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Climate change: Southern Africa must better design cities to withstand flooding

Climate change: Southern Africa must better design cities to withstand flooding

Water-related extreme weather events such as droug

  • Climate change events will become more severe and frequent.
  • The southern African countries have suffered from water-related events, such as droughts and floods in the past.
  • Researcher says that city infrastructure must be designed to withstand future extreme weather events.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC), which has experienced 36% of all natural catastrophes on the continent, has had 606 extreme weather events in the past 40 years. Researcher says that as climate change risks increase in severity or frequency, cities will need to design and build cities to withstand extreme weather events in the future to protect the growing urban population of southern Africa.

These events have caused the loss of livelihoods, affected infrastructure and economic growth. Over the past 40 years, it is estimated that 2.7 million people have been made homeless by these events. Alize Le Roux, senior researcher at The Institute for Security Studies, estimates that infrastructure has suffered damage of $40 billion.

Le Roux spoke last Wednesday during a webinar hosted at The Hanns Seidel foundation and Institute for Security Studies. It was about southern Africa’s plan for dealing with the climate crisis.

People living in the SADC have suffered from water-related disasters. In the SADC region, there have been 314 flood events and 102 droughts over the past 40 year.


Water-related extreme weather events such as droug

Over the past 40 year, extreme weather events related to water, such as storms, floods, and landslides, have struck the SADC region.

“Tropical Cyclones are the most destructive in southern Africa.” Le Roux stated that they pose the greatest threat to infrastructure and displace most people in SADC.

These water-related events were biased toward South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Madagascar.

Le Roux explained that Mozambique shares nine international river basins, which has contributed to the flooding incidents.

The shift in climate is responsible for the increase in flooding incidents in the region.


Flooding events have also rapidly increased in the

Flooding events have also seen a rapid increase in the past 40 years.

Le Roux explained that a large part of the impact on the people is due to the way cities are built and designed. Flooding is also caused by how water catchment, stormwater runoff and ecosystem rehabilitation are done.

Le Roux explained that flooding can be caused in part by how urban residents are accommodated. Urban planning is not keeping up with the rapid growth of the region’s population. There has been an increase of informal settlements and living arrangements, which often are not in safe areas and increase the risk of climate risks.

Between 1980-2020, the population grew to 354million people from 127million people. The population is expected to grow to 700 million in the next three decades.

She explained that this growing urban population must be accommodated in “sustainable ways”. The SADC is currently experiencing a housing crisis due to the migration of people from rural areas to cities. In the next 15 year, more people will live in cities than in rural areas.


Currently, the SADC population mostly lives in rur

Currently, the majority of the SADC population lives in rural areas. However, this will change over the next 15 years.

Le Roux says that cities can adapt by taking an engineering approach to building sea walls and other interventions to limit their exposure to natural disasters. It is possible to adapt by changing policies, such as introducing building codes that can withstand extreme weather events.

“[We need to]Design infrastructure that is intended [to withstand]Weather in 30 years, rather than for now, to protect our future,” le Roux stated.

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Nelson Chanza, a research fellow at the University of Johannesburg’s department of urban and rural planning, suggested that adaptation efforts should also include making rural areas more resilient to climate change. He said, “We must climate-proof rural communities.”

Agriculture is the dominant livelihood in most rural communities. However, agriculture as a sector is vulnerable to climate changes. He said that serious investment is needed in agriculture to ensure climate-smart agricultural practices.

Rural communities should also be encouraged to diversify their livelihoods. Rural areas must be made more “habitable”, for residents.

Le Roux also pointed out that rural areas cannot be overlooked when almost 290 million people will live in them by 2050.

But funding is essential for adaptation efforts. This is why mitigation still lags behind. Climate change mitigation is the reduction of carbon emissions that slow down or stop climate warming. It is more preventative. Adaptation refers to building resilience in communities and infrastructures to withstand the effects of climate change.

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Aimee Noel Mbiyozo (a senior researcher at Institute for Security Studies) highlighted that the poorest nations are the most behind in adaptation planning and have limited resources to adapting to climate change. Despite their contribution to climate change, this is a surprising fact.

Cyclone Ava in Madagascar, which hit in late 2017 and early 2018 caused losses of $166 million or 2.9% to the country’s GDP. Cyclone Idai cost Zimbabwe $274million in 2019, or 1.6% of its GDP. Mozambique lost $3 billion, or 19.6%, to the same cyclone.

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Mbiyozo stated adaptation is seen more like a cost, while mitigation is seen as an investment.

Every dollar spent on adaptation can yield between $2 and $10. Global investments of $1.8 Trillion in adaptation measures, such as climate-resilient and infrastructure, could help to avoid $7.1 Trillion in costs.

She said, “We need to frame adaptation differently.” Mbiyozo said, “The sooner we do this the better, because adaptation costs grow quickly.” Mbiyozo cited UN Adaptation Gap as a source. He said that it was estimated that adaptation will cost $70 billion annually by 2020. This will increase to between $140 billion to $300 billion in 2030, and to $500 billion annually by 2050.

Most of the climate finance that is directed to southern African nations is geared towards mitigation. Mbiyozo explained that South Africa, which has received most climate finance of all the SADC countries, only 2% was devoted to adaptation.


Adaptation funding generally lags behind mitigatio

Adaptation funding is often behind mitigation funding.

Mbiyozo noted that climate finance doesn’t always go to the most disadvantaged communities or countries hardest hit by climate change. Finance flows to countries with donor presence. Funders want to see that there is “strong institutional capability” in countries that receive funds. They also need to see that there is a perceived ability for successful implementation of adaptation projects.

Mbiyozo said that “they are reluctant to spend in countries with poor policies, institutional and market environments.” “Unfortunately these are often communities that are most vulnerable,” Mbiyozo said.

Mbiyozo stated that funding for relocation projects is not available, which is an effective mitigation strategy. She said that planning relocation and voluntary movement in anticipation climate impacts will have better outcomes than emergency displacements or unplanned ones, as shown in tropical storms.

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