WIOMSA ScienceNews: Measuring coastal city resilience to inform action

In this week’s edition of WIOMSA ScienceNews, we focus on the Climate and Ocean Risk Vulnerability Index (CORVI) project and the Cities and Coasts collaboration to measure coastal city resilience in Dar es Salaam and Mombasa cities. The collaboration will provide critical data and insights for use by city and national governments as well as city planners, and financial institutions to identify and categorize risk across sectors, prioritize actions that minimize risk, and access climate investment to build resilience in Mombasa and Dar es Salaam.

 Measuring coastal city resilience to inform action: The climate and ocean risk vulnerability index (CORVI) in East Africa

By Jack Stuart and Valentine Ochanda

Africa’s coasts are becoming increasingly urban. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s report, Africa’s Urbanisation Dynamics 2020, in East Africa urbanization levels increased by 63 percent from 2000 to 2015 and coastal cities are amongst the fastest growing population centers in the region. From large port cities like Dar es Salaam and Mombasa, to the capitals of small island developing states such as Port Louis and Moroni, coastal cities are home to millions, are engines for economic prosperity and innovation, and house important social, cultural, and political institutions.

However, these cities face a myriad of climate change impacts. Coastal erosion, extreme temperatures, and more intense cyclones increase the vulnerability and risk of city residents. In addition to direct climate hazards, coastal cities face risks that originate outside the city limits. In rural coastal areas, rising sea levels and salinization harm agricultural productivity, contributing to increased migration to urban centres and food price spikes. Marine ecosystems and fisheries play a critical role in supporting the blue economy of coastal cities but the services they provide are under threat from ocean acidification and warming sea surface temperatures. This risk is compounded by city-based governance, for example, poor waste management practices.

Understanding and responding to complex climate-related risks is critical for building sustainable coastal cities. However, data and information on climate risks remain scarce. Moreover, adaptation and resilience planning are often sector-specific when a more holistic approach is needed.

In response to these challenges, the Stimson Center developed CORVI: The Climate and Ocean Risk Vulnerability Index, a decision support tool which compares a diverse range of economic, social and environmental risks, connected to climate change, to produce a coastal city risk profile. These risks are displayed across ten categories, grouped under ecological, financial and political risk. The categories are in turn made up of close to 100 indicators, covering a range of issues such as the vulnerability of infrastructure at airports and housing, the health of marine ecosystems, and urbanization dynamics. Each category and indicator are scored on a 1 to 10 scale relative to other coastal cities in a region, providing a simple reference for decision makers looking to categorize and pinpoint risk.

After successful pilot projects in Castries, Saint Lucia and Kingston, Jamaica, the Stimson Center and WIOMSA are now conducting CORVI risk assessments in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Mombasa, Kenya. The project will culminate in innovative new datasets and a risk profile for each city that can be used to help prioritize resilience actions.

Both cities face climate and ocean risks, which are interacting with economic and social vulnerabilities to degrade the security of city residents. Minimizing climate risks to critical blue economy sectors like ports, fishing and tourism, building resilient public and private infrastructure, and protecting vulnerable communities, all while maintaining and restoring nature-based defences, remains a key challenge.

By assessing these diverse issues through a holistic lens, CORVI aims to help decision makers manage this complexity and design resilient solutions. To overcome data gaps, the project combines empirical data with surveys from local experts through structured expert judgement to provide a more complete picture on how climate-related risks are impacting both cities.

The CORVI project has been presented to over 50 key stakeholders, including Mombasa County, Tanzania Vice President’s Office – Division of Environment, and the Nairobi Convention Science to Policy Forum. The risk profiles will be released in September 2021. Ultimately this project will provide critical data and insights which can be used by city and national governments in Kenya and Tanzania as well as city planners, and financial institutions to identify and categorize risk across sectors, prioritize actions that minimize risk, and access climate investment to build resilience in Mombasa and Dar es Salaam.

For more information on the CORVI project, contact : jstuart@stimson.org, v.ochanda@wiomsa.org

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