The project’s principal focus concerns applying an innovative values-based scenario tool to develop urban policy informed by multiple stakeholder value systems (e.g., municipal authorities, urban planners, marginalized and informal communities). Stakeholder scenarios will consider both historic and contemporary climate, land-use and rural-urban migration patterns, while future scenarios will consider how the City of Windhoek’s National Integrated Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (ICCSAP) will perform under urban planning, conservation and governance scenarios.

Some residents carry out autonomous adaptation, such as planting trees and using tyres to stabilize structures and slopes against surface runoff. Researchers also spoke to residents about the value they place on ecosystem services in Windhoek’s informal settlements (Photo Dr Jessica Thorn, University of Cape Town / York – 2019)


In Namibia, located in southern Africa, unplanned peri-urban growth (approx. 7.2% per annum) and exposure to climate-induced hazards (e.g., drought, rising temperatures, falling dam levels, localised flash flooding) continues to erode basic infrastructure and public services, ecosystems, and entrench historical inequalities. For example, in 2018, the state of informal settlements in Namibia was considered a humanitarian crisis, and in 2019, following six years of drought, a state of emergency was declared. These factors threaten future progress towards achieving healthy communities, regional economic development, and multiple sustainable development goals.

Photos illustrate various forms of ecosystem services and urban green infrastructure in Windhoek, such as grasses collected from riverbeds to be sold to cattle farmers as fodder, riparian buffers in informal settlements, and urban agricultural plots in informal settlements. Students explored the mechanisms of governance, and policies for management, of these assets. (Photo: Dr Jessica Thorn, University of Cape Town/ York – 2019)

In these circumstances, pro-active engagement and inclusion of local stakeholders, especially marginalised voices, in urban planning has the potential to improve decision-making, reduce historical inequalities, promote benefit-sharing and social-ecological resilience. Yet, few attempts have been made to assess the drivers of unplanned informal settlement expansion, their reciprocal interaction with social-economic and environmental impacts (e.g., food, water, energy, land and livelihood security), how this feeds into current planning processes, now and in the future.

Participatory workshop conducted for the Shack Dwellers Federation Namibia – Namibia Housing Action Group (SDFN-NHAG) on the science and implications of climate change, as well as the role of ecosystems in ameliorating these impacts. (Source: Dr Jessica Thorn, University of Cape Town / York – 2019)

By applying a participatory values-based scenario modelling approach that allows diverse stakeholders, including marginalised rural-urban communities, to articulate their perspectives concerning future urban policy planning processes, the project’s aim is to encourage the co-design of equitable future climate resilient urban development pathways, and serve as a future policy model for the country, with wider application across SEI research in health and wellbeing, urban green infrastructure and African urbanization.

Example of ecological infrastructure in Namibia Nalitongwe, Windhoek. Source: Dr Jessica Thorn, University of Cape Town / York – 2019)


PURE has the following interlinked objectives:

  • Urban public policy participation: To enable the active participation of stakeholders, especially poorer rural and urban communities, and the inclusion of their varied views and value systems, in the policy and multi-level governance processes informing future urban climate resilient strategies in Windhoek, Namibia.
  • Empirical data collection, partnerships and capacity building: To collect primary data, using household surveys, biophysical observations, and scenario analysis workshops, key informant interviews and focus group discussions, from urban and rural communities focusing on value perceptions of rural-urban linkages, climate change impacts, livelihoods and urban informality.
  • Building partnerships: To strengthen collaborations between organizations active in Windhoek’s development, with research organizations in Namibia, South Africa and the UK across public, private and civil sectors including researchers, practitioners, policymakers, business and civil society.
  • Dissemination and outreach: To produce a policy brief with ICLEI Africa, for municipal authorities from environment, health and human settlements departments tasked with urban settlement upgrading and produce a training handbook describing how to apply PURE’s hybrid methodology. Alongside this, academic articles will be co-produced in a leading international peer-reviewed journal in the urban-environment-development space.

Expected outcomes

PURE’s success will be measured by:

  • Development of inclusive and participatory urban climate resilience strategies that are crucial to securing regional economic prosperity and social-ecological sustainability.
  • Raised awareness on climate-resilient urban development and future water energy and food resource flows in the face of the ongoing drought in Namibia.
  • A co-designed grant application with international partners  focusing on extending the application of our methodology to other GCRF ODA countries will be prepared and submitted.
  • A young cadre of Namibian climate and social-ecological system researchers in the innovative methodology and fieldwork methods will be trained.

Project Team and Partners

Project Investigator

Dr Steve Cinderby (Stockholm Environment Institute York; SEI head of Health and Wellbeing; Senior researcher, Co-leader SEI Initiative on City Health and Well-being)



University of York

University of Winchester

University of Cape Town

University of Namibia

Namibian University of Science and Technology

Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia/ Namibian Housing Action Group

  • Dr Anna Muller (Responsible for representation of the informal settlement residents)

ICLEI Africa

Research Assistants

  • Amayaa Wijesinghe (ACDI, University of Cape Town)
  • Kornelia Iipinge (University of Namibia)

Two policy briefs have been produced for PURE. The first compiles ten practical recommendations for policy makers to follow when planning, developing and implementing inclusive urban climate policies. These include strategizing for informal settlement upgrading, continually aligning with the needs on the ground, focusing on the process, not the output, and embracing reflection and adaptability.

The second policy brief looks at how Nature Based Solutions (NBS) can be used by urban policy makers, planners, designers and local authorities in dryland areas.

Policy brief: Socially inclusive urban policy making for climate resilient dryland Africa

In response to growing interrelated threats, many cities are engaging in more inclusive governance to increase their resilience and sustainability. A range of evidence now suggests that alternative models of knowledge production and decision-making are required for building good governance systems in cities, particularly in emerging economies in the Global South. At the forefront of these discussions are social inclusivity and innovation, key elements that should accompany resilient urban strategies and policymaking. Social innovations are new social practices that aim to meet social needs in a better way than the existing solutions.

This is particularly important for African cities, which account for more than a quarter of the world’s fastest growing cities, and where ‘by 2050, almost regardless of government policies, its urban population will have tripled. This population growth is occurring in an expansive form, resulting in higher rates of land use change than population growth rates alone might imply – with consequent social and ecological impacts. In this context, not only are informal settlements more likely to be in vulnerable parts of the city but residents are less likely to have access to basic services and infrastructure that can reduce climate-related risks like flooding and landslides. Residents are also likely to lack secure tenure, reducing their incentive to upgrade housing and invest in amenities. Yet, typically urban planning processes for climate change, typically, do not adequately incorporate informal community voices in the planning processes.

Policies will have little effect without the acceptance and understanding of the people directly affected by the changes. Similarly, city-level action to meet various international agreements for climate resilience will be impossible to meet without social inclusivity. To identify key scalable and replicable lessons, numerous interviews and conversations with different groups of stakeholders conducted under the “Peri-Urban Resilient Ecosystems” partnership have been compiled to inform the following ten practical recommendations which are a golden thread for any policy maker to follow when planning, developing and implementing inclusive urban climate policies. Key themes relate to democratic accountability, transparent and inclusive decision making, and community co-production.

Download the policy brief (PDF)

Policy brief: Dryland nature based solutions for informal settlement upgrading schemes in Africa

Upgrading schemes are increasingly used by city and national governments to address rapid unplanned peri-urban growth, improve infrastructure services and living conditions, and enhance resilience to climate change for the most marginalized vulnerable urban populations. Part of this upgrading process involves introducing alternative tenure systems to address innovation and sustainable development challenges. Nature-based solutions (NBS) are actions which work with and enhance nature to produce a diverse range of services on which human well-being depends. Building, protecting and restoring NBS is particularly useful in resource-constrained informal settlements, due to cost-effectiveness, health and economic co-benefits. In some instances, in-situ upgrading programmes combined with flexible tenure systems and NBS have the scale and scope to impact a significant proportion of urban populations. Namibia is pioneering this approach, having chosen three pilot cities, namely Windhoek, Gobabis and Oshikati, as part of the roll-out of its national Flexible Land Tenure Act. Among many, this act aims to fill the gap in tenure regularization for the most vulnerable groups.

The policy brief presents ten practical recommendations for urban policy makers, planners, designers and local authorities in dryland areas. These  recommendations can strengthen informal settlement upgrading schemes by optimizing NBS and the ecosystem services they provide. Key themes relate to urban development for inclusive property, informed decision-making, innovation and experimentation, integration and complementarity.

Download the policy brief (PDF)

Dryland nature-based solutions for informal settlement upgrading schemes in Africa. Thorn, J. P. R., Kavonic, J., Hejnowicz, A.P., Marchant, R., Ajala, O., Muller, A., Delgado, G., Shackleton, S. and Cinderby, S.

Presentation at the Climate Exp0 conference for researchers showcasing recent international research relevant to decisions being made at COP26 in November 2021.