Factor in Water Problems: Rich Peoples' Pools

Researchers found the wealthy use up to 12 times more water than people with lower incomes
By Steve Huff,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 16, 2023 12:55 PM CDT
Factor in Water Problems: Rich Peoples' Pools
   (Getty Images / Sviatlana Barchan)

Socioeconomic disparity is a major factor in water crises plaguing cities, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Sustainability. NPR reports that the study, conducted by an international research team, found that wealthy city dwellers who can afford swimming pools, flower gardens, and fountains use more water than those who cannot—up to 12 times more. This disparity is as influential as climate change when it comes to explaining why so many cities face shrinking water supplies, say the researchers. And according to lead researcher Elisa Savelli of Uppsala University in Sweden, even with a basic part of life like water, it is "unjust" that "certain individuals with the power to decide how to manage water who also use more water."

Researchers zeroed in on Cape Town, South Africa. Despite the end of the country's apartheid system 25 years ago, Cape Town's population is still divided along clear lines that make it easy to determine water usage differences between various income groups. Though a two-year major drought that ended in 2017 caused such a crisis with Capetown's water supply that some feared it would dry up, Cape Town's wealthiest residents—14% of the population—accounted for 51% of the city's total water usage. Upper income households used roughly 571 gallons of water daily compared to 47 gallons for lower-income homes.

A significant portion of water usage by the elite was for nonessential purposes, including irrigation, swimming pools, and water fixtures, while other social groups primarily used water for essential needs such as drinking and bathing. Speaking with NPR, Savelli said that analysis from the study "can be applied to every other city in the world that's facing water shortages, or that might face them in the future." She said pretty much any city in Australia, Canada, or the United States will likely show similarly unequal water usages patterns, even if those inequalities "might manifest in different ways." The findings suggest policymakers should take steps to address socioeconomic disparities if they want to mitigate water crises. (More water shortage stories.)

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