The second most populated province in South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal is a water-scarce region. It faces serious challenges such as poor management of river catchment and waste pollution from informal human settlements alongside river systems. The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA) saw the need to invest in managing rivers to improve water security and the adaptive capacity of communities to the shocks of natural disasters, primarily floods and droughts. In 2021, EDTEA implemented the first phase of the Transformative Riverine Management Programme (TRMP), an initiative that improves water management and has a socio-economic impact at the same time.
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Many rivers in South Africa have been degraded by human activities and now suffer reduced capacity to deliver beneficial services to their communities. Climate change is exacerbating the damage to these ecosystems significantly, driving up social, financial and economic risks and costs.
KwaZulu-Natal has increasingly invested in managing riverine areas as a climate risk-management approach. The Transformative River Management Programme (TRMP) demonstrates how different riverine management approaches can produce innovative outcomes in support of enhanced climate resilience. The initiative tackles two main challenges: unmanaged waste and the spread of invasive alien plants, and has strong focus on community involvement, capacity/skills development and the creation of economic opportunities for low-income populations.
The impacts of flooding are intensified if drainage systems are blocked with waste, leading to intense damage to key service delivery infrastructure, human lives and income. People in rural and informal settlements struggle to recover after natural disasters due to their limited livelihood options.
Invasive alien plants negatively impact the environment and water security as they use more water than indigenous plants. Their spread compromises ecosystem integrity and reduces the level at which ecosystems deliver vital goods and services.
Most community members in rural and informal settlements are unemployed and this increases their vulnerability to natural disasters as they have limited options to help them recover after shocks. The TRMP’s community-based approach contributes to the socio-economic challenges through the creation of employment for local people to work in the projects, offering project beneficiaries training and skills development, which enables them to access and be competitive in the job market.
Municipalities have a responsibility to implement programmes that respond to their Climate Change Response Plans and Implementation Plans. The province, mainly through EDTEA supports and ensures alignment of climate change interventions to the KZN Climate Change Strategy and Implementation Plan.
All this work contributes to South Africa’s National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (NCCAS) that has a primary role to support the country’s ability to meet its obligations in terms of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
The Transformative River Management Programme (TRMP) vision is to promote transformative urban riverine management, which works in partnership with all affected stakeholders to rehabilitate and sustainably manage all riverine corridors in a manner that
TRMP focuses on river catchments that have been classified as highly vulnerable to climate change and have therefore been prioritized for climate response interventions as per municipal climate change response plans. Key steps include:
The first phase of the project, which was implemented in Endumeni Local Municipality (Amajuba District), KwaDukuza Local Municipality (iLembe District), and Ugu District Municipality in the 2022/23 had positive results both ecologically and socially.
The project activities have resulted in cleaner and free flowing rivers and streams from waste management activities, healthier riparian habitats as a result of removal of invasive alien plants, and improved local economic development from employment creation and skills development.
Some of the key lessons that have been learnt during the first phase of the programme include the following:
The impacts of Phase 1 was:
A limited budget of R3 million has been made available to support implement Phase 2 of the programme in 2023/24.
The programme approach is scalable and can be replicated in other municipalities and water catchment management areas if more funds become available.