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Helping Windhoek plan for climate change

SEI’s work with partners in the Namibian capital, Windhoek, underpins the development of the city’s first integrated climate change strategy and action plan – and is a model for other African cities.

Windhoek's informal settlement of Havana. Photo: Yadah Media Group.

Date published
10 June 2019
A story from
Windhoek, Namibia

This is an updated version of the impact story that first appeared in our 2018 annual report.

The rapidly growing city of Windhoek is grappling with the impacts of climate change: rising temperatures, falling dam levels, and erratic rainfall that has led to both droughts and flash floods. Drought is a pressing concern: in May 2019, Namibia’s president declared a state of emergency – the second in three years – because of poor rains. In Windhoek, and throughout urban Africa, the rural poor are flocking to informal settlements on the city’s outskirts that lack basic services such as clean running water, sewage management, electricity, and waste disposal. People in these fast-growing, makeshift neighbourhoods are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Urban poor particularly at risk

Windhoek has a long history of using innovation to adapt to harsh environmental conditions. Fifty years ago, Windhoek became the world’s first city to produce drinking water directly from treated municipal wastewater, and the city recently began “banking” this recycled water in underground aquifers to reduce evaporation losses. Even so, until now Windhoek has not had a city-level plan for adapting to the impacts of climate change. Without action the city’s people – especially the poor in informal settlements – will be at greater risk from climate impacts.

Co-producing knowledge for urban climate resilience

This situation is poised to change. For two years, Windhoek has participated in a project that brings together city decision-makers, community representatives, and climate and social science researchers to achieve three aims:

  • to help decision-makers better understand climate science,
  • to help climate scientists better understand the needs of decision-makers, and
  • to help city authorities to design effective development policies underpinned by climate science.

This co-production process is a hallmark of the Future Resilience for African CiTies and Lands (FRACTAL) project, part of the multi-consortia Future Climate for Africa programme of the UK’s Department for International Development and Natural Environment Research Council. SEI plays a key role in this nine-city project, which was featured in a 2018 Nature article as a prime example of science-policy collaboration.

One way the project fosters collaboration is through “learning labs”, providing creative spaces to share ideas, explore complex concepts and understand different viewpoints (see photo below). Participants included elected senior officials, researchers, and representatives of city departments, youth organizations, and NGOs working in informal settlements.

Participants working on a collaborative exercise in a learning lab workshop.

Photo: Liz Daniels / SEI.

Another key element of the project is an “embedded” researcher, whose presence in both the City of Windhoek and the University of Namibia, a project partner, links the city with academic research. A tailored, detailed assessment of strengths and gaps in institutional capacity will help the city’s water department to carry out future climate action plans.

A strategy and action plan for Windhoek

The first city-level Integrated Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan is undergoing review and is due to be launched in 2019. The City of Windhoek is also making plans to establish a climate change steering committee with wide-ranging representation.

“We, as a city, are eager to move the FRACTAL project forward,” said James Kalundu, Manager of the Social and Youth Development Division for the City of Windhoek.

Following a session on “transformational leadership on climate change” conducted for Windhoek’s mayor and councillors, the city committed to funding a similar session (conducted in March 2019) for its chief executive officer and strategic executives. “Before, climate change was just a word to me” said Ludwig Narib, Strategic Executive for Infrastructure, Water and Technical Services. “These challenges are here to stay. In terms of planning cities, this needs to become part of our daily work.”

The final learning lab of the project is scheduled for June 2019, bringing together participants to reflect on what has been achieved, and to agree on next steps.

“I have seen a big change since the first learning lab,” said Olavi Makuti, Environmental Specialist for the City of Windhoek. “Colleagues are now talking about climate issues. It has been amazing to see the transformation in them.”

“Before, climate change was just a word to me. These challenges are here to stay. In terms of planning cities, this needs to become a part of our daily work.”
—Ludwig Narib, Strategic Executive for Infrastructure, Water and Technical Services for the City of Windhoek

A model for urban Africa

Windhoek’s work is already informing the approaches of other African cities. In August 2018, representatives from Gaborone, Botswana, travelled to Windhoek to learn about how to take similar steps. Dr Lapologang Magole, Head of the Faculty of Architecture and Planning at the University of Botswana, said the cities’ information exchange will help Gaborone execute a “smooth landing” in planning for climate change. Fast forward to June 2019, and the seeds of inspiration have taken root. Gaborone stakeholders will soon participate in their own “transformational leadership on climate change” session, and draft a first outline of a city-level climate change strategy.

The Tandem framework, an approach for co-designing collaborative processes for the increased uptake and use of climate information in adaptation planning, builds on SEI research from the work in Windhoek and FRACTAL.

SDG 13

Climate action

SEI focuses on effective, equitable ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change for a safer climate for all. Adaptation to climate change is a key area of our research. In particular, we look at adaptation policy and finance under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, vulnerability assessments, capacity building and community-based adaptation.

SDG13 co-benefits. SDG13 is connected to SDGs 3, 6 and 11.

Connecting to the SDGs

Ongoing work by SEI and partners in the City of Windhoek addresses the need for urban areas in Africa to create development plans that deal with the effects of climate change and rapid growth. The urbanization rate in Africa is the world’s highest, and the fastest growth is taking place in informal neighbourhoods, where the lack of basic infrastructure creates difficult living conditions and increases vulnerability to disease. Work in Windhoek, and similar work in eight other African cities through the wider project, addresses the need to adapt to climate change (SDG 13: Climate action), and the need to make cities, safe, resilient and sustainable (SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities). The work spans other related goals, including ensuring the availability and sustainability of clean water and adequate sanitation (SDG 6), and enhancing the health and well-being of people (SDG 3).