New project to research ‘green infrastructure for water security policy’

Water security is an important issue as well as an all-encompassing notion in the socio-economic development of communities, cities, provinces and countries. Achieving water security at these levels is a complex undertaking involving a number of stakeholders and management practices; practices that need to be underpinned by legislative requirements that are part of a conducive policy environment promoting water security.

Part of achieving water security is the idea and implementation of green infrastructure. In this vein, we can define green infrastructure as ‘nature-based water infrastructure’ – such as wetlands – that protects, restores, or mimics the natural water cycle to, among other things, reduce flood risk and increase water availability. We can, therefore, see green infrastructure as a planning and design concept to mitigate water insecurity and advance water security.

From a local government perspective, green infrastructure is not only important from a water resource point of view, but also from a social, cultural, and urban policy understanding. It holds potentially inter-sectorial benefits and is seen by practitioners as a transformative technology that promises to enhance urban and peri-urban water management practices such as storm water drainage, food production, and energy production. Taking urban and peri-urban settings into consideration, as well as green infrastructure’s inter-sectorial nature and function, and it becomes evident that green infrastructure could contribute to inclusive socio-economic development. That means that green infrastructure has the potential to service inner-city environments, and could also make a valuable contribution to areas around large cities that are semi-urban or even rural.

In order to investigate the ‘green infrastructure for water security policy’ landscape of a large South African metropolitan municipality, eThekwini (Durban), the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) received funding from the South African National Research Foundation (NRF). The project will run over a three-year period and will be conducted in collaboration with Monash South Africa’s Water Research Node. Professor Bimo Nkhata and Ms Linda Downsborough, from the Water Research Node, will be the main collaborators in this endeavour.

The CSIR and Monash South Africa will collaborate around the development of questionnaires, building informant networks, conducting of interviews and focus group discussions, as well as the final reporting of the research results in scientific articles. The NRF made funding available to support two Masters students from Monash South Africa as well as research fieldwork activities in the eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality.

The main problem that we will be investigating is the level of understanding of the green infrastructure policy landscape and how the concept is defined, measured, and incentivized in eThekwini. We will interact with municipal officials and a host of other stakeholders with a stake in the promotion of green infrastructure for water security. These include, but are not limited to, individuals, non-governmental organisations, interest groups such as rate payers associations, traditional leaders, communities, the private sector, and researchers and academics.

We decided to conduct the research in eThekwini since CSIR is coming to the end of a four year-long water security study in the area. This green infrastructure project will therefore be a follow-on of the CSIR water security project that ends in March 2018. CSIR already has the necessary contacts with municipal officials and local communities in place, which will facilitate work during the project. Local governments are interesting cases to study because they are considered the sphere of government closest to citizens – it is where people get directly in touch with the state and its government apparatus.

Dr Richard Meissner is Senior Researcher: Integrated Water Solutions at the CSIR.