EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

All dried up: An interdisciplinary analysis of drought risk in Ladismith, South Africa  

Elisa Savelli1,2, Maria Rusca1,2, Hannah Cloke1,2,3, and Giuliano Di Baldassarre1,2,4
Elisa Savelli et al.
  • 1Department of Earth Sciences, Air, Water and Landscape Science, Uppsala University, Sweden (
  • 2Centre of Natural Hazards and Disaster Science, CNDS, Sweden
  • 3Department of Meteorology, Reading University, United Kingdom
  • 4Department of Integrated Water Systems and Governance, IHE Delft, The Netherlands

Droughts have always been part of Earth climate, yet today these phenomena are becoming more alarming due to their increasing severity and their disastrous socio-ecological impacts. Different scientific definitions or diverse understanding of drought risk have been proposed also because of the simultaneously social and ecological complexity which characterizes droughts relative to other hazards and/or vulnerabilities. This work sets out to confront the distinctive complexity of drought risk throughout a novel approach which combines political ecology perspectives with hydro-climatological insights. Our engagement with political ecologies of land, water, and vulnerability helps to explain the socio-political processes that intersect with the production of droughts and their consequences. Concurrently, hydro-climatology unravels the physical or material processes that both constitute and transform drought phenomena into socio-ecological disasters. The drought-stricken Ladismith in Western Cape, South Africa, is the point of departure of our empirical analysis which portrays the socio-ecological disruption reached by this rural community after five years of below-average rainfall (meteorological drought). We show that Ladismith socio-ecological crisis was mostly engendered by a distinct mechanism of capital accumulation through land and water dispossession, which emerged locally in the form of white commercial agriculture. Our interdisciplinary approach examines these socio-political processes in relation to the drought physical transformations over time and across space. By relating societal and physical processes we advance a novel understanding of drought that sheds light on the crucial interactions between social power, climate, land use, and hydrology, which all too often transform a meteorological event into a soil moisture drought, a hydrological drought, and eventually into a major socio-ecological crisis. Secondly, combining hydro-climatology with political ecology reveals that social power not only influences the vulnerability of the systems affected by droughts, but also shapes the occurrence and manifestation of the hazard itself. This novel conceptualization of drought risk as socially produced is key to intercept the material spaces and physical dynamics through which social power plays out in more extreme and disruptive drought events. A similar approach, by identifying unjust and unsustainable socio-ecological changes, can make drought management policies and strategies more proactive rather than constrain them to relief or adaptation measures.

How to cite: Savelli, E., Rusca, M., Cloke, H., and Di Baldassarre, G.: All dried up: An interdisciplinary analysis of drought risk in Ladismith, South Africa  , EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-1991,, 2021.

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