City authorities in Africa unprepared for extreme rainfall and floods

By Trond Vedeld

Municipalities not prepared to tackle floods and climate change
Neither central nor municipal authorities in cities in Africa are prepared to tackle present climate extreme events and flood disasters. They are even less prepared to meet governance challenges related to future climate events, which will involve increase in frequency and intensity of extreme rainfall. The impacts of floods are greatly excerbated by rapid urbanization and proliferation of informal and unplanned settlements in flood prone areas, and the unwillingness or lack of capacity of urban governments to address social inequalities and vulnerability.

These are some of the key findings from our four years study of how flood risks and climate change adaptation are governed within the two coastal cities of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Saint Louis, Senegal. The study among others examined how key actors at local, city and state level responded to recent specific extreme rainfall and flood events in 2010 and 2011.
From Dar es Salaam. Source:

We presented this research on climate change, governance and resilient cities at a recent workshop in Addis Ababa, 5-8 November, 2013. The research is part of a large-scale multi-disciplinary EU funded research project “Climate Change and Urban Vulnerability in Africa” (CLUVA). The workshop in Addis was co-organized with the African Union – and involved Mayors from five cities in Africa and representatives of UNHABITAT (1).

The research team is now in the process of preparing synthesis articles from our research on Dar es Salaam and Saint Louis with funding from NIBR’s Strategic Institute Program; “Challenges for Governance and Planning in Cities and Municipalities”.

The study of adaptation governance in Dar es Salaam and Saint Louis
The research on these two African cities applies a multi-governance framework as an analytical tool to understand the interplay between state, municipal, private business, civil society and international actors within these policy fields, focusing on structures and processes of coordination (vertical and horizontal). A key focus of the research is on how city and sub-city levels of government and governance respond to climate change and flood risks.

The research combines reviews of policies, legislation and institutions/networks with semi-structured interviews and field-work in two local case study areas in each city in order to explore the local encounters between actors across sectors and scales.

Dar es Salaam and Saint Louis are both located in low-lying coastal zones criss-crossed by important rivers; Saint Louis being situated at the outlet of the large River Senegal that ends in the Atlantic Ocean; and Dar es Salaam being located in a river delta zone with several smaller rivers that cross the city territory and drain into the Indian Ocean. They are both former capitals and represent rich cases for a comparative study of institutional arrangements.
Saint Louis. Source:

Climate change adaptation a fragmented and nascent agenda

The empirical investigations reveal that climate change adaptation, despite many individual adaptation activities taking place across the city territory, is still a fairly fragmented and nascent policy domain, which is not well integrated in urban planning and flood risk management.

Local communities with experience and some coping capacity
While the local communities in flood-exposed areas in both cities have evolved over decades to take initiatives and show ingenuity in coping with floods, the national authorities have not fully acknowledged their responsibilities as laid down in national disaster risk and adaptation strategies and legislation. National governments have provided limited guidance, mandates, resources and technical support to the municipality for taking appropriate climate actions. Within both disaster risk management and climate change adaptation there is lack of clarity in the division of responsibility between national ministries, regional state agencies and the municipality; the regional state bodies representing the “strong” level in terms of urban flood risk management and planning.

The actors involved are many and fragmented and actions more geared towards emergency response than preparedness and long-term adaptation. There are no direct commando lines or early warning systems working from local via city to regional and national levels. There is also no effective implementation of climate and flood risk principles in the land use planning systems, and land use planning is ineffective and weakly enforced, particularly in Dar es Salaam. The annual budgets transferred from central governments to municipal governments are too low for any meaningful investments to address underlying vulnerabilities.
From Dar es Salaam. Photo: Trond Vedeld

Communities need support from above
The community-based organisations – as well as the local wards/subwards – require greater powers and more coordinated support from higher levels to become really effective partners with the municipality and the regional state if the goal is to enhance resilience at the neighbourhood levels, and more so, to bring local actions to scale. At present many of the initiatives on climate change and flood risk management depend on a few individual “champions” within planning, environment, and relevant agencies, in combination with community level action.

Multi-level governance structure and lack of decentralisation
When comparing urban governance across the two cities, we find that in Saint Louis there is greater organisational commitment and stronger leadership for coordination at municipal and regional state levels for flood risk management, as well as more responsiveness to local demands for planning and service support. Urban governance in Dar es Salaam (exemplified by Kinondoni municipality) suffers more from lack of finance, understaffing, a complex multi-layered municipal bureaucracy, and lack of firm coordination at all municipal levels.

Our findings indicate that in both countries there are basically a three tier government structure characterized by a relatively strong unitary state, a relatively autonomous yet weak municipal level, and an even weaker regional elected level (with elected regional councils)(2). Dar es Salaam city is located within the region of Dar es Salaam, while Saint Louis is similarly located within the region of Saint Louis. The regional elected councils are fairly recently established (Senegal) and/or still very weak in terms of administrative capacity, staff, finances and technical competence.

More importantly, the regional state level, as well as the district state level, represent the ´strong´ levels in terms of provision of key relevant land use planning, water infrastructure and disaster risk management and other services. The deconcentrated state services at this level, considered part and parcel of the decentralization reform (mostly so in Senegal), are in both cities located ´next-door´ to the municipal services and to some degree overlap with those of the municipality. The state services are to a large degree coordinated by the Governor at regional level and Prefect at district level in Saint Louis, and, similarly, by the Regional Commissioner and Regional Secretariat at regional level and the District Commissioner at district level in Dar es Salaam. The Prefect and District Commission are on par with the Mayor in the authority hierarchy.

In contrast to what you find for example in a developed decentralized democratic system, such as in Norway, the elected regional level has a limited or no substantive role in coordinating actors for some joint purpose. In contrast, the regional state plays a key role as coordinating nodes for adaptation and disaster risk management services within the city territory. Coordination is mainly done by the Governor/Regional Commissioner at regional level and by the Prefect/District Commissioner at city level. The coordinating committees at this level tend to function through hierarchical instruments e.g. by providing information and guidance in environment and/or disaster risk management committees, while also instructing service agencies on what to do in general development (development committees). These regional state coordinating committees for adaptation and disaster risk management have limited administrative, technical and financial capacity to actually perform their duties. Even if the municipality have much autonomy, and is supposed to be only overseen in their legal handling of budgets and functions by the regional state level, in reality this autonomy lacks content in the sense that they lack powers and legal mandates, finances, staff, technical competence, and capacity to perform their planning and service functions.

None of the city municipalities have any elaborate strategy or action plan developed for coordinating climate change adaptation or for disaster risk management, even if disaster risk management committees according to the law are supposed to be decentralised and established at the municipal and ward/district level.

Moreover, in both cities the formal water supply and sewerage systems, as well as key elements of storm water management is governed under public corporations that report directly to national ministries. These corporations to limited degree work in the informal areas. Major problems thus arise for addressing social vulnerability in that 80% of the people of Dar es Salaam (also in Kinondoni) and 30% of the people of Saint Louis live in settlements that are unplanned and informal and for this reason basically grossly underserviced or not serviced with e.g. sewerage and storm water drainage.

In summary, the national coordination of climate change adaptation and disaster risk management by hierarchical instruments can be characterized as weak, which is not surprising – given that this has been observed also in other African countries (Roberts et al. 2013) as well as in many European countries (Bulkeley 2010, OECD 2009, Hanssen et al. 2013).
Informal settlement in Saint Louis. Photo: Trond Vedeld

Key policy implications
If climate resilience is perceived as an important policy goal for the city municipalities, there is a need to strengthen multi-level governance and coordination on a broad scale. Some selected recommendations from the research are;

• Put in place organisational homes and structures for coordination of the joint disaster risk management and climate change agendas at municipal and sub-city levels, including responsibility for storm water management and flooding

• Ensure appropriate communication lines from local via city to regional and state levels in the national disaster risk management system; enable a coordinated early warning system

• Provide the ward/sub-wards with a formal and stronger role in (community led) land development control systems

• Enable greater acceptance of informality and inequality within the central and local government entities involved in planning, flood risk management and service delivery

• Develop a city climate action plan which interfaces with key sector concerns; with a first priority towards the water resource sector and a need to maintain and improve storm water drainage systems

• Ensure that climate and disaster risk and vulnerability assessments/maps are available and included in plans for developing city resilience; make the maps and plans publicly available

(1) The EU project represents a collaborative effort between 15 universities in Africa and Europe. The final scientific report has been submitted as deliverable under the CLUVA project: “Urban governance, climate extremes and resilience in Dar es Salaam and Saint Louis”, T. Vedeld, W., Kombe, A. Coly, N, Ndour, C., Kweka-Msale, and S. B. Hellevik, Cluva deliverable D3.1.v3.

(2) Tanzania is in reality a union between the mainland territory and the smaller territory of Zanzibar.

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