100 Resilient Cities 'game-changer' launched in Cape Town to tackle urban problems

Cape Town has felt the shock of the taps nearly running dry and the shock of floods. It has felt the chronic stress of crime and being the murder capital of the country. The daily stress of hours in traffic congestion and being stranded on trains. The stress of poverty and 450 000 people who want to work but cannot find jobs.

Now Cape Town is looking at a different way of tackling these issues.

Two years ago, Cape Town was selected with 99 other cities worldwide to be part of an international programme to build an overall resilience into the city so that it is better able to deal with the stress and shocks that affect urban areas.

SPECIAL REPORT: Water Crisis

The network is called 100 Resilient Cities, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation in the US.

Cape Town is one of the 100 cities that the programme hopes to make resilient - and extend ultimately to 1 000 cities or more.

'Health check'

On Friday, City of Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille launched the City's first draft of a resilience assessment, the first step in the process of developing a city resilience strategy.

It has been described as a kind of "health check".

"Cape Town, like any city, is prone to a number of acute shocks and chronic stresses that can affect our ability to survive, adapt and thrive in times of crisis. That is why we are taking a new strategic approach to building a resilient Cape Town," De Lille said.

The document is a draft and the public will be able to comment on it.

But what makes it different is that officials canvassed the public extensively before drawing up the draft, so that it contains a huge amount of public input already. This included workshops with academics, the private sector, officials, NGOs and 11 000 face-to-face interviews with residents in informal settlements.

The 100 Resilient Cities organisation defines city resilience as the capacity of people and systems in a city to "survive, adapt and grow, no matter what kind of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience".

In the run-up to the launch this week, representatives from cities around the world in the 100 Resilient Cities programme gathered in Cape Town to explore ways that city could become water resilient.

Karin Bruebach, engineer and urban water director at 100 Resilient Cities, who was part of the discussions, said there was no city in the world that was water resilient.

"I don't believe a perfect system exists. Whatever you do, there are new challenges coming up, so building water resilience in a city is a journey," Bruebach said.

Drastic water cuts

The world was, however, improving technology and methods for assessing risks and making predictions.

"So if you are prepared for a situation, you are better able to react to it."

Asked if she thought the City of Cape Town had been prepared for the water crisis, Bruebach said she believed the City had underestimated what could happen, although the risk had already been "on the table".

But the authorities and Capetonians had rallied and the drastic water cuts and changes in people's behaviour had been astonishing, she said.

"Cape Town's resilience journey started in the water journey, and the outcome so far has been absolutely stunning, and it will help other cities around the world dealing with water.

"The challenge to the City authorities now was to take the heightened water awareness among citizens and translate it into long-term behaviour.

"The City needs to realise that people will go back to using more water. The question is: 'What is a sustainable amount of water that people can use, and how does the City communicate this to people?'

"It is important for the City to take action now by moving the education and communication programme about water away from crisis management to long-term behaviour change."

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