FRACTAL to make African infrastructure more resilient to climate change

,, Africa



The lack of information and research on climate change in Africa has been curtailing proper rural and urban adaptation and mitigation strategies in the continent.

As such, a new initiative, Future Resilience for African Cities and Lands (FRACTAL), was created to run under the umbrella of Programme of the Future Climate For Africa (FCFA) to fill this void.

And FRACTAL will start the City Learning Labs next year in four major cities in Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa. It will hold periodic events each year beginning in 2016 and continue through to 2019.

In an interview this week, Professor Bruce Hewitson from University of Cape Town, and head of the programme said the focus will be the cities of Lusaka (Zambia), Windhoek (Namibia), and Maputo (Mozambique) with additional activities in Cape Town and Durban (South Africa).

he City Learning Labs would help to explore the vulnerability of urban water and energy services to climate related events such as flooding, extreme temperatures and sea level rise or storm surges.

The water issue is a major problem for people in sub-Saharan Africa and remains characterised by the difficult access to this resource, the poor supply management of watering places and the high costs of water network connections.


Climate change and cities were considered important because both are under-addressed aspects in Africa. But cities are becomimg more vulnerable to climate change as the continent is rapidly becoming urbanized and there is an urgent need to understand how they are being impacted by climate change. 

In a recent research, Michel Makpenon, an engineering economic statistician said globally, Africa was urbanising at a rate of about 5 per cent, the fastest rate in the world. The urban population in Africa could rise from 138 million in 1990 to 500 million in 2020, and African cities with over 1 million inhabitants will then have to accommodate nearly 200 million people.

And regarding water, a survey conducted in 1990 in 29 sub-Saharan countries showed that eight of these countries suffered from a shortage or a scarcity of water.

FRACTAL project will be  conducted as an equal partnership between scientists and decision makers, where the "scientists have as much to learn from the decision makers, as decision makers have a need for scientific information", Prof Hewitson said.

The project is funded by UK program Future Climate For Africa (FCFA), that intends to promote the use of improved medium and long term climate information on development projects that are being designed today.

The ultimate goal of FCFA is to reduce disruption and damage from climate change and to safeguard economic development and poverty eradication efforts over the long term. In this way, according to the organization,  FCFA aims to make new African infrastructure and urban, rural plans and investments more climate resilient.



According to a FCFA report which was relaunched at COP21 in Paris, the City Learning Labs will help the research team to pinpoint how the cities will obtain their freshwater and energy in the changing climate of the future and how climate resilient investments could safeguard these services.

“Researchers will be embedded in city governments to act as sounding boards and advisors. FRACTAL will also collaborate with two additional self-funded South Africa cities,” the report said.

The process of joint exploration through City Learning Labs and secondments will set the agenda for the physical science research, ensuring that FRACTAL team produces climate information that is as tailored and relevant as possible.

As well as the primary focus on Lusaka, Maputo and Windhoek, the team will also invite stakeholders from Blantyre(Malawi), Gaborone (Botswana and Harare (Zimbabwe) to shape the research agenda.

One of the biggest scientific challenges for understanding Southern Africa’s climate is that different models give contradictory scenarios for climate trends in the next 5-40 years.

FRACTAL’s team will advance understanding of regional climate systems and consolidate messages for decision makers about regional and local climate trends.

“This is a multi-disciplinary research project in very sense and will generate more useful climate information from the local to regional level in Southern Africa than is currently available,” Prof Hewitson said.

And he added: “It is also, at heart, a capacity development project. Our plans for peer to peer learning in the city government in city governments and knowledge exchange among researchers will deepen participants’ understanding of climate change processes, impacts and climate-resilient development options”.