Sustainability

What if the rains don’t come?

drought-1653069_1280

I used to think that Capetonians were preoccupied with water: the lack of it, ways to save it, or even the wilful belief of “Water problem, what water problem?” A trip to Windhoek this week made me realise that if things don’t change, this preoccupation with all things H20 will ratchet into overdrive. Very soon.

Last month, I wrote about my visit to Windhoek in late September 2016. When I visited then, the dam levels were worryingly low. Now, of the three dams that serve Windhoek, one is empty, one is at 20%, and the other is 6% full – and the rainy season is halfway through. This is frightening. Increasingly, I find myself asking the question: what if the rains don’t come?

Naturally, drought has a major impact on the agricultural sector. In Namibia, the agricultural sector which “is one of the most important contributors to the economy and employs about 70% of the population, directly and indirectly, shrunk by 12% since the drought of 2013.” This is according to an August 2016 article by the Namibian Sun.

South Africa’s economy is not as dependent on agriculture as it is on services and other industries. However, there will be dire consequences if the rains do not come: crop failure, the death of livestock and people becoming more food insecure. Food security is something that has been occupying my mind for a while now, and this goes beyond advocating for urban gardens or encouraging weekend hobbyists, in which category I include myself! I am also carefully watching the march of fall armyworms across our part of the continent and am interested in the solutions that will arise in the near and long-term to make Cape Town and the larger South Africa more food secure in general.

And as with most catastrophes, the people most likely to be affected by these and other natural disasters are those who are already vulnerable to shocks of any kind. What too are the plans in place to deal with a rapidly urbanising population? And while rapid urbanisation, as reported by UN-Habitat, is a global phenomenon, in Africa, the urban population nearly doubled between 1995 and 2015 and is expected to come close to doubling again by 2035, according to a 2016 report by African Economic Outlook.

I am pleased that I will be returning to Windhoek at the end of the month to participate in the conference discussing Namibia’s Urban Future. Titled “Rethinking Housing and Urbanisation”, the conference is convened by the Namibian Ministry of Urban and Rural Development, the Namibian Institute of Architects, the Urban Design Institute of Namibia and hosted by the Namibia University of Science and Technology. It is somewhat bittersweet in light of high property prices in the inner city and the serious need for affordable housing in the area that I have been asked to speak on the success story of turning around the CBD, as well as looking at the intersection of urban design, public space and governance.

My attendance of this conference in Namibia is not to negate the fact that we need to be having these debates in Cape Town. I am thus happy to announce that the Cape Town Partnership supports the 3rd Annual City Development conference taking place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) from 13-15 March. During this conference, a range of local and international speakers will discuss and debate the most urgent issues that affect the urban transformation of African cities.

No letter would be complete without mentioning public space and so, I’m happy to conclude with a reminder to catch the last few days of the Institute for Creative Art’s Live Art festival that is bringing 34 live art performances in public spaces around the city until 26 February! Once more, I am very proud to support this wonderful initiative.

And before I forget, I’m really excited about the excellent-as-usual speakers Ravi Naidoo and his team have brought together for this year’s Design Indaba conference, taking place at the Artscape Theatre from 1 to 3 March. In the Mother City, it seems that we really are spoiled for choice!

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