Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Global lessons from Durban’s climate change challenges

An interesting article in IRIN about one South African city’s struggle with integrating all the pieces of adaptation: Five years ago, the South African port of Durban - threatened by storm surges and sea-level rise - pioneered a cross-sectoral climate adaptation policy similar to ones in London and New York, but is now experimenting with new policies more suited to a developing country. Climate change was seen as a distant threat and not a priority by sectors such as housing which urgently needs to deliver to a majority of the population denied proper homes during apartheid.

The city is torn between environment and development agendas - and problems such as 34 percent unemployment, a housing backlog of 200,000 units, and a third of pregnant women attending ante-natal clinics being HIV-positive, have not made matters easier. It also faces enormous service delivery backlogs, weak capacity and limited sectoral buy-in.

During what the local authorities called the Headline Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, it became evident that there were departments such as public works and strategic planning that were not even aware of the need to build a climate change adaptation strategy, while others like water - more obviously vulnerable to climate risks - were more receptive.

Disaster management and its capacity to support disaster risk reduction is central to any adaptation policy. In a perfect world a city’s disaster management unit would work with all sectors to develop early warning systems, identify vulnerable areas and communities, and draw up strategies to reduce risk and climate-proof infrastructure.

But one of the biggest stumbling blocks was the perception of Durban’s disaster management unit as merely organizing relief during a crisis. The unit lacked capacity, said Durban’s deputy environmental head, Debra Roberts….

An aerial view of Durban, shot by Simisa, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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