College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Dr Garikai Membele.

Mapping Flood Vulnerability in Informal Settlement Focus of PhD Research

Research into integrating local indigenous knowledge and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in mapping flood vulnerability in an informal settlement was the subject of a doctoral study.

Graduate Dr Garikai Membele said: ‘My research will benefit society because it shows that informal settlement dwellers are not “helpless” victims of floods, rather they can use their experiential knowledge to reduce flood impacts on their settlements.’

‘The study will also benefit society by showing the position of households with high and low flood vulnerability in the Quarry Road West informal settlement in the Palmiet River Catchment area in Durban,’ said Membele. ‘This helps decision-makers to formulate appropriate policy and strategic plans for reducing the threat of flooding.

‘I chose the topic because I am passionate about the co-production of knowledge, especially with marginalised communities. I am also enthusiastic about making technology such as Geographical Information Systems accessible and usable by people who are not technical experts in finding solutions to spatial problems,’ he said.

The findings of this research study showed that the proximity of houses to the Palmiet River and the main roads, the nature of the soil and the type of materials being used to build houses contributed significantly to the incidence of floods in the informal settlement. It also found that flood vulnerability in the study area was a result of socio-economic, physical and institutional challenges.

Membele says his academic journey has been a tough one, especially with the pandemic, but is happy and proud to have completed it.

‘I was adversely affected by COVID-19 which caused problems in collecting the qualitative data needed for this research during lockdown. At the same time, the pandemic inspired innovative ways of collecting the data which made the study even more unique and interesting, ending with me being on eNCA to share my research findings.’

Membele thanked his supervisors, Professor Maheshvari Naidu and Professor Onisimo Mutanga, family, friends, and especially his wife for their support.

He plans to publish two further articles from his research.

Words: Lungile Ngubelanga

Photograph: Supplied