UKZN researchers have been recognised by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and uMgungundlovu District Municipality (UMDM) for their leadership in a climate change adaptation project assisting those most vulnerable to adapt and survive in an environment where extreme weather events are becoming commonplace.
At Adaptation Futures, an international climate change conference held in Cape Town in June, there was a focus on the uMngeni Resilience Project (URP), an initiative supported by the global Adaptation Fund and administered by SANBI in partnership with the Department of Environmental Affairs.
The URP is led by the UMDM with UKZN as a sub-executing entity acting through the UKZN Foundation. At Adaptation Futures, SANBI presented certificates of appreciation to Professor Albert Modi of UKZN and to the uMgungundlovu District Municipality in recognition of their leadership of the URP.
The URP aims to increase resilience of vulnerable communities in the greater uMngeni catchment through interventions such as early warning systems, climate-smart agriculture, climate-proofing settlements and capacity building in municipalities and government departments. It uses four pilot sites in low-lying, high-density settlements on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg and in the rural areas of Vulindlela, Swayimane and Nhlazuka to show different ways that communities can build resilience and capacity to adapt to the changing climate.
The project – which began in 2015 – is one of two in South Africa receiving financial support from the Adaptation Fund valued at around $7.5million.
The URP is working towards the development of an integrated early warning system focusing on floods, fire and seasonal forecasts to help rally communities and disaster management officials when possible disasters approach. This component is already seeing results. Staff at UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences have installed a lightning warning system and Agrometeorological Instrumentation Mast (AIM) system at Swayimane High School near Wartburg to measure and collect real-time data about various meteorological parameters and proximity of deadly lightning strikes in the area. Such data aids farmers in planning for their crops and warn communities about extreme weather conditions. The information gathered is also used at the school which is home to crop trials and a research tunnel that facilitates climate-smart agriculture research.
Another aspect will involve climate proofing through examining of how homes and facilities are built and how protecting the environment can secure settlements against the harsh weather.
URP researchers are working to create platforms for reflecting on how South Africa, specifically different spheres of government, are preparing and responding to climate change induced disasters.
Local government practitioners have lauded the effort.
Words: Christine Cuénod
Photograph: Mpfunzeni Tshindane, SANBI