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City to city learning and knowledge exchange for climate resilience in southern Africa

This paper provides a comparitive analysis of four southern African cities using city exchanges under the Future Resilience for African Cities and Lands (FRACTAL) program.
Multiple Authors
Map showing city exchange routes between the cities of Durban, Harare, Lusaka and Windhoek in southern Africa


Southern African cities face several challenges including management of rapid urbanization, rising populations, expanding informal settlements; adequate water and other service provision, and a host of governance challenges. Climate change and variability add a compounding effect to this complex, multi stressor context. Addressing the complexity requires an understanding of urban ecosystems functioning and interactions amongst the built and natural environment (climate) and human systems. In this paper we argue that learning is essential for cities to be resilient to current and future challenges.

This paper*profiles the Future Resilience for African CiTies And Lands(FRACTAL) project which contributed towards climate resilient development by providing relevant climate information for decision-making at the city regional scale in southern Africa.

*Download the full article from the right-hand column.


Following FRACTAL’s city-to-city learning approach of sharing good practices, knowledge and experiences framed around transdisciplinary research, the study cities of Harare, Lusaka, Windhoek and Durban conducted city learning exchange visits between 2017 and 2018. Read about FRACTAL’s principles of transdisciplinarity, co-production and co-exploration here.

A mixed methods approach was used to collect and analyze historical climate and hydrological data and current socio-economic and development data among the cities. A qualitative, in-depth, case study comparative analysis was used to identify similarities and differences as well as lessons drawn from the learning process during the city exchanges and these were complimented by desktop study.

Key findings

Key issues in the urban ecosystems


  • During the co-design processes of the FRACTAL project, stakeholders identified potable water supply as the major issue, followed by wetlands degradation and water governance, showing that there are grave concerns around issues to do with water in the city.
  • Urban agriculture, which draws a substantial amount of water for production through irrigation, particularly in the form of horticulture, is practiced to a large extent in and around the city.
  • The city has aged water and sanitation infrastructure which is expensive to maintain.


  • A key concern is the growth of informal settlements in and around the city of Windhoek, with a population of approximately 268,000 and an urbanization rate of 3.1% per annum.
  • This surge in the population has created many problems for urban planning and vulnerabilities such as water shortage, energy problems, poor sanitation and waste management and related health problems.
  • The city of Windhoek is charged with the responsibility for urban planning but is constrained or challenged by the high influx of people from rural areas.
  • Among others, the persistent droughts and unpredictable and variable rainfall patterns, due in part to climate change, adversely affects the availability and supply of acceptable quantities and quality of water to the city of Windhoek.


  • Informal settlements in the city tend to compound the multi-stressor context for Lusaka.
  • This is because the major extent (70%) of the city has developed informally and lacks proper structures to drain excess water.
  • Another major issue is the management of solid waste—garbage that is left uncollected which ends up blocking the drainage systems.
  • Urban planners and city decision-makers do not understand how municipal solid waste interacts with climate change, infrastructure, and urban planning to affect urban flooding and flood risk.


  • Major flooding risks as a result of increased variability in rainfall and extreme storm events under climate change is one of the challenges facing the city of Durban.
  • Durban is a middle-income African city of 3.5 million people residing under highly unequal social, economic and environmental conditions—a legacy inherited from the Apartheid regime.

City learning points

The multiple stressor context and interconnectedness of the urban ecosystem across the four study cities of Harare, Windhoek, Lusaka and Durban was demonstrated by presenting similarities and differences (see Tables3and4, below).

Table 3. Similarities across the study cities.
Table 4. Differences acoss the study cities.

Lessons learnt

This paper has identified five elements (called ‘city learning points’) of a city that need to be considered when grappling with and building resilience to climate change impacts in southern African cities.

  1. The issue of public-private partnerships, where great strides in improving water service delivery to the city residents through water reclamation, have been made in the case of the City of Windhoek.
  2. Community engagement and inclusion to deal more successfully with solid waste allows for local participation and green job creation in cities as evidenced by Durban and Lusaka.
  3. Decisive leadership in dealing with informal settlements as exemplified by Harare.
  4. As highlighted in Durban, development and approval of city strategies and action plans on climate change adaptation provide an opportunity for cities to integrate climate change in planning processes and cascade national policies to the city level for the benefit of city residents.
  5. The evidence of efforts towards environmental protection, improved urban amenities and infrastructure and ultimately service delivery in the southern African cities studied gives an indication that to a large extent, there is scope for these cities to learn from each other to build and develop resilience.

This article was written by Mzime R. Ndebele-Murisa (Department of Freshwater and Fishery Science, Chinhoyi University of Technology, Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe), Chipo P. Mubaya (International Collaborations Office, Chinhoyi University of Technology, Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe), Lulu Pretorius (School of Life Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Scottsville, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa), Rudo Mamombe (Department of Freshwater and Fishery Science, Chinhoyi University of Technology, Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe), Kornelia Iipinge (Department of Biological Sciences, University of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia), Wilma Nchito (Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Zambia, Lusaka, Zambia), John K. Mfune (Department of Biological Sciences, University of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia), Gilbert Siame (Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Zambia, Lusaka, Zambia), and Brenda Mwalukanga (Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Zambia, Lusaka, Zambia).

Suggested citation

Ndebele-Murisa MR, Mubaya CP, Pretorius L, Mamombe R, Iipinge K, Nchito W, et al. (2020) City to city learning and knowledge exchange for climate resilience in southern Africa. PLoS ONE 15(1): e0227915.

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