By Felix Donkor, Enokenwa Ojong,Balbina Nyamakura and Phikolomzi Matikinca
Extreme climate events such as heat waves and droughts can have devastating consequences on affected communities and livelihoods. Moreover, such events are argued to increase in intensity and frequency under climate change. This calls for concerted effort from all stakeholders on the adaptation landscape to mitigate the effect of such extreme events on vulnerable communities. In order to build capacities, mobilise efforts and discussion on the topic and ultimately contribute to building a resilient South Africa for all, two essential events on Adaptation for extreme events and Disaster Risk Reduction and management were held during May 2017.
On 29th May this year the South African Adaptation Network hosted a one-day training session entitled Adaptation for Extreme Events in Grahamstown which fed into a two-day national stakeholder ‘Think Thank’ on Adaptation for Extreme Events on 30 & 31 May hosted by Rhodes University and co-hosted by the South African Adaptation Network and the Department of Environmental Affairs.
Both events was conceptualised to feed into debates and explore issues related to Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Adaptation. DRR aims to reduce the damage caused by natural hazards like earthquakes, floods, droughts and cyclones, through an ethic of prevention. Climate change is one of the factors increasing the frequency and severity of weather-related disasters, which adaptation planning needs to integrate this dimension.
The one-day training session convened researchers, provincial government officials and practitioners who work with communities that are consciously adapting to climatic change and have unique opportunities to gain insights into the challenges experienced by people on the grass-roots level, as well as the emerging strategies that people have evolved and put into practice. The workshop offered participants an opportunity to engage with their own questions related to Disaster Risk Reduction and adaptation, and to explore challenges and opportunities that they face in the course of their professional life as civil servants, practitioners, community leaders or action researchers.
A key issue emerging from the training workshop was the importance of coordination of information-sharing and decision-making amongst the relevant agencies to mobilise the appropriate response measures. Without the necessary consensus in declaring the situation a “state of disaster/emergency” it is not possible to trigger the necessary interventions in time. Simultaneously there is a need to revisit the process of classification of disasters and eventual declaration to enhance DRR. It was also recommended that there be a review of housing policy in such disaster-prone areas. Others recommendations included defining roles and responsibilities more clearly, identifying policy imperatives, enhancing contingency planning and integrating indigenous knowledge coupled with increasing awareness.
The focus of the two-day ‘Think Tank’ was a response to the increase in frequency and intensity of environmentally related disasters such as floods, storms and fires in the Eastern and Western Cape. This has led to calls for innovative pre-emptive disaster risk management to better adapt to the realities of an environment in which climate change has become a significant factor.
Following an introduction by Professor Sheona Shackleton, Rhodes Deputy Vice Chancellor Peter Clayton and Dean of Research Professor Tony Booth welcomed the participants to the institution and emphasised the significance of the event. Keynote addresses were presented by Vhalinavho Khavhagali (Department of Environmental Affairs), Bettina Koelle (Red Cross Climate Centre) and Tally Palmer (Rhodes University, Institute for Water Research), and Coleen Vogel (Wits University). A case study presentation reflected the experiences of local communities of “Droughts, water scarcity and security”. Siyabonga Myeza presented experiences and impacts of a community-based project supported by the Adaptation Fund entitled “Quenching the Thirst – Two Communities Adapting Together”. The stimulating debates of the first session laid bare challenges and opportunities for enhancing adaptation at the local level. This fed into the second session, which sought to highlight some novel practical measures address some of the challenges highlighted in the first session.
A case study presentation reflected the experiences of local communities of “Droughts, water scarcity and security”. Siyabonga Myeza presented experiences and impacts of a community-based project supported by the Adaptation Fund entitled “Quenching the Thirst – Two Communities Adapting Together”. The stimulating debates of the first session laid bare challenges and opportunities for enhancing adaptation at the local level. This fed into the second session, which sought to highlight some novel practical measures address some of the challenges highlighted in the first session.
The second session assumed more of a narrative format to help participants better digest the complexity of issues at hand. These included stories of extreme weather from different community landscapes including as Fairbairn, Ngqwele, Ntloko and Amanzi for Food. This was followed by workshops to draw lessons. The first workshop was about the importance of learning and knowledge co-production processes for integrating DRR, CCA and local priorities for climate resilience. This continued with a second workshop Reimagining learning for integrating climate change into disaster risk reduction: RESILIM-O as a case? The first day ended with a reflection on the day’s activities by the facilitators and organisers.
Presenters in the second session were drawn from diverse backgrounds and communities namely Xola Jezile (Raymond Mhlaba Local Municipality), Ngqwele Community Representative in the Eastern Cape, Nondumiso Mfabana (Ntloko Community Representative), Heila Lotz-Sisitka (Environmental Learning Research Centre) and Taryn Kong (AWARD).
The second and final day of the workshop started with a recap of the previous day’s activities. Given the high interest on how different communities were dealing with disaster risk reduction/management, the first session began with more case studies and discussions. These dealt with themes such as Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction in theory and practice: Insights from three applied research projects, Household vulnerability and adaptation to climate change in the Eastern Cape Province, Thinking about floods in informal settlements, Municipal responses to drought – Eden Municipality 2010 and Cape Town Metro 2016 as well as Floods and health: hazards from microbial contamination.
The first session concluded with a panel discussion which sought to provide a myriad of perspectives on government policies and strategies for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation. The seasoned presenters and panellists included Nadine Methner (African Climate & Development Initiative), Leocadia Zhou (Fort Hare University), Taryn Pereira (Environmental Monitoring Group) and Owen Bekker (Buffalo City municipality).
The final session of the Think Tank included a presentation by Lungi Ndlovuon the area-wide project in the uMgungundlovu District Municipality supported by the Adaptation Fund. and experiences and lessons learned from the implementation of the Let’s Respond Toolkit. An interactive session generated concepts for sessions to be proposed for the forthcoming Adaptation Futures Conference 2018, and explored possibilities for engagement.
The Think Tank was an eye opener and a reminder of the severe consequences of climate change and the reality of our readiness for impact. The event created a platform for new discussions, possible solutions and thoughts on the topic and helped conclude burning questions and frustrations.