Creating Sustainable Solutions to Waste Management, Natural Disasters, and Invasive Species Outbreaks through EPIC Partnership in Durban


Alexandra Skinner


Sean O’Donoghue


eThekwini Municipality
Community Size
University of KwaZulu Natal
In Progress
Case Type
Project Stories
School Size
Focus Areas
Climate Change Adaptation, disaster management, Sustainability, Waste Management
Sustainable Development Goals
11 Sustainable Cities and Communities, 13 Climate Action, 17 Partnerships for the Goals, 3 Good Health and Well-Being, 6 Clean Water and Sanitation

Many African cities are currently struggling to deal with issues such as resource scarcity, waste management, and environmental sustainability[SA1] [SO2] , all of which are likely to be worsened by climate change. EThekwini Municipality, more commonly known as Durban, in South Africa is no different. The population of Durban in the province of KwaZulu-Natal is growing rapidly. Unfortunately, the city is not built for this large population and cannot keep up with the housing demands of its residents. Due to the lack of available housing and rapid urbanization, residents have been forming informal settlements and communities often in areas extremely vulnerable to natural disasters such as high flooding and disastrous storms. These communities are often filled with low-income, impoverished individuals who struggle to find jobs and access to quality food sources.  Typically, informal settlements form in areas where potential jobs are within walkable distances, but here land is very scarce, with only highly vulnerable land being vacant, hence the dangerous locations frequently associated with informal settlements.

Durban also struggles to maintain solid waste management service levels, particularly around informal settlements (which are un-rated) and maintaining drainage systems, including natural systems which are frequently overrun with alien invasive plant species and solid waste, impeding drainage, especially around culverts and low lying bridges, which greatly increases risks when storms occur. Climate change is intensifying rainfall events, which is compounding the damage being observed in drainage systems and waterways that are not adequately maintained. Invasive species also take up resources and smother the growth of native plants, further impacting the ecological functioning of ecosystems within this global biodiversity hotspot. Climate change is also a major contributor to the vulnerability of these urban communities increasing the frequency that dangerous storms occur. This has led to many areas left without shelter with one recent flood event in April 2022 in Durban killing over 450 people.  There has been a noticeable increase in the number of high intensity, highly localized storms in the City, with at least three such events occurring since the April 2022 floods.

To tackle these issues, the eThekwini Municipality is collaborating on an EPIC Durban project in partnership with the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) and the Quarry Road West Informal Settlement community to create sustainable solutions to protect citizens from these growing concerns. Together, these three entities are looking to use community- ecosystem-based adaptation (CEBA) to strengthen the adaptive capacities of vulnerable communities and ecosystems targeting those affected by climate change, poverty, and food insecurity. To support this effort, students from UKZN will educate community members on the dangers of alien invasive species and waste in water catchment areas. The goal of this educational campaign is to provide citizens with information on how to maintain a healthy ecosystem and why this is of benefit to them.  

University students will also work with local community environmental ambassadors, called Enviro Champs who are already removing invasive species. Students will look to identify areas to be used as designated waste collection points to keep further trash from spreading into rivers and other waterways. Enviro Champs will continue clearing illegal dumping sites and provide waste bins in these areas to avoid pollution ending up in rivers. With these areas cleared, students will be able to implement ecosystem-based adaptation measures, such as creating new spaces for a community garden to supply food for community members while also providing protection against erosion and flooding. To maximize this outreach effort, students will attempt to expand the settlement WhatsApp group and the Durban Forecast Early Warning System (FEWS) so more citizens can be alerted when dangerous weather conditions are occurring. During the April 2022 floods, no lives were lost to flooding in this settlement due to the efficacy of the early warning system developed for this community over the past five years.

The culmination of the educational campaign, ecological restoration, and expansion of the forecast alert system will aid in the management of the waste crisis in Durban and create a safer living environment for citizens. Using the EPIC model as a guide, the informal settlements in Durban will be a more sustainable and safer place to live due to the efforts made by this project.

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