Many cities in Africa are expanding faster than governments can build infrastructure to support the population, especially on the margins – the so-called “peri-urban” areas. This is where the poorest people often end up, and they may not have safe water, sanitation, or key services.

The land itself is often treacherous: informal settlements arise on the edges of rivers and in flood plains, leaving residents vulnerable to flooding, landslides, and many other climate-related risks.

Anna Taylor, an SEI Oxford researcher, recently participated in a workshop at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to co-produce a methodology for using climate science information to develop policy messages pertaining to peri-urban areas in Africa.

The event, held on 13-15 February, was convened by START and the University of Cape Town’s Climate Systems Analysis Group , with funding from the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN ).

Teams from five African cities participated: from Dar es Salaam, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Kampala in Uganda, Lusaka in Zambia, and Maputo in Mozambique. The teams included people working in the national meteorological services, universities and various local and national government agencies focusing on urban planning and agriculture.

“In many places in Africa, agricultural land is being converted into high-density residential areas with little planning and poor infrastructure,” says Taylor, who lives in Cape Town. “Waste and pollution are accumulating, and demands for water, drainage, transport, health care, etc., are going unmet, making people very vulnerable to climate hazards.”

The workshop focused on applying a systems lens to peri-urban areas, identifying the economic and livelihood activities that are practiced there, the existing infrastructure, and the services provided. The infrastructure includes both constructed infrastructure (roads, drainage pipes, etc.) and naturally occurring features (e.g. rivers, wetlands, beaches, etc.).

Similarly, services include those that are provided by people (e.g. primary health care, reticulated water, electricity, waste removal, etc.) and those that are provided by ecosystems (e.g. water retention, natural green spaces, fish stocks, etc.). The teams then looked at how various climatic and non-climatic stressors impact on these elements, individually and in combination, to identify key climate sensitivities.

Then came an engagement with relevant climate science information generated from numerous global circulation models (GCMs), observational data collected at local weather stations and statistically downscaled projections for these stations. This involved looking across the different sources to see where there was convergence and divergence in the results and what could thereby be concluded as a basis for developing robust, defensible and actionable policy messages.

Having reflected on the steps taken by each of the five city groups in the workshop, a refined version of the methodology will now be further developed so that it can be applied elsewhere and with additional constituencies in the same cities.

“Many people in peri-urban areas are at high risk from climate impacts such as flooding, increasing disease vectors and damage from strong winds,” Taylor says. “We need to find better ways of factoring in available climate information when making public spending decisions. This workshop will help us refine our methodology together with urban practitioners and policy advisors, so it can be used effectively in cities all across Africa.”