Look who’s talking: protect our wetlands!

sl-arti-1What are the current trends in the use and preservation of wetlands, and what is the role of wetlands in planning for municipalities?

These questions were in the spotlight on Day 2 of LoCS4Africa 2017. Delegates had an opportunity to explore the challenges associated with water services and how proper wetland management can form part of the solutions.

Besides preserving wetlands for ecological reasons, speaker after speaker presented projects where municipalities can benefit from managing their wetlands better.

Ms. Ulrike Irlich from Local Action for Biodiversity: Wetlands South Africa (LAB: Wetlands SA) was proud to launch a video by ICLEI’s Cities Biodiversity Center showcasing children promoting the benefits of protecting wetlands in South Africa. This video launch coincided with a presentation about LAB: Wetlands SA, where Irlich outlined the projects that involve several South African municipalities.

Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) Dr. Piet-Louis Grundling gave an impassioned practical demonstration on the importance of preserving wetlands to preserve catchment degradation.

Mr. Japie Buckle, also from the DEA, proposed that municipalities invest in artificial wetlands instead of developing open spaces. “We need to stop hardening our surfaces and let water infiltrate,” he said.

Dr. Denise Schael from Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality then highlighted the importance of knowing where all the wetlands are in order to protect them.

Coming from Walvis Bay Municipality in Namibia, Mr. Andre Burger related how an artificial wetland has had positive impacts in the municipality, including increased tourism. Rebecca Cameron from MCA Urban and Environmental Planners meanwhile argued that proper wetland management can satisfy all the UN Sustainable Development Goals in her presentation on wetlands in spatial planning.

Principal Engineer from the Dar es Salaam Regional Secretariat, Mussa Natty, presented the Ramani Huria project, which gathered much needed data by sourcing it from the community. This citizen science project, which means “Open Map” in Swahili, was well received by the attendees as it put the community at the centre of solving flooding challenges in the Dar es Salaam region.

Today’s discussions underscored the benefits municipalities may gain when investing time, capacity and finance into the management of wetlands. There are also benefits when recognising their societal impacts.



Practical ways to improve urban river management


LoCS4Africa delegates workshopped a guideline for urban river management that considers the important role of communities, non-government organisations and local authorities.

They did so during sessions hosted by ICLEI Cities Biodiversity Center’s Urban Natural Assets for Africa: Rivers for Life (UNA Rivers) project, which brought together delegates as diverse as the Mayors of Curepipe (Mauritius) and Lilongwe (Malawi), and consultants from the private sector.

“UNA Rivers is about protecting natural assets in cities by building relationships between decision makers and biodiversity experts,” says Jess Kavonic, Project Manager for UNA Rivers at ICLEI Africa.

UNA Rivers partners from around Africa first shared the challenges they face in their particular municipality, or work they have done to mitigate problems with urban river systems.

Thoko Mkaka of Lilongwe municipality and Hussein Omar from Dar es Salaam shared similar stories of deforestation, urban encroachment, waste dumping and erosion in major rivers in those countries. They said this reduced water quality and water supply, and increased flooding risk in their communities.

Pearl Gola from the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) mentioned the uMngeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership (UIEP), a collaboration that works with communities, local authorities and the private sector to rehabilitate the uMngeni river catchment area.

Doug Macfarlane of Eco-pulse Consulting talked about his work with the Water Research Commission on developing buffer zone guidelines for urban river systems and wetlands.


In the second session, delegates and speakers split into groups to address questions posed by UNA Rivers, such as ‘what principles should be considered when planning or rivers?’, ‘what is needed for a successful intervention?’, and ‘what have you learned from past experiences?’.

The discussions yielded ideas and best practices for riverine management projects; the most common theme was the importance of talking to the communities that use the river to ensure that they are behind any planned interventions.

Another point that was broadly agreed upon was the importance of technical experts to make sure the ecological needs of the river or catchment area are considered.

Lastly, delegates agreed that ultimately, politicians hold the power and their buy-in is crucial to the success of a project.

These findings will be compiled into a guideline document that will be shared with workshop participants and local governments. In this way, this LoCS4Africa workshop will have a positive, tangible impact on planning for, and management of, rivers in cities around Africa.



“Nexus” thinking for water, energy and food in cities

sl-article-3Water, energy and food may be seen as different fields entirely, but in the spirit of LoCS4Africa 2017, it is time to stop working in silos. This was the biggest message to come out of the interactive Food, Energy and Water Nexus session.

Facilitated by Grace Stead of ICLEI Africa, the mini “climathon-style” session (like a hackathon but for climate change planning) had participants come up with challenges faced in these sectors, and then present “nexus” solutions where they all connect.
Municipal representatives brought unique perspectives of challenges spanning the continent, including Uganda and South Africa.

sl-article-3-a Prominent challenges identified in the water sector were over-consumption, affordability, reduced water quality and unsustainable use of this precious resource. Poor access, corruption, cost and limited energy sources were put forward in the energy sector, while the food sector seems to suffer from food wastage, increased urbanisation and unregulated land-use for agriculture.

Participants then presented solutions such as rainwater harvesting and more flexible climate legislation to address water issues; community gardens and better land-use planning to address food issues; and renewable energy subsidies and micro-grids to address energy issues.


The nexus solutions that could bring these together included green buildings, community-based approaches and the establishment of WEF Committees within municipalities to oversee integrated
WEF plans solutions.

Workshop organisers Dr. Sylvester Mpandeli (Water Research Commission), Ms. Morwesi Ramonyani (Borena Energy), Dr. David Oliver (University of the Witwatersrand) and Ms. Annie Sugre (EcoSasa Developments) encouraged municipal leaders to take this ‘nexus’ thinking about WEF planning back to their local municipalities.



Water and the Sustainable Development Goals in the spotlight

sl-arti-4Water flows through almost every one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out by the UN, even though SDG 6 is wholly dedicated to water. This fact was underlined in the LoCS4Africa 2017 sub-plenary session on Water, Cities and SDGs.

Ms Cecilia Njenga of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Dr Olusola Olusade spoke of the link between water and many other issues, such as food security, energy and health, and that such interdependencies need to be considered if we are to make progress in reaching the SDGs.

Dr Abdoulaye Salifou, representing United Cities and Local Government (UCLGAfrica), emphasised the links between water and climate change in Africa.

Lastly, Lord Mayor Isaya Mwita discussed the water challenges of his city, Dar es Salaam, highlighting steps taken to address future demand for water and sanitation. These included building water treatment plants and boreholes.



What does “green infrastructure” mean for African cities?

The Gauteng City Region Observatory (GCRO) has launched a new video and book on green infrastructure – the video is highly engaging and explains why green infrastructure matters.

Wetlands are water factories, but they make up less than 4% of land area in South Africa. Such green infrastructure should be seen by municipalities as important parts of all other infrastructure – Mr. Lemson Betha (Project Manager, Ecological Infrastructure, Wildlife & Environment Society of South Africa)

As good as investing in green infrastructure is, it can be incredibly complex with many impacts of varying degrees on an ecosystem. Green infrastructures do not occur in isolation. “You’ve gotta work with people. It takes time and effort.” – Dr. Patrick O’ Farrell (Research Group Leader, Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services, Council for Scientific & Industrial Research.)



Compact of Mayors grows African cities’ resilience

Through ICLEI’s support, The Compact of Mayors is improving resilience and planning in African cities like Bafut, Windhoek and Durban.

Under the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, the Compact is a combined initiative by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Groups and United Cities and Local Government (UCLG), and has been signed by over 7000 cities globally. It supports voluntary action at city level to combat climate change and the move to a low emission, resilient society.

At LoCS4Africa 2017, Mayor Abel Langsi of Bafut (Cameroon), Ms Linda Somazembe of eThekwini Municipality (South Africa), and Mr Olavi Makuti of the City of Windhoek (Namibia) shared their individual experiences since committing to the Compact of Mayors Programme.

Their municipalities range from small rural areas to large metropolitan centres and are subject to different climate conditions, but all face challenges of rapid urbanisation, changing water use, and environmental degradation.

The speakers emphasised that joining the Compact Programme has provided new climate data for cities, promoted political support for climate action, and helped in planning for resilience.



Building climate resilience for African coastal cities

“Building resilience is crucial – when coastlines lose their resilience, communities lose public space.”

This sentiment, voiced by Coastal Coordinator for the City of Cape Town, Mr Darryl Colenbrander, highlights the critical challenge faced by coastal cities in the coming decades as rising sea levels wreak havoc on seaside infrastructure.

Mayor of Quelimane, Manuel de Araujo, talked about how Mozambican coastal cities are improving resilience.

He highlighted the need to link global frameworks for resilience to local climate action. “Local governments want to be given the capacity to be real actors in the resilience space,” he said.