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OPINION: Integrating resilience into infrastructure – a wicked problem


Climate change is an opportunity for governments to put in place long overdue policies and practices around infrastructure. This was the sentiment of CDKN Africa’s Dr Shehnaaz Moosa, who spoke at World Water Week, held in Stockholm, Sweden during the CDKN-hosted event “The key to sustainable growth: mainstreaming climate resilient infrastructure.” Dr Moosa shares her thoughts.

The integration of resilience into infrastructure in an uncertain future can only be described as a wicked problem and reminds me of Albert Einstein’s saying, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them”.

In the year since the last World Water Week there have been considerable positive gains at the global level: in terms of sustainability there are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with 169 targets covering poverty, inequality, injustice and climate change by 2030. With respect to climate change, 196 countries have agreed to limit climate change to 2 degrees with an ambition of 1.5 degrees. This has been described as the world’s greatest diplomatic success. In terms of disaster risk reduction, the Sendai Framework, which was adopted in Japan in 2015, integrates disaster risk reduction with sustainable development.

However, the reality on the ground is not so positive. The last year has seen extreme floods and droughts affect a large number of countries around the world. Weather-related disasters currently account for around 80% of global disasters, with low-income countries suffering the worst impacts on infrastructure.

Thus, the links between climate resilience, infrastructure, disaster risk reduction and sustainable development are very apparent.

What is also becoming very clear is that the climate resilience of poor communities has both a short- and long-term horizon. In the short-term we see a need for small-scale infrastructure to support the response to weather-related disasters, whereas in the long-term, it is imperative to focus on the delivery of large-scale infrastructure to support resilience to climate variability and change.

On a more optimistic note, climate change is an opportunity or incentive for governments to put into place long overdue policies and practices concerning infrastructure. This leadership has been demonstrated in countries including Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Tanzania; which aligns with the countries that CDKN has been working in. CDKN in Africa has had deep engagement in Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia and has a close partnership with the Global Water Partnership (GWP) to deliver on the Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP).

The CDKN /GWP story is one of moving from policy frameworks to project implementation. This is a journey that has spanned five years, starting with the African Ministers’ Council on Water Framework for Water Security, followed by a period of capacity building, and now the mainstreaming of climate into infrastructure design and delivery.

Looking forward, CDKN’s ambition is to use the global compacts to catalyse knowledge and capability to prepare project pipelines that address current and future climate challenges while still maintaining momentum in climate resilient policy frameworks.

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