The Take Back Our Rivers project (TBOR) is an initiative of eThekwini Conservancies Forum (ECF) that seeks to restore the river health of selected rivers in the eThekwini Municipal Area through rehabilitation and restoration strategies. The Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department (EPCPD) partnered with ECF, through the Kloof Conservancy to pilot the TBOR project in the Aller River, which passes through the areas of New Germany and Clermont. The purpose of the pilot was to explore community-based interventions to improve river health. Some of the project key successes include, a cohort of well-trained young people that are working in the Aller River undertaking waste clean-up and river monitoring, improved river health, stakeholder engagement, establishment of cross-departmental collaboration (e.g. involvement of Water and Sanitation and Health departments in the monitoring of river health), and various awareness programme with the local schools, communities and local non-governmental organization partners.

Project description

Introduction

At the end of 2013, Durban was selected as one of the first 32 cities to be included in the Rockefeller Foundation’s international 100 Resilient Cities Programme (hereafter referred to as 100RC). A key output from Durban’s participation in 100RC is the development of a ‘Resilience Strategy’ for Durban which is currently being finalized. Durban’s resilience journey began with a scoping and research phase in 2014 to understand some of the key resilience challenges in Durban. A number of issues were identified by Durban stakeholders as playing a critical role in either enhancing or undermining resilience through a number of stakeholder engagement processes.

Some of the key ideas that emerged from this process were as follows;

a)  Environment: The importance of the natural environment in providing the foundation for human wellbeing, development and resilience. Issues of particular importance related to biodiversity, water and climate change and the need to address these as part of Durban’s resilience strategy.

b)   Active and engaged citizens: The resilience work highlighted the fact that government cannot work alone to implement what is needed to build a resilient city. Citizens who are active and engaged have a key role to play in mobilizing local action and contributing towards broader resilience objectives for the city.

c)   Capacity building: Capacity building plays a key role in creating awareness, building knowledge and equipping citizens with the skills they need to find employment and to contribute towards building a resilient society and economy. 

Pilot projects have been initiated through the 100RC programme to explore some of the ideas that have emerged and to understand what will be required to implement them. The Take Back Our Rivers pilot project provided an opportunity to test ways in which to address the three resilience issues described above, simultaneously. 

What is the innovation/policy/project/technology? How does it work?

The ‘Take Back Our Rivers’ initiative flagship project of the Kloof Conservancy project seeks to restore the river health of selected rivers across eThekwini Municipality, through river assessments, rehabilitation and various restoration strategies and resource mobilization for implementation.  Whilst the ‘Take Back our Rivers’ initiative is being coordinated by the Kloof Conservancy, it is important to stress that this is a project of the eThekwini Conservancies Forum (ECF). ECF is part of the regional node of conservancies ‘Conservation KZN’ and represents all conservancies in the eThekwini Municipal Area. The pilot was implemented on the 5.8 km stretch of the Aller River, which passes through New Germany and Clermont. The piloted area is situated across different communities (middle class residential area; industrial area; and low income/informal housing), and provided an opportunity to mobilize diverse members of the community living alongside the river to ensure the sustainability of the work.

The pilot project approach provided an opportunity to assess how river ecosystems can be managed and monitored through active engagement of citizens who have been appropriately capacitated to undertake the work that is required, thereby contributing towards building a resilient and sustainable city.

What are the key climate change adaptation goals/achievements?

Key successes and lessons learnt in this pilot have been:

a)  Reduction of alien vegetation: Significant progress has been made in the clearing of alien plants and waste in the river stretch.

b)  Leveraging funding: The conservancies have been able to leverage co-funding for alien clearing from the Duzi Umngeni Education Trust (DUCT). Moreover, the conservancies have been able to bring in additional funding through a number of hours that have been volunteered towards the project by various members of the conservancies which has contributed significantly to the success of the project.

c)  Establishment of working relationship and communication improvement with municipal line functions: A steady flow of information providing status quo updates and incident reports (e.g. sewerage spillage) to various stakeholders, project managers and relevant municipal departments such as eThekwini Water and Sanitation Pollution control unit. This has resulted in an improved water quality in parts of the Aller River as the problematic sewerage manholes have been fixed. Moreover, water quality results from the Duzi Canoe Marathon reflect that there has been a decrease in the E.Coli count in the Aller River.

d)  Livelihoods Improvement: Livelihoods for community members neighbouring the river has improved since the project team has been working in the river. The unbearable smell that resulted from ongoing sewer spillage has significantly improved.

e)  Raising up local socio-economic circumstances through the employment of seven Eco-Champs to assist with river health maintenance, waste reduction, monitoring & community awareness, under the leadership of a capacitated Team Leader and Community Liaison Officer. The Eco-Champs have developed local capacity to deal with local problems.

f)  Stakeholder mobilisation and capacity building: Different types of stakeholders have been identified and mobilized through various community awareness campaigns. These events on the awareness of the importance of the river included various community groupings such as, schools, traditional healers, arts groups and other local leadership. The hosted awareness events used platforms that include river cultural festival, art campaigns, river revival festival and litter clean up campaigns.

g)  Partnership: The project has provided significant lessons around the value of partnerships between civil organizations and the municipality in achieving the needed on the ground behavioural change. This has been evident in the successful awareness campaigns that have been undertaken around the importance of rivers. The partnership has also facilitated cross-departmental collaboration (Health, Water and Sanitation and EPCPD) in the monitoring of the Aller River.

Next Steps

There have been a number of successes achieved in this project implementation, but it is acknowledged that a year is not enough for a project of this magnitude. Therefore, more funding is still required to maintain a clean, alien invasive free Aller River and to sustain the work that the Eco-Champs do. The funding provided by eThekwini Municipality during the pilot project enabled the project team to leverage funding for phase 2 of the project from Cambridge University. The Cambridge University funding will fund the project from June 2017 until January 2018. 

There is significant potential to incorporate the TBOR approach to be applied to other rivers. This comprehensive project concept could be adopted and adapted into the Palmiet Rehabilitation Pilot Project (PRP), which has received funding from Aqueduct Program. The money is to be used towards the rehabilitation of ecological infrastructure within the catchment.

The Palmiet Rehabilitation Project is a climate change adaptation oriented project. The project primarily focuses on conservation, rehabilitation & restoration of natural systems within the catchment to improve river health and surrounding community resilience. The Climate Protection Branch within the EPCPD, which oversee the PRP is pursuing a similar partnership with the Kloof Conservancy to replicate and upscale the Aller River concept into the Palmiet Catchment as an approach to implement the project.

Links to further Information

There is a summary video on the Aller River Project on YouTube. The link is: https://youtu.be/z-Cu6fzuj0A   

Contact Details

Ethekwini Municipality: The Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department

Ms Nokuthula Dubazane: Environmentalist

Tel. +2731 322 4305

Nokuthula.Dubazane@durban.gov.za