Event September 29, 2020

Learnings from knowledge exchanges in South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal province

Durban River
  • Current riverine projects in Durban Sihlanzimvelo Programme Aller River Project Green Corridors Programme


  • 6 participating local and district municipalities include uMhlathuze, uMngeni, uMsunduzi, Ugu, eNdumeni and Kwadukuza.
  • 12 knowledge exchange sessions between May-August 2020, over 30 hours of knowledge exchange to 110+ municipal officials in KwaZulu-Natal


  • A strengthened understanding of how to design and implement transformative riverine management programmes, which increase communities' climate resilience to flooding and improve the overall health of riverine ecosystems

To address the issues of deteriorating water quality, climate change and increased flooding in South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal province, the CFF has been convening knowledge exchanges between various municipalities in the province and eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality (Durban). The objective of these exchanges is to improve the joint understanding across municipalities in KwaZulu Natal of how to care for and restore riverine systems to protect vulnerable communities against floodsTo build climate resilience in KwaZulu Natal, municipalities are working together to develop their knowledge on riverine management which has the potential to create functional, healthy and safe river corridors and to transform communities given their social, economic and environmental co-benefits. 

The exchanges offered an opportunity for eThekwini and the CFF to share lessons learned on how to establish transformative riverine management projects. In Durban, these include the Sihlanzimvelo programme, the Aller River project and the Green Corridors Programme. After these workshops, the participating municipalities are being supported by the CFF and eThekwini officials to draft their own, contextualized transformative riverine management programme concept. The project concept will detail the context, the challenges that are being addressed, the overall objectives, prioritised interventions to meet these objectives, the implementation arrangements, among other components.

After finalising the knowledge exchange series, the CFF has collected several learnings from these sessions:

  • Co-benefits: The knowledge exchange series began with a focus on flood resilience but the impact of riverine management goes far beyond flood resilience. Good riverine management improves the lives of communities that live adjacent to floodplains and riverine corridors through higher water quality, better health conditions, and lower stream pollution. Circular economy projects can also be encouraged: solid waste from rivers, such as plastics, can be turned into productive uses that support enterprise development and create livelihoods. In addition, healthy river corridors can double up as public, green spaces, particularly needed in underprivileged communities.
  • Similar challenges: Municipalities in KwaZulu Natal face similar challenges of varying scale: solid waste management, illegal dumping, inadequate sewer systems and effluent from large industries flowing untreated into river systems. Improper solid waste management practices in the municipalities result in blockages that reduce river flow, exacerbating floodings during high rainfall events and impacting on the ecosystem services provided by rivers and streams.
  • Engagement with the private sector: Another common thread across the municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal has been limited engagement with the private sector to improve the state of rivers and streams. This despite evidence that industry can also be a benefactor of programmes that seeks to increase resilience to flooding. Whilst there is a comprehensive legislative framework to protect South Africa's natural resources, there are limited mechanisms in place to make polluters pay for the damage that they cause. At times, little connection is made to the actual costs of the pollution borne by municipalities. Funds that could be used to alleviate poverty and progress socio-economic development are diverted instead to ongoing clean-ups of rivers and streams. 
  • Ecological infrastructure as a solution: There is a lot of interest in deploying ecological infrastructure to mitigate risks which are exacerbated by climate change. However, little information is currently available on the different options that can be used locally to improve the state of rivers. The CFF is in the process of developing a KZN-specific ecological infrastructure toolkit that will be shared with the participating municipalities to inform the design and implementation of ecological infrastructure.
  • Integrated approach: There is a perception that the function of building climate resilience is only one for environmental departments within municipalities. However, multi-faceted and complex challenges such as resilience need an integrated and coordinated approach. Failing that, past mistakes will be repeated and those who are vulnerable will suffer, a dangerous proposition as climate impacts intensify across South Africa. Municipalities agreed on the need to build on and/or create existing transveral/interdepartmental working groups to address climate change and build resilience. Climate change cuts across every aspect of life and every sector of the economy: the design and implementation of the response needs to thereby be cross-cutting in nature to effectively safeguard lives and livelihoods.

As climate change impacts increase in frequency and intensity, the negative impact on vulnerable communities and the cost of climate-related disaster will only increase in the future. Interventions need to be implemented at scale to deliver healthy and functional river systems in KwaZulu-Natal to increase resilience to floods and support socio-economic development in the province. The CFF is providing additional support to participating cities to further conceptualise their ideas into projects.