his motivations to write on the topic he said, “Water is such a crucial and basic good, you need it to survive, but then there is such large part of the population that is not having access to water. More than half of the population, the global population, are living in areas that are considered water-scarce”.

    Using Cape Town as his case study and the city’s notable “Day Zero” water crisis as a background he set out to find the social-psychological factors that influence the adoption of DRWH systems and pro-environmental behavior. Where previous studies on the topic focused solely on economic and physical factors, he observed that crucial social-psychological influences were largely ignored. Furthermore, for Sett, “Day Zero”, which marked the day in which municipal water would be shut off, offered a unique opportunity to apply an urban adaptation solution.

    He started with a list of impeding and enabling factors and narrowed them down through expert interviews and a household survey he conducted in Cape Town’s Rondebosch neighborhood. Through his data collection, he found that social-psychological factors matter in the adoption of DRWH. For instance, the perceived relevance of threats and perceived behavioral control played a major role in respondent’s decision to adopt or not. In other words, although people were aware of the threat of water scarcity the majority did not believe it was affecting them, even though it was, and consequently, water consumption behavior did not change.

    This finding was of particular interest to Sett. “You see the big picture but you can’t really place yourself in the picture”, he said.

    While the thesis was recognized for plugging a prominent research gap, DKKV also acknowledged Sett’s recommendations and proposals to increase DRWH adoption and pro-environmental behavior. Those included the inclusion of social-psychological factors in future assessments of adaptation measures and the creation of a DRWH institution in Cape Town to build awareness of its benefits.

    “Social-psychological factors should really go into every assessment of every adaptation option. So research has to be aware of that. And policy of course as well because now policy would say based on the assessments before that the economic value of DRWH is not that high. But again if you also consider the social-psychological factors and non-economic values the value would be very very high”, said Sett.

    Now that he has completed his thesis, he is working on getting his research out to the academic and research community. In September he joined a cohort of UNU-EHS researchers in presenting their research at the German Congress for Geography in Kiel. Next, he will head to Mexico to participate in the Water Security and Climate Change Conference in San Luis Potosí at the end of October.

    The International Joint Master’s Programme in “Geography of Environmental Risks and Human Security”, from which Sett just graduated, is jointly offered by UNU-EHS and the Department of Geography at the University of Bonn. Applications are now open.