Community mapping for flood resilience and accountability

Gemma Todd, Dar es Salaam Community Manager
Dar es Salaam, 2 December 2015

Tanzania has taken several steps for progressing towards sustainable cities. The 1992 Sustainable Cities Program for Dar es Salaam emphasized sustainability as one of the key elements to drive urban poverty reduction. In 1997, the National Environmental Policy built on this ideology. Sustainable development and the environment were seen as interlinked to well-being; therefore, environmental protection and conservation tied into social and economic development. Systems have been set up to manage, improve, and incentivize, local government authorities’ capacities to manage the urban environment and development, such as the Urban Development and Environmental Management (UDEM)). The UDEM framework emphasizes the need to improve how the environment is used and engaged with by its urban dwellers, but also reduces the pressures placed on the environment.

However, who dominates the climate change and sustainable agenda discourse? The Government of Tanzania, UN-Habitat and UNDP created the Sustainable Dar es Salaam Project. Policies created by the government remain largely great on paper, with limited implementation in practice. Additionally, plans aiming to reduce climate risk (i.e. Strategic Urban Development Planning Framework 1992, which identified new laws for flood prone areas and proposed families to relocate) remain disengaged from the reality of limited access to solutions, such as alternative land, housing, and space for city dwellers.

However, a recent collaborative project between the Government of Tanzania, the University of Dar es Salaam, Ardhi University, international bodies, and communities is leading to an innovative response for enhancing flooding adaptation and preparedness. During the rainy seasons, flooding has a significant socio-economic impact in some of Dar es Salaam’s residential areas. Following heavy rainfall in April 2014, 20,000 people were affected across the city, 19 deaths reported, 10,000 left without shelter, and infrastructure remained damaged.

The university has partnered to set up an Open Street Map for Flooding Resilience. Students and local community members were trained on how to map out their wards. The areas are then surveyed with drainage mapped to identify areas prone to floods, and cholera outbreaks. The maps are a basis for accountability and action. The maps provide communities with information, and a picture of what or where the risks area. This provides communities with the ability to challenge Local Government Authorities and planners to gain accountability, protection, and alternatives. With the rainy seasons due to start, it will be interesting to monitor the impact these maps will make and the discourse they raise.

For national response and preparedness to climate change, a participatory discourse is essential. Local communities need to be at the center for implementing the projects, designing interventions, and adapting. The public needs to understand how the climate is changing, its impact on their socio-environments, and the impact of their unsustainable practices. More needs to be done by national governments not to simply redesign an adaptive, resilient environment for people; but rather people need to be involved in the process from start to end. More information is needed for citizens and city dwellers; more practices are needed whereby communities can define the risks faced and demand responsiveness. Several steps have been made, however, gaps remain to mainstream climate change and responsiveness.

Photo: Stefan Magdalinski

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