The 21st century will be the century of cities. By 2050, urban areas will house an estimated 2/3 of the world’s population; current and predicted growth is deemed strongest across Asia and Africa. The power of this urban transformation means cities will lead national, regional, and global decisions related to environmental, social, and economic sustainability.
A key challenge in this regard is the impact of urbanization on (peri-)urban ecosystems, including the related consumption of natural resources. Uncontrolled urbanization is associated with inefficient land use and pollution through waste, industry, transport, and inadequate sanitation. The resulting degradation of ecosystems such as wetlands, soils, and waterways undermine the resilience of cities, including their ability to prepare for and cope with the challenges of increasingly volatile climate patterns and depleting natural resources. Furthermore, many communities lack the capacity and agency to participate effectively in developing integrated and evidence-based urban planning mechanisms. Insufficient coordination between private, public, and civil society actors is a significant obstacle to taking ambitious local action to reduce emissions and increase urban resilience.
In this context, the Natural Resources Stewardship Programme (NatuReS) has supported a stewardship approach to collectively address urban natural resource risks in five African countries. Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, and Zambia have successfully implemented multi-stakeholder stewardship partnerships that have improved the collective management of natural resources within those countries. By bringing together empowered communities, government stakeholders, and robust and engaging private sector actors, these partnerships can better develop solutions and increase resilience to the challenges cities face than the individual sectors could do on their own.
During an inter-country learning exchange on the 30th of June 2022, more than 60 participants discussed the benefits of collective action in addressing risks to natural resources in urban contexts, the prevailing challenges this entails, and lessons learnt from partnership experiences.
Experiences from the public sector
Mr. Allan Nkurunzinza from Kampala Capital City Authority in Uganda shared rewarding experiences Kampala has made with stewardship through the PET Task Force, which led to the formation of the Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area PET Plastic Recycling Partnership. Mr. Nkurunzinza stressed how effective stewardship entails tapping into the strengths of all stakeholders. Leveraging funding, technical, human, and other necessary resources from all sectors is crucial to meeting the goal of efficient service delivery to all city residents while resisting natural disasters. The Greater Kampala Integrated Flood Resilience Partnership is another example of partners working towards increased city resilience through a collaborative approach. Mr. Nkurunzinza described the establishment of solid partnerships. While often a lengthy process, it is a “win-win” for all sectors, as partnerships offer the possibility to gather input from all different spheres, especially from the affected communities. Multi-stakeholder partnerships lead to developing solutions that are owned and supported by everybody.
Similarly, Mrs. Bwalya Funga Ndolesha from Lusaka City Council (LCC) shared insights from Lusaka, Zambia, where flooding and the emergence of diseases, particularly in informal settlements, represent a significant risk. Mrs. Ndolesha underlined that it is worth investing time and effort into establishing platforms for engagement and leveraging resources (both human and financial). The Lusaka Water Security Initiative (LuWSI), a multi-stakeholder collaboration system of which LCC and over 32 other entities are members, is for example making progress toward protecting groundwater in recharge areas. Communities play a key role in planning and capacity needs to be built at community level. Communities should develop Local Area Plans (LAPs) that feed into the integrated development plans to foster development at city level. The local area planning process should also take into account all issues affecting Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), further creating community water stewardship awareness. LuWSI’s common platform has helped to map out stakeholders, available resources, and potential activities that will benefit from collective attention.
As part of a collaborative effort, LuWSI is contributing to a city-wide Integrated Development Plan to protect water resources based on issues identified in the LAPs. Other enabling factors for successful partnerships are political support and partner will. For example, the Mayor of Lusaka and city councilors participated in a water security training sponsored by LuWSI. Subsequently, LCC passed a resolution requiring that city planning decisions consider community water security. LCC’s appreciation for water security led to regulations regarding shallow wells and pit latrines to respect groundwater protection standards, among other things.
Experiences from the private sector
From the private sector, Mr. Phil Daka, CEO of the Zambian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ZACCI) stressed the importance of mainstreaming the agenda of water and natural resources stewardship into boardroom discussions. His emphasis on water stewardship dovetails with the sustainable development agenda, mentioning that if we are to achieve laudable environmental surveillance outcomes, we must integrate sustainability into the planning and measurement systems of business enterprises.
The concept of water stewardship must be articulated in terms that are familiar to business leaders. For the enterprise, water stewardship means adopting business strategies and activities that meet the needs of the enterprise and its stakeholders today while protecting, sustaining and enhancing the human and natural resources that will be needed in the future. Some businesses are already practicing resource use efficiency to reduce costs and increase their competitiveness and investment attractivity. Partnerships can be a way to hold companies accountable for the way they are operating and producing. Stewardship partnerships like LuWSI create awareness about problems businesses can face and ways to resolve them. Mr. Daka gave the example of Lusaka, where even small amounts of rainfall can lead to flooding. While people mainly attribute this to poor urban planning, there are other causes and exacerbating factors – one is the blockage of drainage channels through waste dumped by individuals and enterprises. Reflecting on this issue within a partnership creates learning opportunities; behavior change is therefore possible. LuWSI supports mainstreaming of collaboratively developed solutions to shared challenges into city-wide frameworks.
Mr. Peter Okwoko from TakaTaka Plastics, a local plastic recycling company in Gulu, Northern Uganda, also shared insights from participating in a stewardship partnership in an urban context. Poor waste management represents one of the biggest challenges for Gulu as a rapidly growing city. Under the Gulu Integrated Catchment Management Partnership, partners have set up 40 plastic “banks” where residents can deliver their plastic waste instead of littering the environment. Company members pick it up and recycle or up-cycle it into new products like roofing tiles. The partnership prevents two tons of plastic from ending up in landfills every month, saving time and transport costs for the City Council and is on a trajectory to recycle nine tons per month by the end of the year. One of the most challenging aspects remains to change communities’ mindset about waste management, as many people don’t see it as their responsibility but as the City Council’s task. Through establishing regular dialogue, partnerships can contribute to changing this mindset. Another challenge is the lack of city-level regulations and by-laws regarding waste management. However, through partnerships, companies like TakaTaka get better access to city authorities and can voice their concerns and suggestions in a more targeted way. Finally, Mr. Okwoko recommended bringing more members of academia into stewardship partnerships.
Experiences from civil society
Mr. Benard Loum from Community, Empowerment, Education, Development (CEED) Uganda talked about the involvement of community members in partnerships. One of CEED’s priorities is involving young people and ensuring they become responsible for their environmental impacts. In the Gulu Integrated Catchment Management Partnership`s Partnership Action Plan, CEED advocated for making behavioral change one of the key priorities. For example, Gulu City Council has released a new plan for the city’s development. Under the partnership, CEED is now responsible for involving the community in its uptake and further action to ensure its implementation aligns with community interests. Community empowerment is vital according to Mr. Loum: “We need to make community members become consultants in their own rights.” Through activities such as community dialogues, radio programs, and environmental clubs in schools, communities are encouraged that their contribution can have a significant impact. Rather than needing more regulations, Mr. Loum urges the enforcement of existing regulations. Partnerships, creating platforms for transparency and accountability, are essential in this regard.
Finally, Fatima Nkhuwa from the Kamulanga Ward Development Committee in Lusaka reiterated that communities are too often not included in city planning decisions, such as deciding the location of boreholes. Moreover, communities are often unaware of their shared responsibility for common resources, be it by calling attention to a leaking community water pump or by preventing the vandalizing of community infrastructure. External and internal perceptions that the community is irrelevant regarding decision-making or action reinforce community disempowerment. Lusaka City Council and the National Water Supply and Sanitation Council (NWASCO) participated in LuWSI-sponsored training focused on community-level city planning, including involving communities in urban decision-making. LuWSI also helped community members better understand their importance as drivers for change by exposing them to private and public sector stakeholders as equal partners, increasing their level of both awareness and empowerment. “We really have seen a transformation regarding the communities under LuWSI,” concluded Mrs. Nkhuwa.
Panel discussion between all sectors
During a subsequent panel discussion, participants shared other experiences from stewardship partnerships. Participants agreed that establishing partnerships ensures the long-term continuity of activities. Collaborative platforms offer an opportunity to continuously discuss joint issues and solutions instead of only implementing emergency actions in reaction to problems. Long-term solutions developed under a collective action approach are essential to prevent the scarcity or endangerment of natural resources. Stewardship is a powerful approach to mindset change.
Awareness creation and empowerment of communities under stewardship partnerships are significant levers to initiate lasting change. According to Eddy Chikuta, LuWSI Coordinator, if community members become stewards of the environment, they will themselves get active in improving waste management instead of waiting for authorities. For the private sector, partnerships also offer an opportunity to implement their sustainability targets collaboratively, get better access to mandated duty bearers, and prevent conflicts with adjacent communities in the first place.
As a final point, learning event participants agreed that public authorities cannot solve natural resource challenges independently, although citizens often demand this. Collaborative partnerships can develop joint solutions and leverage financial and in-kind resources to support project implementation. Participants agreed that it is high time to realize that one sector cannot achieve sustainable development alone. Instead, all actors must fully and independently subscribe to it. Stewardship partnerships are a successful way to go, especially in increasing cities’ resilience.