Urban Natural Assets for Africa: Rivers for Life

This cutting edge project is designed to support the daily challenges that local governments in Africa experience around protecting and revitalising their urban natural assets, in particular their river systems. It aims to integrate nature-based solutions into land use planning for increased resilience.

This project is funded by Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), through SwedBio at the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

UNA Rivers low res logo
Map updated

Oval 377 Created with Sketch Beta. Project cities

Oval 377 Created with Sketch Beta. Project details

UNA Rivers aims to:

Mainstream biodiversity and nature-based solutions into land use planning and decision-making processes

Increase awareness of ecosystem services through capacity building

Mobilise project activities through alignment with international policies and processes (such as the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the Sustainable Development Goals)

Improve co-ordination between key stakeholders to work together towards integrating biodiversity into land use planning

Connect local communities with nature to encourage appreciation, cultural activation and enhance human well-being

Implement community-based projects along urban river systems to improve river restoration and revitalisation, and improve human well-being and livelihood creation

All project activities intent to transform the city landscape. The project aims to play a role in the process of transformation by effectively challenging dynamics that created the challenges in the first place. This project places emphasis on ensuring effective processes for sustainable change as well as on producing tangible products.

Oval 377 Created with Sketch Beta. Case study series

Mainstreaming biodiversity into African cities land use planning

The role of bats as biodiversity indicator species in sustainable, biodiversity-friendly urban planning

More case studies to follow.

Oval 377 Created with Sketch Beta. Overarching outputs & activities

THRIVE is a mobile application that provides step-by-step guidance on how to implement 60 nature-based solutions for the protection and sustainable use of natural assets in sub-Saharan African city regions. The solutions can be used either by an individual or a community. The guidelines are divided into 6 themes:

  • Restoring soil
  • Saving water
  • Rehabilitating green spaces
  • Producing food gardens,
  • Sustainable cooking and energy
  • Preventing disease and disaster.

In order for African cities to deal with the growing urban crisis and effectively protect and bring nature back into cities, it is essential that a new way of thinking about planning and approach to dealing with development is mainstreamed. The UNA programme prioritises capacity building, exposure and interrogation of alternative approaches to planning that better suit the African context. In this way, supporting the improved integration of nature into decision making. A poster and supporting booklet is being designed to support this work.

A unique approach to addressing the current challenges within their unique African context is ‘urban tinkering’. Urban tinkering, sharing a similar approach to that of the systems thinking approach, is an innovative and inclusive approach to urban design and planning that seeks to transform the use of existing urban elements in a way that shifts or diversifies their functions. Put simply, urban tinkering works with what is already on the ground, servicing the area through building on what already exists. The UNA programme supports capacity building, training as well as local in the ground action/implementation that use this principle. A paper was developed to outline this concept (link to the paper). A poster and video are currently being produced as part of this project.

A core element of effectively aligning the project activities to city needs as well as ensuring opportunities are identified for sustainable change is understanding the decision making processes and institutional arrangements. Effectively understanding these structures is a benefit of deep scaling and a reflective planning process that the project prioritises. Through ICLEI Africa’s ongoing work, ICLEI has established a working methodology for understanding and engaging with formal and informal governance structures in cities.

Creating spaces that initiate conversations which challenge stakeholders, that allow space for reflection, and to think about new ways to address old challenges are all important to creating change. These spaces allow one to learn from others, learn how to learn and learn how to do things differently. Transformative spaces allow for the development of tension areas, building confidence, promoting systems thinking and allowing participants to connect with others across disciplines and across governance levels. All these elements are crucial in achieving change that is sustainable and compelling. Transformative spaces need to be intently designed and curated with care. The cutting-edge method of the UNA Rivers project is leading in designing and developing these spaces.

Effectively including the need for greater community engagement in planning processes from the outset of projects is well-known. However, this requires recognition and a new culture of fostering such engagement by city officials themselves. The UNA Rivers project experiments with multiple innovative and cutting-edge ways of engaging with community members (see the individual city pages).

For effective mainstreaming of urban natural assets in planning and decision making, activities need to prioritise and support processes and activities that shift mindsets and behaviour from planning cities for biodiversity to using biodiversity as a tool for city planning. The UNA programme is making this distinction effectively, phrasing these approaches as planning for and planning with nature.

This handbook provides a selection of key considerations and lessons that should be considered when designing and implementing nature-based planning projects in Africa. Each consideration is supported by a relevant case study.

The Sustainable River Based Urban Planning for Sub-Saharan Africa: Guidelines document addresses the fundamental questions of HOW and WHY to plan for rivers in African cities. The target audience for these guidelines is those working within the urban planning and environmental sectors in sub-Saharan African city regions. The guidelines present a range of principles, strategies and tools to better design for rivers and riversides.

The Sustainable River Based Urban Planning for Sub-Saharan Africa: Case Studies document compliments the Sustainable River Based Urban Planning Guidelines by providing real-world examples of successful river rehabilitation projects enacted in city regions, as well as the methodologies used and lessons learnt from these initiatives.

Project profiling at international and national events

  • Presentation on the UNA Rivers project during a parallel conference session.
  • Two events presenting the THRIVE mobile application and the UNA Rivers project were held in the Habitat III exhibition halls.

The lessons learnt and main achievements of the UNA Rivers project were presented in a parallel sub-plenary.

  • UNA Rivers and the THRIVE mobile application was profiled at the 5th Global Biodiversity Summit of Cities & Subnational Governments, in relation to how biodiversity can be mainstreamed into city planning.
  • A presentation on UNA Rivers and introduction to the THRIVE App was given at a side event to the Global Youth Biodiversity Network.
  • Profiled UNA Rivers at the event through presentations.
  • Facilitated the attendance of project cities for city-to-city learning as well as capacity building.
  • Organised a mini workshop session in order to co-design and co-produce the Sustainable River-Based Urban Planning Guideline Document.
  • Showcased UNA Rivers through running a core session during the colloquium.
  • Engaged with the Guidance for Resilience in the Anthropocene: Investments for development (GRAID) programme to explore synergies and opportunities for UNA Rivers.
  • Showcased UNA Rivers through running a core session during the symposium.
  • Facilitated the attendance of project cities for city-to-city learning as well as capacity building
  • Showcased UNA Rivers project to better align activities with TURP.
  • UNA Rivers promoted at these two international events via appropriate printed material, session inputs and one-on-one meetings.

Project cities (Lilongwe, Entebbe and Dar es Salaam were provided with the opportunity to attend and presented on a panel (in plenary)

The UNA programme was profiled numerous times during the COP and Summit. A side event, titled “Lessons and perspectives from subnational and local projects and actions to mainstream nature-based solutions in cities and city-regions” was co-hosted with SwedBio.

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