Review of research and policies for climate change adaptation in urban areas in Southern Africa

Date on source document: 
July 2014
Miriam Joshua, Abdulai Jalloh and Sepo Hachigonta
AfricaInteract: Enabling research-to-policy dialogue for adaptation to climate change in Africa
Working paper 101
Future Agricultures

This paper provides results for a review of climate change adaptation research and polices in the Southern African urban sector, focusing in particular on water resources management and use and gender relations. The review was conducted to identify gaps in research and policymaking for climate change adaptation in the urban sector, with the aim of improving evidence-based policymaking that can enhance food security and protect populations vulnerable to climate change. The review largely focused on critical and focused literature review of various documents including scientific and grey literature such as government and selected agencies’ articles/books, peer-reviewed journal articles, research (working) and published papers covering the past 15-20 years, as well as interviews with selected key informants. The study focused on Southern Africa using Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe as case studies.

Southern Africa remains the most urbanised region of Africa, with the country having the largest (61.5 percent) urban population, while Malawi is the fastest urbanising country in the world. Projections show further increases in urban population, suggesting that population growth in the region is becoming largely an urban phenomenon. Additionally, rural-urban migration is resulting in an increase in the proportion of poor population in the urban areas. Due to low capacity of local governments, the poor population lives in slums mushrooming on marginal land, without social amenities and highly vulnerable to natural hazards. Climate change is expected to worsen the vulnerability of these communities through impacts on water availability and quality leading to water stress, energy crisis, food insecurity, human health problems and sea level rise in coastal cities as well as destruction of infrastructure. The most vulnerable are the poor and especially women due to gendered division of labour and power relations. Urban populations with high adaptive capacity are less vulnerable to effects of climate risks.

The review suggests a need to support and enhance capacity of the most vulnerable through supporting urban based adaptation initiatives. However, current national policies as well as research activities are predominantly rural focused. Overall, research activities on adaptation are few in Zimbabwe relative to other countries and none of the documented projects directly address urban areas. In Malawi, out of 20 documented research or project activities, only one project focuses on urban adaptation. It addresses urban-rural linkages. In addition, empirical information is inadequate for informed policy due to lack of technical capacity and unavailability of data. This is exacerbated by lack of capacity to integrate urban adaptation into local government plans. However, the picture is different in South Africa where five research projects and initiatives are urban focused. Climate adaptation has been mainstreamed in the national framework for climate responses, and urban policies and research findings from city based climate risk assessments have been used to influence policy. Opportunities for development of sustainable adaptation strategies exist through collaboration with various actors and partners. The actors involved in research and policymaking on climate change adaptation in urban areas include international, multilateral and bilateral organisations, the different tiers of government, grassroots groups and local communities, private enterprises and institutions, non-governmental and civil society organisations, networks and individuals. These shape adaptation policies and interventions in various ways including through information gathering and dissemination, resource mobilisation and allocation, skills development and capacity building, leadership and networking with other decision-makers and institutions. Stakeholder involvement can be improved through facilitation of multi-stakeholder collaboration in planning and implementing activities, production of reliable products (which can help to get donor support) and regular meetings.