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Enhancing Community Flood Resilience in Lusaka’s Unplanned Settlements: A Case Study of Multi-Stakeholder Perspectives

Learn how different stakeholders in Lusaka define flood resilience, in terms of a desirable state to be achieved, and how community flood resilience in unplanned settlements could be enhanced according to different stakeholders.
Flood waters near a market stall in Kanyama
Flood waters near a market stall in Kanyama - Photograph taken by Lena Grobusch


In Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city and economic hub, 70% of the population of over 2.5 million inhabitants live in unplanned settlements or ‘compounds’. Here, residents are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of floods which are caused by heavy rainfall. The floods have devastating effects on people’s livelihoods because they cause social and economic losses and aggravate health risks, while exacerbating existing development challenges.

As climate change intensifies, floods are expected to further increase in variability, frequency, and magnitude. In line with the nationwide goal to become a prosperous and climate-resilient country by 2030, Lusaka City Council (LCC) has, therefore, made it a priority to increase the flood resilience of the communities living in the flood-prone compounds. Yet, research on how the flood resilience of Africa’s urban poor can be enhanced amidst a rapidly changing climate remains scarce. One thing, however, is clear. Given that the topic of flood resilience cuts across multiple disciplines and stakeholder mandates, the problem can only be tackled through multistakeholder collaboration that includes the affected communities.

Now that flood resilience is rising on the agenda in Lusaka, two significant ambiguities need to be addressed. First, there is a gap in research on what different stakeholders understand by flood resilience. It is important to find out how stakeholders define a resilient system, because these definitions will set the agenda for strategies that need to be implemented to increase CFR. Second, to work towards implementation, it is important to find out how stakeholders in Lusaka think flood resilience could be enhanced in the unplanned settlements.

This article aims to address the outlined research gaps by generating context-specific knowledge on how community flood resilience in Lusaka’s unplanned settlements is perceived and could be enhanced by capturing multi-stakeholder perspectives on the matter. Additionally, a specific objective of the research was to capture some of the structural inequalities and development challenges that heighten the community’s vulnerability to flooding events; as thoroughly understanding these is a crucial step towards enhancing community flood resilience.

This article is an abridged version of a Lund University dissertation which was written as part of the FRACTAL project. The dissertation can be downloaded from the right-hand column.Please access the original text for more detail, research purposes, full references, or to quote text.


A qualitative case study of two flood-prone compounds, Kanyama and George, was conducted to answer the following research questions:

  1. How do different stakeholders in Lusaka define flood resilience, in terms of a desirable state to be achieved?
  2. How could community flood resilience in Kanyama and George be enhanced according to stakeholders?
    1. How could resilience to flood events in Kanyama and George in Lusaka be enhanced in the view of community members?
    2. What governance and other measures could enhance community flood resilience in Lusaka according to other stakeholders?

Data was collected by means of nine semi-structured key informant interviews, a stakeholder discussion session in Lusaka with 24 attendees, and participant observation in Lusaka. The stakeholders included in the research represented six different categories of stakeholders whose involvement in multi-stakeholder adaptation processes and flood resilience building efforts is deemed essential. These included the local government (Lusaka City Council), ministerial departments of the national government (Disaster Mitigation and Management Unit and Zambia Meteorological Department), civil society organisations (People’s Process on Housing and Poverty in Zambia and Zambia Homeless and Poor People’s Federation), an NGO (Lusaka Water Security Initiative), an international development organisation (German Development Agency) and water service providers (National Water Supply and Sanitation Council and Lusaka Water Supply and Sanitation Company). To include the views of community members from Kanyama and George, secondary data was analysed from a flood experience survey that was conducted among residents of the compounds. The collected data was analysed using a thematic content analysis in the software programme ‘NVivo’, for which deductive-inductive coding was conducted.

Research question 1 was answered by analysing 24 flood resilience definitions which were collected during the stakeholder discussion. This analysis was informed by the concept of ‘capacities of resilience’, which originates from social-ecological systems theory. These three capacities describe a community’s capacity to 1) resist, 2) absorb and recover, and 3) adapt and transform from a flood.

To answer research question 2, the survey results and key informant interviews were analysed. The findings were organised according to the ‘five pillars of urban flood resilience’, which this thesis adapted from an existing assessment tool for urban resilience in African cities. The five pillars are 1) community, 2) governance and economy, 3) urban planning, housing, and environment, 4) resilient infrastructure and basic service provision, and 5) disaster risk management. The theories that guided the analysis were 1) the four principles of adaptive governance for resilience (which are a) participation and collaboration, b) polycentric and multi-layered institutions, c) learning and innovation, and d) self-organisation and networks), and 2) the ladder of community participation in decision-making processes. To clearly highlight the community perspective, the community results were presented separately from those of the other stakeholders.

Key findings

Stakeholders in Lusaka were found to define flood resilience in a multitude of different ways. Most stakeholders defined flood resilience as the ability of an affected community to deal with a flood before, during, and after it has happened. The definitions indicated that altogether, the stakeholders consider a flood resilient community to have some characteristics of each of the three capacities. In line with the ‘capacity to resist’, several stakeholders defined a flood resilient community as one that can withstand floods and undertake actions to be less affected by them. In line with the ‘capacity to absorb and recover’, several stakeholders stressed the importance of communities being able to respond to and recover (quickly) from a flood. Quite a few definitions were centred around the ‘capacity to adapt and transform’, stressing that a flood-resilient community is one which can cope with floods and harness opportunities that may arise. In the long(er) term, a flood-resilient community can adapt to the impacts of floods and transform, so that community members become less vulnerable to flood impacts.

The wide range of proposed definitions also led to a wide variety of actions being suggested by community members and other stakeholders. These actions include the implementation of structural and non-structural measures and the implementation of changes at the governance level. Research question 2a demonstrated that community members from Kanyama and George believe that changes in the domains of all five flood resilience pillars could strengthen their flood resilience. In particular, the community members would like to be more empowered and receive trainings on how to deal with the floods. The community members foresee an active role for Lusaka City Council and other stakeholders to provide more assistance, especially when providing financial help to prepare for, and recover from the floods. Both Kanyama and George are in flood-prone areas that were initially not meant to be inhabited, therefore residents would welcome help with the flood-proofing of their homes, and some would like to be relocated to less flood-prone areas. Almost all community members highlighted the need for stormwater drainage systems to be constructed, as these are mostly lacking in the compounds. Drainage systems also need to be managed better: the few existing drainages are congested with solid waste, which is not consistently being collected. Here, the respondents also foresee an active role for the community in improving solid waste management. Water and sanitation infrastructure should be further improved and flood-proofed to reduce the occurrence of water contamination, which frequently causes waterborne disease outbreaks such as cholera. These outbreaks cause illness and loss of life. Lastly, disaster risk management practices such as early warning systems could be improved by providing community members with timely, easy-to-understand information, along with constructive tips on how to prepare for and deal with floods.

Regarding research question 2b, quite some overlap between the actions that the stakeholders and the community members proposed for the urban flood resilience pillars three, four and five. However, several of the interviewed stakeholders stressed that the key to enhancing CFR lies in further strengthening the community’s capacity for self-organisation and strengthening of their relationships with other stakeholders. This would namely enable the community to better communicate their priorities and needs and ensure that they are met. Interviewees also voiced that at the governance level, the most crucial change that needs to happen is the strengthening of processes around participation and collaboration. Community involvement in higher-up decision-making processes should be increased and needs to become more genuine. Stakeholder collaboration could also be increased to improve the coordination of actions and more transparent knowledge sharing. The Ward Development Committees, which are the lowest governance structure in Zambia’s decentralised governance system, should be strengthened financially and politically because they play a key role in designing and executing plans at the compound level.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Enhancing CFR in the unplanned settlements of Lusaka is an urgent yet complex challenge, especially given the social vulnerability and structural inequalities which exacerbate residents’ exposure to floods. Until now, it was unclear how the affected communities and the different stakeholders who will need to collaborate to enhance CFR define flood resilience, let alone how they think it should or could be implemented. This thesis has offered both an academic and a practical contribution by addressing these research gaps. The findings illustrate that the community members and other stakeholders in Lusaka have nuanced ideas on how CFR could be enhanced, namely through the implementation of structural and non-structural measures as well as changes at the governance level. A wide range of flood resilience definitions opens the door to achieving different types of flood-resilient futures.

It is recommended that the stakeholders who participated in this research come together to work towards a common definition of flood resilience in the future. This will help them to identify what kind of flood-resilient future they would like to work towards. It seems like there is a strong case for achieving a future in which communities can adapt and transform to become more resilient to flood events. A shift towards more adaptive governance in Lusaka could help achieve such adaptation and transformation. The top priority should be to make decision-making processes around CFR-enhancing actions more inclusive for community members, so that they can play a more active role in shaping their flood-resilient future. Further recommendations that have been suggested can be found on page 70 of the full document.

Suggested Citation:

Grobusch, L.C. (2022). Enhancing community flood resilience in Lusaka’s unplanned settlements: A case study of multi-stakeholders perspectives[Master of Science thesis, International Institute of Industrial Environmental Economics, Lund University, Sweden].

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