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Ecological Infrastructure for Resilience and Job Creation in South Africa

A case study on ecological infrastructure for resilience and job creation in South Africa, focussing on water, wetlands and fire.
Multiple Authors
Working for wetlands rehabilitating wetlands in South Africe

Key Messages

  • Working for water, wetlands and fire can enable urban, peri-urban and rural communities to work together towards healthy lives.
  • Participation and education within local communities are very important for projects linked to water, wetlands and fire issues to be successful.


This case study is from the FRACTAL Adaptation Inspiration Book– this link provides a summary of the book, the other case studies and a downloadable pdf.

This case study is compiled of three projects all working for the same research project – Ecological Infrastructure for Resilience and Job Creation in South Africa. The three projects are:

1. Working for Water

The fight against invasive alien plants is spearheaded by the Working for Water programme, launched in 1995, and administered previously through the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, and now through the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa. This programme works in partnership with local communities, for whom it provides jobs; and also with national government departments, research foundations and private companies.

2. Working for Wetlands

Working for Wetlands is a joint initiative of the departments of Environmental Affairs, Water and Sanitation (previously known as Water Affairs), and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of South Africa. The initiative works through models that emphasise cooperative governance and partnerships.

3. Working on Fire

Working on Fire is a government-funded, job-creation programme focusing on implementing integrated fire management in South Africa. The programme employs more than 5,000 young men and women who are fully trained as wildfire firefighters and are stationed in more than 200 bases across South Africa.

The FRACTAL Adaptation Inspiration Book contains a variety of case studies which are related to this case study, examining adaptation for ecosystems and biodiversity. The related articles can be found here:

Climate Risks and Other Stressors

1. Working for Water Invasive alien plants are plants, animals and microbes that are introduced into countries, and then out-compete the indigenous species. They intensify the impact of fires and floods and increase soil erosion. Both fires and floods are climate-based hazards which can be further aggravated by climate change.

2. Working for Wetlands Climate risks and consequences of wetland loss include:

  • Diminished water security;
  • Desertification;
  • Reduced food security;
  • Reduction in biodiversity;
  • Lost livelihoods;
  • Increased vulnerability to natural disasters, especially floods and droughts.

3. Working on Fire As a result of climate change, South Africa experiences higher temperatures and longer dry spells in summer. Projections show that these are likely to increase in frequency. As a result, increasing heat and droughts combine to exacerbate the incidence of fire risk.

Adaptation Approach

1. Working for Water Methods to control invasive alien plants include:

  • Mechanical methods – felling, removing or burning invading alien plants;
  • Chemical methods – using environmentally safe herbicides;
  • Biological control – using species-specific insects and diseases from the alien plant’s country of origin.
  • Integrated control – combinations of the above three approaches.
  • Developing an up-to-date Geographical Information System coverage of invasive alien plants.

Enhancing capacity and commitment to solve invasive alien plant problems through:

  • The development of a combined environmental implementation and management plan;
  • The establishment of a skills development programme;
  • Co-ordinating policy, legislative and planning frameworks (national and international);
  • Implementing an advocacy and awareness strategy.
    The Working for Water team doing an incredible job of removing peri-urban alien vegetation. Photo provided by: Working for Water project

2. Working for Wetlands

  • Building concrete, earthen or gabion structures to arrest erosion, trap sediment, and resaturate drained wetland areas;
  • Plugging artificial drainage channels;
  • Addressing other causes of degradation;
  • Propagating plants;
  • Building boardwalks, bird hides and interpretive signboards;
  • Concluding contractual agreements with landowners to secure the rehabilitation work;
  • Providing community members with part-time employment and training.

3. Working on Fire Fire management activities that are adaptive to climate change include: prevention, early warning, detection, mobilization and suppression of unwanted and damaging fires.

Links to SDGs

The Working for Water project addresses SDGs 3, 8, 13 and 15. The Working for Water, Working for Wetlands and Working on Fire projects address Goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.


1. Working for Water Removing invasive alien plants and the integration and coordination of the various controls tied to that procedure is highly important, yet also a very difficult part of the Working for Water programme.

2. Working for Wetlands – Heavy rains that led to flooding and rendered some roads inaccessible; and temperatures surpassing 40 degrees Celsius. There were also challenges in accessing privately owned land, and the need to achieve ‘buy in’ from private landowners and communities with communal lands. The project also faced the difficulty of accommodating staff and the safe-keeping of rehabilitation material in distant locations.

3. Working on Fire – Finding effective ways to empower affected rural and urban communities, and recruiting fire fighters to fill needs in key areas.

A firefighter with Working on Fire puts out a roadside fire in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo provided by: Working on Fire project


1. Working for Water

  • Enable urban, peri-urban and rural communities to work together towards healthy lives
  • Provide decent work and educational opportunities to marginalised people within the population
  • Develop and support ecological infrastructure
  • Sustainably manage forests, combats destertification, halts land degradation and biodivserity loss

2. Working for Wetlands

  • Help dampen the effect of climate extremes such as flooding and fires
  • Reduce severity of floods by accomodating and slowing down flood waters
  • Coastal wetlands provide storm protection
  • Storing water in the local landscape

3. Working on Fire

  • Creation of an awareness and education platform amongst land-users and general public
  • Enhanced awareness of relevant laws, ordinances, by-laws, and compliance issues
  • Protection of urban and ecological infrastructure and human lives
  • Enabled local job creation and skills development

Lessons Learnt

1. Working for Water Fully involving all members of the local community or area in the planning and implementation of any Working for Water projects was key to the success seen by Working for Water. It is only through participation that communities acquire a sense of ownership and become motivated to operate and maintain the area.

2. Working for Wetlands The design of the erosion-prevention infrastructure allowed for both ‘hard’ solutions (involving stone gabions, concrete and wire) as well as ‘soft’ solutions (involving vegetating banks, using saplings, geotextiles, armorflex and ecologs). This promoted labour-intensive construction and skills development within local communities and for unskilled workers.

3. Working on Fire Success in managing fires not only lies in the preparation and training of firefighters, but in expanding awareness and education on the issue in vulnerable and high-density communities.

Related resources

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