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Stakeholder’s perceptions of using ecological infrastructure in addressing flood risks: the case study of the Emnambithi/Ladysmith Local Municipality.

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Recent research on integrated flood management decision making has revealed that economic, environmental, and social science aspects need to be holistically considered in flood risk management. For example, Borrows (2006) calls for more inclusion of the elements of cultural, demographic, technological, environmental and institutional changes on flood risk management; as well as the need for these systems to be understood and accommodated. The poor understanding and limited incorporation of the sociological and political aspects of flood risk management is leading to a failure of flood management initiatives by the stakeholders in many places. With the review of the international literature on the sociological and political aspects of flood risk management (see Borrows, 2006., Salvador and Norton, 2011), it is shown that there is a need to understand how sociological and political views have developed, as well as the perceptions people have of flood problems and the solutions. Borrows (2006: 135) argues that "there is little (if any) thought, given to the feelings, behaviour, and thought associated with stakeholders in flooding risk management. This also consider the interests (or needs) that often appear to be in conflict and more adaptable to the uncertainties of natural and man induced changes". Emerging from the research on integrated flood disaster management, there has been a call for more research to focus on non-structural approaches, such as ‘ecological infrastructure and climate change adaptation measures’, which seek to promote cost effective strategies with regards to dealing with flooding and other global disaster problems (see Burt et al, 2006; Walters, 2012; Scott et al, 2013, and SANBI, 2014 among others). In addition, UNEP (2007) cited in Walters, (2012: 17) states that “An investment in ecosystems and incorporating disaster risk reduction and ecosystem management into development planning, not only offers protection against natural disasters but can also provide a major contribution to achieving sustainable livelihoods for the poor”. This research is based on a case study in the Emnambithi/Ladysmith Local Municipality (ELLM), which is a rural South African local municipality in KwaZulu-Natal province. The study explores the potential of using ecological infrastructure (EI) in addressing flood risks in this rural municipality, which has urban and rural sections. The aim of this study is to understand the attitude and behaviour of the selected key stakeholders towards using EI, and subsequently explore the implications of their responses concerning flood risk management and planning. This research considers the indigenous knowledge held by these actors regarding their perceived value of EI in this domain. The key conceptual, theoretical, and methodological basis of this research was based on (but not limited to the) MEA (2005) and Costanza et al (2010) framework of ecosystem’s services to obtaining the optimal benefits of the EI. In addition, international precedent cases were examined in order to explore how the concept of EI has been used in other cities and municipalities to solve flood risks and respond to environmental changes. This research reviews the range of flood management and environmental policies developed for, and by, the municipality. Their goal was to ensure that both the structural and non-structural solutions are integrated in to trying to strengthen the resilience of Ladysmith to flooding. Secondly, the key informants, including government officials, affected citizens, businesses, politicians, amongst others - were interviewed to determine their perspectives in utilising EI to address flood risk, as well as other co-benefits. The researcher visited two sites where these interventions were taking place. However, in instances where sites could not be visited, desktop research was used to supplement the research process. The research findings indicate that pollution and illegal dumping plays a critical role in increasing flood risk and undermine the resilience of infrastructure in the urban part of Ladysmith. Hard engineering is the dominant way in which the local government conceptualises and intervenes in flood risk management. Many stakeholders were not aware that hard infrastructure could not withstand the predicted risks of more floods associated with climate change. Due to this lack of awareness, many stakeholders such as officials and Ladysmith citizens do not realise the potential of EI in reducing flood risks as they have limited understandings of how rivers and flooding processes work. In terms of flood risks, the results highlight that there has been a shift in approach from disaster reduction to vulnerability reduction, as poverty seems to be local government’s central focus. In contrast to the perceptions of EI for Ladysmith town, the adjacent rural communities have a stronger connection with EI. The analysis of rural community interviews revealed that their use of ecological infrastructure, in relation to flooding, was primarily associated with their spiritual and cultural values of ecosystems services. This strong foundational belief system promotes the regulation, provisioning and support of ecosystem services in the rural context, and is considered to be a more sustainable approach to flooding risk management. Their belief and cosmology is that, when there is any disrespect to sacred sites, which have high cultural and spiritual value, the rural communities become more susceptible to misfortunes such as flooding, droughts, and poverty. The role of EI in flood risk management in strongly reflected in the belief system and actions of rural communities in Ladysmith. In contrast, the role of EI for flood risk management in urban areas of Ladysmith has had little consideration by local government officials. In order to promote sustainable flood risk management in the context of climate change, the role of EI in flood risk management needs to be increasingly considered in urban areas


Master of Town and Regional Planning in Development Studies. University of KwaZulu-Nata. Durban 2016.


Flood damage prevention--South Africa--Ladysmith., Floodplain management--South Africa--Ladysmith., Risk assessment., Environmental risk assessment., Theses--Town and Regional Planning.