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Flooding highlights the need for well-informed, resilient development

Home Infrastructure Construction & Civils Flooding highlights the need for well-informed, resilient development

THE increasing threat posed by climate change, combined with the demand for land and access to basic services, highlights the importance and challenges, of developing resilient infrastructure.

On February 13 a national state of disaster was declared to enable an intensive, coordinated response to the impact of floods that recently affected Mpumalanga, the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, the Northern Cape and North West provinces.

Leading consulting engineering and infrastructure advisory firm Zutari has established a sustainable development unit to highlight the importance of collaborating with stakeholders to develop sustainable solutions for underlying socioeconomic challenges facing many local communities due to the growing impact of climate change. The unit comprises a range of experts with skills in environment, climate change, town planning, geospatial analysis and stakeholder management.

Zutari also contributed to highlighting the risks associated with climate change as part of the Long-Term Adaptation Scenarios (LTAS) flagship research programme and the CSIR Greenbook, which flags key risks for local municipalities. Undertaken by the Department of Environmental Affairs, LTAS produced a report entitled ‘Climate Change Adaptation Perspectives for Disaster Risk Reduction and Management in South Africa’.

LTAS highlights the significant risk to both towns and cities, particularly in areas where informal development has taken place within existing flood lines, or unsuitable geological conditions, but also in terms of critical infrastructure such as buildings, roads, bridges, dams and powerline crossings. “We need to co-create resilient, sustainable and liveable infrastructure and urban areas in South Africa,” says Sustainability Expertise leader at Zutari, Dr James Cullis.

The possibility of increased disaster risk is considered one of the most concerning and potentially costly impacts of future climate change in South Africa and globally. Understanding these risks and identifying key areas of concern is critical for developing suitable and sustainable adaptation policies and scenarios.

The increasing risks associated with climate change cuts across different sectors and departments, a challenge for many cities and institutions that are still very silo-based. “However, at the end of the day, we must all work together to achieve a shared vision. In Africa and the developing world, there is increasing acknowledgement of the importance of mitigating climate-change risk,” says Dr Cullis.

Zutari’s combination of urban planning, engineering and climate change expertise has also come together to support a unique alliance of organisations and independent specialists comprising the Future Cities South Africa (FCSA) initiative. This is in conjunction with PwC (UK and South Africa), Open Cities Lab, Palmer Development Group, Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading and the Isandla Institute, among others.

The FCSA is the delivery partner for the South African component of the Global Future Cities Programme, managed by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. The initiative aims to support Durban, Johannesburg, and Cape Town with the urgent challenges experienced in sustainable development and climate change mitigation.

Increasingly, the importance of investing in ecological infrastructure is being recognised as a critical component of climate change adaptation. In South Africa, the importance of investing in ecological infrastructure has been well known and contributed to the success of the various Working for Programs including both Working for Water and Working for Wetlands and more recent examples such as the establishment of the Greater Cape Town Water Fund following the Cape Town drought.

The eThekwini Municipality is implementing the Transformative River Management Programme (TRMP) to try and restore the natural systems and river corridors. It recognises the importance that these have in managing the increased risk of flooding, and the many challenges faced, particularly related to informal settlements and lack of maintenance.

“There is a broader narrative concerning climate change and design and construction. We need to assess risk and design differently for more resilient infrastructure. It also speaks to risk classes and defining areas

not to develop in and then keeping these areas free of development. There is no doubt that the recent severe flooding has increased the focus on climate change as a matter of urgency. Extreme weather events are likely to become more extreme and common in future. It speaks to the need for resilient infrastructure and risk mitigation, as well as bringing environmentally aware design to bear,” concludes Dr Cullis.

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