Cities in the Southern African region face unplanned urban growth outpacing social, economic, and institutional interventions, hence providing many challenges to water professionals and decision-makers for a sustained water security. Recent drought experiences of the City of Cape Town, South Africa, has brought groundwater and its potential role in ensuring resilience to recurring droughts and general water insecurity to the forefront. The role of groundwater in resilience, however, is poorly integrated in the urban areas of the South with mixed messages about groundwater storage, contemporary rates of resource renewability and the wider impacts of uncontrolled aquifer depletion and pollution.
A systems perspective on groundwater resilience within the context of urban water cycles is taken using the 2014 OECD Guidelines for Resilience System Analysis as an analytical framework. This allows better understanding of the complexity of groundwater to support urban living and the impact of urbanism on natural groundwater systems. The paper reflects on the groundwater challenges (i.e. rising and declining groundwater levels, groundwater quality deterioration and saline intrusion) facing major urban areas of Southern Africa: Cape Town, Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg-Pretoria and Lusaka. The paper concludes with lessons for groundwater resilience learned from the recent drought in the City of Cape Town.