UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Resilience in South Africa’s urban water landscape Rodina, Lucy; Harris, Leila Jun 14, 2016

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     1 INSTITUTE FOR RESOURCES, ENVIRONMENT AND SUSTAINABILITY UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA       Resilience in South Africa’s urban water landscape  Lucy Rodina Corresponding  Author:  l.rodina@alumni.ubc.ca  Leila Harris Rodina  L.,  &  L.M.  Harris  (2016,  June  14).  Resilience  in  South  Africa’s  urban  water  landscape.  Opinion  piece,  published  in  The  Conversation  Africa.    Citations  of  this  work  should  use  the  final  version  as  noted  above      2 INSTITUTE FOR RESOURCES, ENVIRONMENT AND SUSTAINABILITY UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA   RESILIENCE IN SOUTH AFRICA’S URBAN WATER LANDSCAPE Resilience   is   becoming  a   core   concept   in  water   governance.   It   refers   to   the  ability   of  communities,   cities   or   regions   to   withstand   the   challenges   posed   by   an   increased  intensity  and  frequency  of  floods  and  droughts.  Resilience   often   involves   adopting   diverse,   flexible,   adaptive   and   redundant   or  supplemental   systems.   This   pertains   to   both   physical   infrastructures   and   governance  arrangements.   Resilience   in   the   urban   water   sector   also   focuses   on   restoring   and  maintaining  water  ecosystems,  such  as  wetlands,  rivers  or  streams.  The   Stockholm   Resilience   Centre,   the   Resilience   Alliance   and   other   Euro-­American  institutions   have   largely   driven   the   frameworks   for   resilience.   However,   they   are   now  increasingly   being   applied   in   African   cities.   For   example,   Accra,   Cape   Town,   Dakar,  Durban,   Enugu   and   Kigali   are   all   participating   in   the   Rockefeller   Foundation’s   100  Resilient  Cities  initiative.  Each  city  appoints  a  Chief  Resilience  officer  to  lead  action  on  addressing  its  specific  resilience  challenges.  For  Cape  Town  these  include  civil  unrest,  rainfall  flooding,  infrastructure  failure  and  disease  outbreaks.  Another   example   from   southern  Africa   is   the   Future  Resilience   for   African  Cities   and  Lands  programme.   It   engages  decision-­makers  and  officials   in   cities   like  Cape  Town,  Windhoek,  Maputo  and  Lusaka  to  develop  plans  for  resilience  to  climate  change.  Our   research   looks  at   the  meaning,  application  and  utility  of   resilience   in  urban  water  governance  in  African  contexts.  We  focus  specifically  on  Cape  Town,  in  South  Africa’s  Western  Cape  province.  An  African  focus  African   cities  are  often   sites  of   rapid  or   unplanned  growth,  with  poorly   coordinated  or  spotty  development.  This  has  important  implications  for  resilience  planning  in  the  face  of  floods   and   droughts.   It   requires   addressing   both   formal   and   informal   forms   of   urban  development.  The   Western   Cape   faces   additional   challenges.   The   projected   impacts   of   climate  change  include  increasing  mean  annual  temperatures,  changes  in  precipitation  patterns  and  decreasing  winter   rainfall   in   the  western  parts  of   the   region.  More   intense  storms  are   also   expected.   This   will   likely   lead   to   flooding,   which   already   poses   serious  concerns  in  the  region.  Addressing   urban   resilience   also   requires   meaningful   engagement   with   historical  patterns  of  colonial  development  and  apartheid  legacies.  Cape  Town  is  a  stark  example  of   persisting   high   levels   of   social,   spatial   and   structural   inequalities.   This   is   despite  various  efforts  to  address  these  issues.  Key  dimensions  of  water  resilience  Our  ongoing   research   focuses  on   the  question:  what  does   resilience  mean  –  or  what  should  it  mean  –  in  Cape  Town’s  urban  water  sector?       3 INSTITUTE FOR RESOURCES, ENVIRONMENT AND SUSTAINABILITY UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA   Preliminary  literature  and  policy  analyses  show  a  few  key  factors  of  water  resilience.  —   Resilience   in   water   governance   comes   from   a   mix   of   government   structures,  watershed   groups   and   various   stakeholders.   Effective   coordination,   little   conflict  and  working  partnerships  between  government  and  stakeholders  are  key  drivers  of  resilience.   For   Cape   Town,   this   means   increased   collaboration   between  government,  civil  society  and  other  key  actors.      —   Healthy   watersheds   and   high   biodiversity   contribute   to   resilience   in   the   face   of  climate   change.   Natural   systems   like   wetlands   provide  many  mitigation   services.  These   include   temporary   floodwater   storage,   ground   water   recharge   and   storm  water   purification.   This   calls   for   deeper   integration   of   hydrology   and   ecology   in  water  management  policies.    —   Resilience  often  means  living  and  dealing  with  floods.  It  requires  accepting  certain  levels   of   flood   risk,   preparing   for   the   unexpected   and   adopting   more   innovative  approaches.   These   include   natural   flood   retention   systems   and   other   soft  approaches   to   flood   protection.   This   requires   addressing   informal   urbanisation,  which  often  happens  in  sensitive  watersheds.    —   For   disaster   response,   resilience   calls   for   proactive   approaches.   This  means   that  cities  should  focus  on  building  capacity  to  deal  with  disasters  as  opposed  to  relying  on  relief  when  they  happen.    —   Building   community   resilience   to   floods,   droughts  or   other  water   risks   is   a   crucial  aspect.  Livelihood  diversification,  flexible  settlement  options  and  greater  reliance  on  community   level   planning   are   some   of   the   proposed   strategies.   This   requires  capacity   building   in   various   areas,   including   in   impoverished   and   informal  settlements.    —   Flexibility   in   governance   and   infrastructure   systems   is   also   necessary   to  manage  different  conditions  of  water  availability  or  water-­related  risks.  This  means  learning,  reflection   and   experimentation   should   be   built   into   governance   and   planning  processes.  Embracing  African  urbanism  Some  of  these  insights  seem  rather  obvious  but  it  remains  unclear  how  effective  they’ll  be  in  the  context  of  the  high  levels  of  informality,  poverty  and  inequality.  In   terms  of   flooding,   some   informal  settlements   in  Cape  Town  are   located  on  or  near  wetlands  or   flood  detention  ponds.  These  are  designated  areas   for   absorbing  excess  water  to  protect  against  flooding.  During  floods,  these  settlements  are  highly  vulnerable.       4 INSTITUTE FOR RESOURCES, ENVIRONMENT AND SUSTAINABILITY UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA   Flood  detention  ponds  can  increase  overall  urban  resilience  to  floods  but  they  may  also  increase   the   vulnerability   to   flooding   of   informal   settlements   located   on   these   sites.  Unfortunately   impoverished  urban   residents   do   not   have   the   capacity   or   resources   to  plan  where  to  build  their  communities.  Informal  settlements  are  often  built  on  an  ad  hoc  basis.  Addressing   urban   inequalities   is   central   to   formulating   water   resilience   strategies.  Embracing   endemic,   non-­Western   or  more   organic   forms   of   urbanism   is   crucial.   This  means   working   with,   rather   than   against   informality.   It   is   also   important   to   build  governance  capacity  to  help  address  these  issues.  The  complexities  of  African  urbanism  and  persistent  social  and  environmental  concerns  should  be  central  in  defining  and  planning  for  resilience.  Resilience  in  an  African  urban  context   should   adopt   a   transformative   character.   This   can   be   done   by   building   on  diverse  governance  and  development  processes,  including  informal  ones.  Citation:  Rodina  L.,  &  L.M.  Harris  (2016,  June  14).  Resilience  in  South  Africa’s  urban  water  landscape.  Opinion  piece,  published  in  The  Conversation  Africa.      


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