Climate change and water issues in Umbumbulu, South Africa

Members of Umbumbulu drawing a map of community and water resources at a participatory local assessment workshop.

Members of Umbumbulu drawing a map of community and water resources at a participatory local assessment workshop.

This past week, I visited Umbumbulu, a village in the outskirts of eThekwini municipality, where Umphilo waManzi (which means ‘Water for Life’ in isiZulu) was conducting a participatory local assessment workshop on water resources and climate change there with representatives of the community.  The workshop is part of IRIS’ IDRC-DFID Climate Change Adaptation in Africa project, titled Strengthening the role of civil society in water sector governance towards climate change adaptation in African cities – Durban, Maputo, Nairobi. The project is linking university researchers from the University of KwaZulu Natal and community-based NGOs (Umphilo waManzi) through a participatory action research (PAR) and action research (AR) approach.

Umphilo waManzi is carrying out this research in four communities around eThekwini municipality: Ntuzuma, Mzinyathi, Mpumalanga, and Mbumbulu.  The first stage of the project aims to engage communities to characterize how they are coping with climate change impacts, with a focus on water, which Umphilo is doing through the participatory workshops.  The maps and charts, produced by community members will serve as a framework to identify climate vulnerabilities and strengths and weaknesses with regards to water services, availability and quality.  The focus of the workshops is to value the indigenous knowledge within these communities and document their experiences.

The assessment process consists of four exercises.  First, participants create a spatial map illustrating the location of resources in the community in relation to water and community development.

A map of the Umgeni river around Ntuzuma community. The community lies downstream from Inanda dam.

A map of the Umgeni river around Ntuzuma community. The community lies downstream from Inanda dam.

Second, a timeline of significant events in the community is created with a particular focus on issues of flooding, drought, storms, etc. over the last 30 years.  Third, a time trend is created to represent how the significant events identified in the timeline, such as flooding and drought have impacted the community in terms of housing, land quality, water quality, river health, food security, etc.  Finally, participants create a Venn diagram to illustrate the sociopolitical environment in the community, illustrating relationships between community services, government agencies, and traditional councils.  The Venn diagram helps the community identify whom they can approach with their concerns and which services they can access to help them adapt.  For example, in Umbumbulu, community members expressed interest in working with agricultural extension officers from the provincial Department of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs, and Rural Development to learn about drought resistant crops.

In the Umbumbulu workshop, participants expressed particular concern over issues of flooding and increased rainfall in the area.  The day I visited, followed three days of heavy rainfall in the region, extremely rare for the month of July, which falls during South Africa’s winter and dry season.  Flooding from previous rainfalls has caused damage to crops, housing and infrastructure, such as roads and sanitation services.  This past January there were a number of deaths by drowning in the community from the rivers swelling from heavy rainfall.  People at the meeting were particularly concerned about the destruction of housing and sanitation facilities, particularly urine diversion toilets, from flooding.  Many houses have been built in wetlands and in the floodplain, where homes are particularly vulnerable to water damage.

The community has also experienced periods of drought and community members raised issues around harvesting tanks, accessibility of standpipes and food security.

Members of Umbumbulu learning how to create a timeline of significant events related to their water resources in the community.

Members of Umbumbulu learning how to create a timeline of significant events related to their water resources in the community.

The second stage of the project will begin to look at creating action plans for the four communities and training for community members on how to bring their issues forward to the local officials and advocate for programs and services.  The hope is that community members and local officials will be able to work together to prepare for climate change impacts.  In particular, the aim is that community responses to these issues now will help build up resiliency against water vulnerability from further climatic changes.

Beth Lorimer is a 3-month research intern with this project and is currently in Durban, South Africa working with Umphilo waManzi.

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