Aligning Stakeholder Priorities in Urban Resilience

Speaker Series 2022 #1 – Aligning Stakeholder Priorities in Urban Resilience

by Resilient Cities Network |

Held on 20 January 2022

Funding, including the need to mobilize various sources of investment capital, plays an important role in supporting cities to address their resilient development challenges. The first Cities on the Frontline session of 2022, focused on the importance of “Aligning Stakeholder Priorities in Urban Resilience” with important sharings about the role of donor support for delivering resilient urban development, what value it adds, and how it could become even more effective.

Featured Speakers:

  • Sameh Wahba, Global Director, Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience and Land Global Practice at the World Bank and co-host.
  • Mami Mizutori, Special Representative to the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction at UNDRR.
  • Dagmar Vogel, Head of Infrastructure Financing Division at the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).
  • Anthea Stephens, Climate & Sustainability Component Lead from the Cities Support Programme at the National Treasury of South Africa.
  • Joni Baboci, Former General Director of Planning and Urban Development from the City of Tirana.
  • Silva Magaia, Superintendent of Territorial Planning, Urbanization & Environment, Municipal Council of Maputo.
Metro de la 80: A New Era of Resilient Mobility in Medellin

Metro de la 80: A New Era of Resilient Mobility in Medellin

by Resilient Cities Network

Metro de la 80 (80 Metro) is a strategic project for the City of Medellín whose main objective is to benefit approximately 30% of the inhabitants of the city (around 1 million citizens), through the expansion of transportation opportunities and, as a result, comply with the city’s resilience objectives for improved quality of life of its citizens.

80 Metro is currently under construction and the final result will include a 13.27 km long metro line, 20 trains, 17 stations and 3 road interchanges. It is estimated that each day it will carry 179,400 passengers (about 52 million per year). The project will have a direct impact on the communes of Castilla, Robledo, Laureles, La América, San Javier, Guayabal and Belén and will benefit the city by reducing COemissions, improving air quality while decreasing accidents and congestion on the existing Metro System. All of the above results in land optimization and self-sufficiency.

The 80 Metro project takes into account the urban needs of the different neighborhoods it crosses. For instance, the urban design of the project incorporates the architectural style of each neighborhood, to ensure the design fits well within the existing skyline. Furthermore, the project will include a platform on grass along 75 % of its structure. This generates an additional benefit to the neighborhoods through improvements to urban drainage, elimination of heat islands, ecosystem services, among other benefits.

The selection of the technology was made through 2 contracts with ALG-TMB consultants in 2009 and SYSTRA in 2016. Both consultants reached the conclusion that the best technology was light rail. The trains meet the international standard of being 2.65 meters wide, and 3.5 meters high with multi-directional cabins at both ends. The electrical supply is 750 volts direct current, a speed of 70 km per hour and capacity for 300 passengers per cabin.

Additionally, the project has deployed an ambitious social management plan. The play aspires to achieve a comprehensive intervention based on citizen participation, mitigation of impacts, and mainstreaming communications in order to enhance the social capital, joint responsibility and sustainability of the project. The social component plays an important role during the execution of the infrastructure plan, which starts from an analysis of the social impacts generated and the subsequent design of the processes, prevention, mitigation and compensation.

The 80 Metro project is planned as a system that favors the air quality of the corridor in such a way that it helps to mitigate the emissions that are generated by mobility, allowing the reduction of pollutants that directly affect the health of its inhabitants. It is intended to reduce the accident rate since the system is an exclusive lane, the speed reduction will be favored, there will be pedestrian crossings and spaces for people and bicycles. In addition, it will contribute positively to the economy of the region thanks to the generation of employment and the promotion of urban economic development.

Mass public transport projects, in particular those configured through rail systems, are investment intensive, requiring large amounts of money for the construction and adaptation of roads, which in this case are not only for rail lines but also vehicular circulation. This implies buying houses, in addition to all the machinery and instruments necessary to put the system to work, including trains. Because the project will be governed by the Public Policy for the Protection of Residents and Productive Economic Activities, this will protect the capital and lifestyles of the people who developed the intervened territory.

The municipality of Medellin will provide 30% of the necessary funding, with the National Government providing 70% of the total. With the co-financing agreement, they have committed themselves to providing funding over the course of 15 years.

Based on the schedule, the project is about to begin the technical, legal, and financial structuring, which will allow the city to start banking operations by the end of the year. Additionally, the city is working on technical, social and communication structuring. It is estimated that by the beginning of 2022 the contracts for rolling stock, technologies, and civil works will be awarded. By the end of 2025, the operational tests are expected to begin, with final delivery of the metro being completed in 2027.

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Approaching Urban Waste Management Through a Resilience Lens
Approaching waste management from a resilience perspective – understood as the capacity of a city’s systems, businesses, institutions, communities, and individuals to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience – can support decision-makers in balancing the negative and the positive impacts of their waste management system. 

Approaching Urban Waste Management Through a Resilience Lens

by Resilient Cities Network 

Cities are home to over half of the global population and account for nearly three quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions, which means no climate target can be met without a deep transformation of urban centers across the globe towards a more inclusive, sustainable and, ultimately, resilient path. Accordingly, the recently published IPCC Report on Climate Change 2021: the Physical Sciences Basis has described unprecedented changes all over the world regarding the whole climate system, and how cities can intensify human induced warming, increasing the risks of rising water levels, droughts, and other disasters. It is estimated that without urgent action, particularly in cities, these climate impacts could push an additional 100 million people into poverty by 2030, according to the World Bank. It is clear that rapid urbanization, climate change and globalization have helped unfold and shape vulnerabilities globally, shedding light on the interrelated challenges of environmental, social, and economic inequalities.  

To break down the complexity of these interconnected challenges, we take a deep dive on urban waste management systems. Historically, waste management has been a key concern for local authorities, particularly because of its health and environmental implications. Today, there is an understanding that waste management is a systemic challenge with numerous implications, including economic development, social and economic inequalities, community engagement, marine pollution, and many other aspects that shape the urban ecosystem. These implications are constantly evolving, according to the World Bank report What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050, cities have limited adequate and suitable systems to cope with changes in the waste disposed. Therefore, Resilient Cities Network, as part of the Urban Ocean Program, has selected case studies from the participating cities that highlight the diversity of city solutions to waste management that incorporates a resilience perspective and yields multiple benefits to the urban system as a whole. 

Why Chose a Resilience Lens

Approaching waste management from a resilience perspective – understood as the capacity of a city’s systems, businesses, institutions, communities, and individuals to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience – can support decision-makers in balancing the negative and the positive impacts of their waste management system. City stakeholders often underestimate the negative impact of mismanaged waste. For instance, plastic waste blocking waterways increases the intensity of flooding, which, in turn, may spread waterborne diseases and/or lead to landslides in already disaster-prone areas. Another example is the harmful toxins coming from waste incineration that can increase air pollution and decrease health prospects for the population. These negative consequences are usually not taken into consideration when developing waste management programs. 

It demonstrates how, at the same time, an inadequate waste management system can contribute to deepening inequalities and vulnerabilities of urban communities and economies while exacerbating the risks from shocks and stresses the city faces.  Building systems that integrate flexibility and inclusiveness can strengthen the city’s response when facing a disruption. For instance, recently, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated plastic pollution mostly because of delivery packaging and personal protective equipment, such as masks and plastic gloves. However, some cities have prompted their citizens, businesses, and governments to find alternative materials, increased recycling capacity, etc. It demonstrates the limitations and possibilities of interconnected systems. The pandemic has also reinforced the necessity to leverage resources and investments to produce multiple benefits, enhancing the city’s capacity to face risks and overcome long-lasting challenges. 

How to Bring a Resilience Lens

The Resilient Cities Network, as part of the Urban Ocean Program, has selected seven case studies that demonstrate how waste management solutions can support cities in building resilience. These case studies show the breadth of drivers of a resilient waste management system: from bolstering the rights of informal waste workers, educating youth on the 3R concept and community waste banks to optimizing collection systems, reducing food waste, and promoting eco-friendly packaging materials. While none of these initiatives should be seen as a standalone, silver bullet solution to resilient waste management, each makes an important contribution to the broader system. Addressing waste management not only solves pollution or plastic leakage issues but also creates valuable co-benefits for cities in terms of climate, health, jobs, and many other aspects. Therefore, we have documented three preliminary best practices for building resilience through local waste management actions:

Leveraging local knowledge 

Recognizing the importance of the local context and knowledge is key for building resilience. For instance, Con Son has understood its identity and potential as an ecotourism destination and developed a program to reintroduce natural local products as packaging material. Building on citizens’ engagement and understanding of the local possibilities, the program provided a platform for them to test ideas and businesses that used local products as alternatives to plastic. Market penetration and product acceptance have higher chances of success when citizens are engaged, and local knowledge is leveraged. At the same time, in Semarang, the waste banks are community-driven solutions for enhancing 3R practices and increasing the financial value of recycling. Building on a very local scale, these banks are rooted in community engagement and understanding local needs. 

Leveraging partnerships

The waste management system is complex; therefore, solutions are also complex and require multiple stakeholders. For instance, Toyama has developed an 18-hectare Eco-Town, an industrial park that includes seven waste-to-useable private companies, with the support of the national government. The Eco-Town program helps to create a more recycling-oriented society and showcase new recycling technologies. This was only possible with the support of the national government and engagement with the private sector. At the same time, Milan has developed a Food Policy in which it aims to improve the food system while reducing waste, tackling climate change, and supporting its planning capacity. One of the key pilots was developed together with academic partners, supermarkets, businesses, and company canteens to collect and redistribute food waste at the community level. Finally, the innovative pro-poor public-private partnership in Pune, the SWaCH, has strengthened the position of informal workers and integrated them into the cooperative, creating a more sustainable and efficient solid waste management system.

Leveraging infrastructure

Adequate infrastructure is key to any waste management system, but it can also promote benefits beyond quality and efficiency. For instance, in Panamá City, an NGO called Marea Verde has deployed a trash trap in one of the most contaminated rivers while addressing gender and technological gaps in the communities living along the river. The City of Rotterdam has developed an underground container system serving as a temporary waste storage facility until collection to improve the health conditions of the waste workers and enhance the quality of the city’s public spaces. 

For more information on the Urban Ocean Program, as well as these seven select case studies visit our webpage

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5 Ways Cities Can Combat Climate Change
Urban climate action represents an opportunity, not only to offset the city's footprint on the environment but also to better the quality of life for all in cities.At the forefront of this scenario, from the City of Buenos Aires, we would like to share five lessons learned in the development of our climate change strategy, which could be useful for any public policy maker that is taking on this task.

5 Ways Cities Can Combat Climate Change

by David Grossman, Director of Resilience and General Director of Management Exchange, City of Buenos Aires | Resilient Cities Network

Over the last few years, cities around the world have started to adopt a protagonist role in the battle against climate change. Whether they are speaking in international forums, proposing ambitious goals to reduce emissions, or working hand in hand with their neighbors to achieve more sustainable urban settings, it is clear their agendas for climate change are a fundamental piece to their local administration. In this sense, urban climate action represents an opportunity, not only to offset the city's footprint on the environment but also to better the quality of life for all in cities.

However, it is also true that uncertainty can exist with respect to the first steps to the implementation of a climate action plan. In fact, climate change can present itself as a distant and incomprehensible concept, which can make it difficult, in the context of finite resources, the prioritization and definition of actions to start working on this issue. At the forefront of this scenario, from the City of Buenos Aires, we would like to share five lessons learned in the development of our climate change strategy, which could be useful for any public policymaker that is taking on this task.

1. Measure and Set Goals

The starting point for any public policy, whether it be about climate change or not, is to know where we are starting and where are we going. What does this translate to? First, it is to define our baseline, with mitigation as well as adaptation. In this aspect, it is useful to start by taking stock of the greenhouse gases, identifying which ones are our main source of emissions and weigh those for the data of each activity at the local level, in a way to understand what and how much we are emitting. This, of course, is a complex task, but can be begin conducting a study of existing data, estimates and parameters at the national and international level, which later, little by little, will generate new information to strengthen the complexity of the employed methodology.

On the other hand, it will also be necessary to analyze the level of vulnerability and threats to those that are exposed in the city and their different sectors. One more time, one can begin to construct these indicators in a participatory manner, to later advance towards a more complex analysis with maps of risk and scenario projections.

Once we begin this initial diagnostic, we can start to think about which goals we would like to focus on and the actions that we will implement to reach those goals. It is important to define the maximum and long-term prospect for which we plan (for example, achieving carbon neutrality by 2050), but it is also equally important to define the intermediary goals that we will encounter while pursuing this objective. Because of this, a reachable goal for the first year of implementation could be to plant 500 trees or to distribute 1,000 low consumption lamps for households.

2. Promote Sustainable Movement

Transportation is one of the principal sources of emissions in cities. In fact, if hundreds of thousands of people traveled every day from their homes to work, and vice versa, in their own car, the environmental impact would be enormous. Likewise, because of different more complex goals to be addressed by local governments (such as the transition of the electric grid), transportation represents a sector where at the subnational level, they can implement better concrete improvements on a short- and long-term timeline.

In this framework, to plan different levels of interventions, a useful focus is to “avoid, shift, and improve”. First, we can look to avoid the need for longer trips through urban development that promotes a mixture of uses, walkability, and nearby businesses. Projects for compact cities, or of “15 minutes”, are represented in this goal, where the necessities like education, health, work, and recreation can be found close to the home. Additionally, we can work to encourage different modes of transportation to promote the use of forms with a smaller environmental impact. To achieve this, improving the public transportation accessibility, security, a number of stations and more will be fundamental, as well as creating conditions for more active mobility, for example creating an integrated circuit of bike lanes. Finally, we can improve vehicle efficiency, in the public and the private, promoting the transition to energy sources with lower emissions. Given the important necessary changes, this conversion will be able considered a strategy for the long term.

3. Drive a Legislative Agenda

While we can reach large advances in the climate change agenda with the implementation of policy and programs in the government, there are some themes, from the elimination of single-use plastics to building codes, that will demand the establishment or modification of specific regulations. In this sense, urging a legislative agenda for climate change favors compromises, implement bottom-up changes and the creation of positive and negative incentives.

Because of this, in the City of Buenos Aires, in 2009 they approved law N° 3.147 which established the progressive reduction of plastic bag use. After a period of transition in the industry and societal outreach, finally, in 2016 the city established the full ban of plastic bags in hypermarkets, supermarkets, and food and drink self-servicing locations. In this respect, it was not only the change in the cultural norms, but it was also the awareness of these actions that helped, for example, the free use of reusable bags so that anyone who goes out to a store will bring their own bag.

4. Benchmark the Government

Pushing an agenda for climate change also implies that the government will also ask the city dwellers to put into practice the changes they make. This is especially true when we think of the public offices and buildings that can be transformed to showcase the transition we would like to achieve as a city: the separation and reduction of waste, increased use of bikes, establishment of protocols for efficient use of energy and water and including the installation of solar panels. In this way, for example, initiatives like exchanging LED lightbulbs in government offices can be a cost-effective action, easy to communicate and that can inspire city dwellers to embark on the same change.

5. Encourage More Agents of Change

Finally, we have, possibly, the most relevant point of all. As we know, climate change is not a battle that can be won by governments acting on their own agenda. On the contrary, it is necessary to include the compromise of all citizens that will need to contribute to the transformation in a way that we consume energy, how we move or dispose of our waste. To achieve this, it is key that local administrations clearly and openly communicate what they are doing and why it is important, demonstrating how the climate change agenda can signify tangible improvements for the quality of urban life.

Similarly, we need to emphasize we will not obtain our goal by only stating our purpose, but rather it is also necessary to include the population and create participatory spaces. In this space, one group that could present itself as a huge ally for the implementation of a climate change agenda are the young adults, who understand best what is at stake for their future and for future generations. It is necessary to listen to them, incorporate their perspectives of our strategies and give them tools so they act as true agents of change. To initiate this dialogue, there are many alternatives, like creating tables for participatory governing, the organization Hackathon, and challenges for the co-creation of public policy solutions, or the invitation to participate in planting trees, among many others.

Finally, one last reflection: if political willingness to implement such a climate change agenda exists, the first step is already done. Thus, our recommendation is to begin, work with the existing resources, and include the public. The expertise, the technology, and the data will be gained in the process and, whenever you want to realize, your city will be part of the large urban community that makes a difference to reach a sustainable future.

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Photo of Buenos Aires from Unsplash by Sebastian Cyrman:

Localizing SDGs to Build Safe and Equitable Cities

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development outlines 17 goals as a blueprint for peace and prosperity. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cover a wide range of topics under social equity, environmental sustainability, and economic prosperity. Beyond the reach of the former Millennium Development Goals, SDGs call for action from countries that are at all stages of development. Localizing SDGs is essential in building safe and equitable cities. The City Playbook for Advancing SDGs by our partners at the Brookings Institution provides a series of briefs on how-to action these goals at the city-level.

Localizing SDGs to Build Safe and Equitable Cities

by Resilient Cities Network

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development outlines 17 goals as a blueprint for peace and prosperity. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cover a wide range of topics under social equity, environmental sustainability, and economic prosperity. Beyond the reach of the former Millennium Development Goals, SDGs call for action from countries that are at all stages of development. Localizing SDGs is essential in building safe and equitable cities. The City Playbook for Advancing SDGs by our partners at the Brookings Institution provides a series of briefs on how-to action these goals at the city-level.

While universally accepted as benchmarks for progress, the SDGs are also valuable in building frameworks for actioning change in areas such as social equality, public safety and climate resilience. While thought of as The Global Goals, often discussed on national or continental scales, SDGs can be effectively implemented at the local city-scale.

The SDGs have successfully guided many cities around the world providing a universal and holistic call to action to solve some of the most complex challenges. Many of these challenges are rooted in systems of inequality, poverty and exclusion and thus, require comprehensive methods of analysis and action.

Applying SDGs to Urban Violence

Mexico City serves as an excellent example of how SDGs have been employed to build a multifaceted approach to tackling urban violence. The city is home to distinguished cultural precincts, affluent neighbourhoods, and beautiful landscapes. In contrast, it is also home to deteriorating infrastructure, impoverished communities, and insufficient services. The geographic divides are further emphasised by high rates of violence and homicide.

Acknowledging that enforcement-only responses weren’t enough, the city was able to advance efforts to tackle some of the root causes of violence through neighbourhood investment. SDG 16.1 “significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere,” along with several other goals were considered and applied. Including the development of economic and educational resources, addressing discrimination and inequality, and creating safe public spaces.

Implementing PILARES was a key strategy that took a holistic approach to engage with the most vulnerable communities in Mexico City. PILARES are community centres that offer a range of amenities and opportunities for residents, such as free internet access, recreational space, free online education, job training, and cultural activities. These centres also act as a one-stop-shop for city government programs ranging from assistance on applications for small business loans to psychological counseling, among others.

Merely providing these services in neglected areas wasn’t enough – Mexico City had to rebuild trust from the community to help combat violence. Residents were invited to be directly involved in the design and operation of PILARES to leverage their familiarity and relationships with the community. These centres have now successfully delivered academic services and economic autonomy programs to hundreds of thousands of people. Rather than only enhancing law enforcement, multifaceted city strategies like these based on the SDGs, aim to provide residents with options outside of crime and violence, in order to build more peaceful communities.

Leveraging SDGs to Advance Women’s Rights

The city of Buenos Aires took a holistic approach in tackling a different social stressor under SDG 5, “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” In this case, the SDGs helped provide a comprehensive framework not only for strategizing but for analysis and measurement of the issue at hand.

The Buenos Aires Gender Indicator System (SIGBA), was created in order to measure gender gaps within three realms of women’s autonomy – physically, economically, as well as in decision making. Among other metrics, it includes data on how safe women feel in public spaces, their access to amenities relative to men and how they perform in the labour market. This data-driven approach revealed how best to tackle the inequality gap through understanding women’s autonomy. This process, for instance, revealed a need for tying mobility policies to safer transportation infrastructure facilities that could ensure the safety of women, particularly those living in the more vulnerable neighbourhoods.

Practitioners in Buenos Aires cited having learned that the most valuable policies to improve women’s autonomy involved citizen participation and open government. BA SDG 16+ was launched by the city in partnership with UNDP Argentina to act as a space for co-creating innovative solutions to achieve the SDGs. While rooted in SDG 16, this lab directly works towards achieving several other goals to advance necessary change in the city.

Takeaways for Cities Seeking to Localize SDGs

While both Mexico City and Buenos Aires took different routes in addressing exclusion and community transformation, they resulted in similar takeaways.

  • There are benefits to examining the root cause of city challenges.
  • Community engagement is essential to understanding stressors and advancing change.
  • A government that engages stakeholders and offers equal access to resources and opportunities is necessary to implement lasting change.
  • Holistic and multifaceted solutions that bridge several goals are needed for systemic and effective change.

These lessons can serve as a blueprint for other cities seeking to take action on social stressors and building resilient communities.

More information on applying SDGs

To learn about how other cities have successfully applied SDGs to their development strategies, take a look at these City Playbooks. Curated by the Brookings Center for Sustainable Development in collaboration with Apolitical, a series of how-to briefs and case studies authored by experienced government leaders to describe how different cities have localized SDGs to tackle urban stressors and shocks.

Additional reports on cities applying SDGs:

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Photo from Unsplash of Buenos Aires by Macau Photo Agency 

Building Wellington’s Resilient Community Water Access
The city’s resilience strategy highlighted water resilience and security as a priority. With the completion of the Community Infrastructure Program in 2018, the City is in better shape to respond and recover. The program ensures that even when pipes are broken, cell service is out, and transportation is blocked, most Wellingtonians will still be able to access water for a period until supply lines can be re-established. 

The Wellington region of New Zealand sits on shaky ground, so locals know they need to be ready for a significant seismic event. One concern is that a future earthquake will rupture the city’s underground water pipes, cutting off water to its over 400,000 inhabitants, for up to 100 days in some areas.  

While pipes and reservoirs are generally buried and out of sight, in New Zealand we are beginning to understand the implications of not paying attention to this kind of infrastructure… Failure to invest in pipes and reservoirs has caused social, reputational, environmental, and economic damage.” 

- Sean Rush, Wellington City Councilor 

The city’s resilience strategy highlighted water resilience and security as a priority. With the completion of the Community Infrastructure Program in 2018, the City is in better shape to respond and recover. The program ensures that even when pipes are broken, cell service is out, and transportation is blocked, most Wellingtonians will still be able to access water for a period until supply lines can be re-established. Through its public water company, Wellington developed a decentralized, emergency water supply network, consisting of 22 strategically-placed Community Water Centers, which are not connected to the city’s main public water supply infrastructure and which provide potable water for communities following a disaster. The system draws on the strength of the city’s communities, making them the central actors of their own resilience and recovery. Communities can plan for how to come together after a disaster to access the emergency water supply and other networks of support.

While there are no certainties with how infrastructure will fare in a significant earthquake, the community water system is designed so that water should be able to flow from most sites for weeks after the event. Kiwis know about earthquakes, so the principles of redundancy and connectivity are foremost in how we design our systems like this one. The community water station system is primarily situated in Wellington’s suburban areas, and the inner city is in the midst of a second, complementary program, to provide water access to the central business district and hospital by constructing a new, resilient and extensive reservoir.

A City of Self-sustaining Virtual “Islands” 

In the event of an earthquake, Wellington’s resilience team and utilities providers know they won’t be there to help people find water or organize, perhaps for weeks. They brought together key players and experts to put a system in place ahead of time that gives people water self-sufficiency when disaster strikes.

Wellington released its resilience strategy in 2017, featuring the goal of ensuring “that Wellingtonians always have access to water services, in a way that enhances our natural environment.” The Community Infrastructure Program contributed to achieving that goal. Anticipating a disruption that interrupts transportation and isolates communities, the Wellington team envisioned the city as a series of virtual “islands,” which might have to survive for a week or more, cut off from the rest of the city. They decided to install emergency Community Water Centers on each island. People in the community can go to these centers after a disaster to bring water home, and the centers will also serve as distribution hubs to send water bladders to communities further from the emergency water centers.

Using data modeling, they identified a system of 22 “water islands,” and located a water station within each island in a place where the center can process water either from a river, aquifer, or the sea via desalinization, to distribute it to community members. The city undertook an inclusive community engagement process, getting help from the people of Wellington to inform the centers’ design and identify the best places for them, strategically co-locating the Community Water Centers with existing social infrastructure in most cases. The water stations can provide 20 liters of water for every person in their community for at least 100 days. Using data modeling, they identified a system of 22 “water islands,” and located a water station within each island in a place where the center can process water either from a stream or aquifer to distribute it to community members. The city strategically co-locating the Community Water Centers with existing social infrastructure wherever possible. The water stations are designed to provide 20 liters of water per person per day.

The Community Water Centers are set up to begin making water available starting on day eight after a disruption, as part of a wider plan for restoring water supply after an earthquake. One key point was helping residents prepare for a quake by advising them to install emergency water storage at their homes, capable of providing 20 liters of water per person per day for seven days, and the city enacted a comprehensive communications campaign to achieve this. The communications work covered other topics, including how to access potable water after the first seven days via the community water collection points and how to support their neighbors through that initial recovery period.

This is also when they supported communities to designate emergency volunteers. Dormant during normal times, and requiring only quarterly maintenance, in the event of an earthquake, volunteers will work with emergency responders to activate and operate the Community Water Centers, as well as use trucks and emergency water bladders to distribute potable water to other collection points, with the aim being to get water to within 1,000 meters of most residences.

Increasing Resilience Benefits with Indigenous Help 

Building on the success of the Community Water Centers, Wellington is currently constructing a 35-megaliter reservoir called Omāroro, to serve critical services, especially the hospital, businesses, and homes. Ensuring these key institutions have potable water after a quake will enable Wellington to recover more quickly, and when complete, Omāroro reservoir will add essential redundancy for the area’s residential population of over 70,000.

The name Omāroro is important for Wellington, because it was gifted to the project by the Maori. The emergency water project enjoyed strong Maori input throughout the process. The Maori believe that water is the essence of life and that it possesses an almost supernatural life force, and the city wanted to be sure Maori were involved in the decision making for this new water system. 

Omāroro’s addition to the water network and the City’s emergency water capacity provides critical operational resilience, creating a redundant water supply that can be deployed in the face of any disruption, such as a broken water main or contamination. 

Building a More Resilient Future with Multiple Benefits 

The Community Infrastructure Resilience Program was in place 18 months after Wellington published its Resilience Strategy. This key step in making Wellington less vulnerable to its disaster risk cost $8.25 million, and was supported by New Zealand’s Central Government. The Omāroro reservoir is being constructed in a part of the City where the redundant capacity the reservoir will create will also provide the capacity needed to accommodate anticipated growth. Omāroro reservoir construction has the added advantage of stimulating the post-COVID-19 economy, addressing the strain that the rapidly growing central business district population creates, and building in essential earthquake resilience for inhabitants.

Wellington co-located the water centers with other infrastructure, while also close to water sources, to use resources more efficiently and support a faster recovery. Where possible, Wellington proposes to leverage the water stations for other community services, such as information, health, and social welfare outreach, in the event of a crisis. After an earthquake, they won’t just be essential water sources, but organizing points for volunteers and to support the community.

This has been a deep learning process for Wellington, and the thoughtfulness of this community water resilience project demonstrates how the experience of going through the strategy process and then really reckoning with the needs identified therein, and what it would take to address them effectively impacted their thinking. For example, the process of reinforcing Wellington’s lifeline infrastructure gave the city a new appreciation for the need to decentralize its critical utilities to ensure continuous and safe water to be provided during emergencies. 

Water access is an essential issue in Wellington, and indeed in cities pursuing resilience and disaster readiness all over the world. The water centers and the Omāroro reservoir are a shining example of how a city can approach the issue of resource access after a disaster in an integrated way that emphasizes communities and their voices, and yields multiple benefits to support the city’s needs now, and when it must recover from a disaster.

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Image of Wellington, New Zealand from Unsplash by Wolf Zimmermann (@wzimmermann)

The Art of Reflective Learning in Cape Town – Protecting the Vulnerable During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Cape Town, South Africa, responded quickly to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic using some of the lessons it had learned during the drought shock it experienced in 2017 and 2018, a period that acutely tested the resilience of the city. In response to the pandemic, the Chief Resilience Officer, Craig Kesson, led a transversal effort across City government that included a portfolio approach to projects and programs, paying particular attention to responding to the needs of the most vulnerable Capetonians. One of the programs in this portfolio that supported this emphasis resulted in the biggest investment in the City’s healthcare system in 20 years, and was executed in the span of two months.

“Many of the actions that we developed in our Water Strategy and honed in the Resilience Strategy are now being re-used in the COVID response. The drought learning project allowed us to reflect after the worst of that event. Because we are now attuned to the value of reflective learning, we were able to say, “This is a system-wide shock, much like a drought. It’s going to be sticky. It’s going to be with us for a long period of time.” - Gareth Morgan, Cape Town’s Director of Resilience

It was the investment into reflective learning that put the City of Cape Town’s leadership in a position to act swiftly once they identified their biggest COVID-19 needs. At the top of the list was protecting the city’s vulnerable populations, especially those living with chronic diseases, HIV, and tuberculosis. Between early June and the end of July, the city stood up 39 decanting facilities, overflow capacity medical clinics that allowed the City to un-crowd existing healthcare facilities.

This created space to distance clients receiving general primary health care services from those receiving COVID-19 services such as assessment, screening, and testing. It was crucial to build these overflow facilities quickly, as during the initial period of lockdown, they observed a definite downturn in the number of clients accessing primary health care services.

From Crisis Management to Lasting Impact

At of the end of September, South Africa has the tenth highest incidence of COVID-19 worldwide. Regional and local health departments have managed to control the pandemic in the city, which also has a significant population of people who living with HIV and tuberculosis. An estimated 20% of adults in South Africa live with HIV. When the COVID-19 hit, it was immediately clear that this would strain the city’s medical services, and they worried this would undermine decades of progress made in treating HIV and TB, and providing immunization to children.

The problem was twofold. First, the focus on treating and managing COVID-19 meant these patients were using health services that were previously dedicated to treating and helping people with HIV and other diseases. There simply wasn’t capacity to respond to the health needs of all patients, especially factoring in the requirements of social distancing. Combined with the lockdown that South Africa implemented just three weeks after its first case, on March 5, this led to a significant drop in TB testing across the country, hampering contact tracing and raising concerns of higher numbers of TB cases among Cape Town’s poorer communities. Second, congested health facilities represented a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. They were also genuinely concerned that they didn’t have enough capacity to accommodate a big COVID-19 outbreak, if it occurred.

The City was ready to confront these complex challenges. Its experience dealing with the drought had impacted Cape Town’s leadership, and now they were equipped with the means to communicate and plan efficiently, and the confidence to respond quickly and decisively to a public health crisis. In the period since the drought, the Chief Resilience Officer had led the charge to invest heavily in expanding data science and project management resources. These officials, as well as many other officials who had worked on the drought response, joined the transversal effort to coordinate the portfolio of COVID-19 responses.

They recognized the need to secure medical space where clinics could continue to provide their routine services, such as family planning and immunization, continue to support their HIV and TB patients, and respond to need of patients showing symptoms of COVID-19.

Over a remarkably short eight weeks beginning in early June, the City developed overflow clinic facilities to create the capacity needed to meet all these demands on existing facilities. They created 39 new facilities, starting with the areas with the greatest need for support. Of these, they repurposed 28 halls retrofitted with the essentials to create a clinic environment, and they constructed 11 clinics with prefabricated structures. To staff the new clinics, Cape Town recruited 266 new people, including certified medical officers, professional nurses, and pharmacists. This multimillion-dollar Rand project represents the single biggest investment in the city’s healthcare system in 20 years.

“The expansion of our facilities will ensure that we are able to continue providing our full basket of services to clients during this time…to attend to all health needs, without crowding our waiting areas and therefore decreasing the risk of transmission.” - Councilor Zahid Badroodien, Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services and Health, Cape Town

This new clinic capacity has had a number of benefits. It alleviated the strain on existing clinics and staff, ensuring that families could continue to receive routine medical care, and vulnerable populations did not have to go without treatment or be at risk of contracting COVID-19 while seeking primary health care services. Reducing the disruption to primary healthcare services was a huge win. It also minimized the chance of cross-infection in a healthcare facility, and meant that those with symptoms of COVID-19 could be isolated from the general population to contain the spread, and receive the treatment they need. As of September 29, there were only 4,400 active cases in Cape Town and the average number of new cases per week had been on a downward trend for almost two months. Over the course of the pandemic, Cape Town has recorded 76,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The repurposed halls also offered a crucial opportunity to make critical repairs and upgrades, addressing issues that may have been left alone if not for this COVID response. Once the pandemic has passed and there is no need for these clinics in repurposed halls, they can be returned to their pre-pandemic functions, but with the benefit of this essential maintenance having occurred. The prefabricated structures will be staying, serving as long-term resources for the communities where they were built. They will continue as additional health clinics, giving residents easy access to the services they need.

A Future Built on Reflective Learning

The flexible infrastructure Cape Town created so quickly is a perfect example of a resilient investment, because the buildings are flexible. Building up additional, flexible health capacity in these communities puts their people and Cape Town as a whole in a stronger position to respond to the next unexpected disruption. From a quick, effective response to a public health threat, Cape Town is creating enduring benefits that increase equitable access to healthcare, an essential resource.

Beyond leaving behind new and refurbished infrastructure, and building the city’s medical care institutions, the story of Cape Town’s rapid response to COVID-19 is about recovery. As national shut-down restrictions continue to ease, for example with the opening of the country to international travel starting on October 1 and easing public gathering requirements, Cape Town is in a good position to be able live with COVID-19, which may be around for well over another year, and can cope with new outbreaks if they occur.

Cape Town is now very focused on its COVID-19 recovery, as are many cities, and on continuing to supporting its vulnerable communities. Like they did with the drought, they are capturing the lessons of the pandemic response through deliberate reflective learning, in order to be prepared for future shock events.

“There is such value in trying to capture what we are doing in various stages in the pandemic. So we built the apparatus for reflective learning within the organization. - Gareth Morgan, Cape Town’s Director of Resilience

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Image from Resilient Cities Network