Improving the climate change resilience of informal settlements in mountainous regions of Africa: comparative case studies of Qwaqwa in South Africa and Konso in Ethiopia
Melore, Tamirat Wangore
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The aim of this study is to search for the strategies to improve climate change resilience of informal settlements in mountainous regions of Africa. The multidimensional and dynamic fea-tures of resilience require the use of a systems approach to research in the field. In line with this, informal settlements’ resilience to climate change needs to be recognised as a phenom-enon that is multidimensional and complex in its characteristics. Thus, the assessment em-phasised analysing various social, economic, spatial and physical variables. Accordingly, the conceptual framework of this study was developed by adopting a systems approach to assess climate change resilience of informal settlements in mountainous regions of Africa. This ap-proach encourages the use of integrated techniques in order to obtain a comprehensive insight into and to investigate the critical factors that determine vulnerability and resilience of informal settlements for climate change-induced risks. Accordingly, the philosophical position of this study can be categorised as a pragmatic re-search paradigm. This research paradigm allows the use of mixed research methods. A com-plex and dynamic system can be understood better by identifying the characteristics of the whole system, such as its interconnectedness, processes and adaptation patterns over time by using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. Therefore, a mixed method of research was employed and the findings were confirmed by triangulation of both research methods. Furthermore, a comparative case study method was used, with the rationale of in-vestigating in-depth information about contextual-vulnerability and assessing place-based re-silience capacity. The assessment of resilience capacity of the case study areas was done by using a combination of two approaches, namely “principles to build a resilient system” and “capitals for disaster resilience”. These approaches were customised to the context of the case study areas. The capitals existing in the study sites were assessed against those principles needed to build a resilient system. The case studies were conducted at the peripheries of Phuthaditjhaba in South Africa and Karat in Ethiopia. The cultural and natural landscapes of the surrounding areas of the two small towns were registered as world heritage sites by UNESCO. The influence of traditional lead-ership at the periphery of the two towns is high. The two small towns are both located in moun-tainous regions of Africa with an altitude exceeding 1 650 metres above sea level. These are the justifications to the selection of the two case study areas for the purpose of this research. To achieve the intended objectives of the study, a theoretical review has been conducted by considering different schools of thought about vulnerability and resilience assessment. The outcome revealed that there is no single universally applicable and accepted vulnerability and resilience assessment framework or model. This is mainly because of the complexity and con-ceptual pluralism of the concepts. Therefore, to minimise the drawbacks of using a single frame-work, it is recommended that the hybrid frameworks are used to generate comprehensive and reliable context-based outcome. In addition, flexibility in terms of devising fit-for-the-purpose frameworks is one of the fundamental considerations in theoretical and applied studies. The findings in the case of Phuthaditjhaba indicated that the area is vulnerable to climate change threats such as shortage of water, flash flooding caused by heavy seasonal rainfall, extremely cold weather conditions during winter, and strong and damaging winds. This result in damage to houses in the informal settlements, soil erosion and rock falls from hillsides that damage the informal settlements situated at the bottom of the Drakensberg Mountains. In the case of Karat, the area is vulnerable to climate change shocks such as periodic droughts, rainfall variability and increasing temperature. This causes reduction of agricultural productivity and makes the local community susceptible to a shortage of water and food. In order to im-prove resilience, the local communities used to practise indigenous knowledge to build terrac-ing and stonewalls to conserve water and soil, and they used to plant drought-resistant trees. One outcome of this study revealed that the African indigenous knowledge system that en-courages local solutions for local problems must be promoted for resilience planning. Building climate change-resilience capacity of informal settlements requires the successful application of indigenous knowledge and its integration with scientific knowledge. In line with this, the crit-ical question is how to maximise the potential use of indigenous knowledge to cope with com-plex climate-change risks in informal settlements found in mountainous regions of Africa. Therefore, integration of the indigenous and scientific knowledge systems by considering the contexts of the application is one of the critical strategies to cope with climate change-induced risks. To realise this, the combination of both bottom-up and top-down planning approaches need to be practised and there must be local institutions that facilitate the ’hybridisation’ pro-cess. Finally, to improve climate change resilience of informal settlements in both case study areas, it is recommended that customised, hybridised and flexible climate change resilience planning needs to be promoted.