Waterways to Resilience: Nature-based Solutions are critical to adaptation in Africa

Posted on 16 November 2022

WWF, AB InBev and AfDB report outlines how NbS can help tackle the continent’s water challenges
Across Africa, water challenges are turning into crises. News reports are full of stories of historic floods, devastating droughts, changing rainfall patterns, and coastal cities and communities at growing risk from storms. All of these will be exacerbated by climate change over coming decades – a period in which the continent’s population is expected to increase by another billion people.

Addressing these challenges and accelerating adaptation to climate change will require a range of solutions, including – as a report from WWF, the African Development Bank (AfDB), and AB InBev, the world’s largest brewer, makes clear – investment across the continent in Nature-based Solutions (NbS).

Launched during COP27, Waterways to Resilience shows how NbS – initiatives that use ecosystems to address societal challenges, delivering benefits to people and biodiversity alike – can play a significant role in efforts to boost adaptation. Indeed, NbS represent a vital hope for Africa’s future, particularly large-scale initiatives that will help build resilience at a river basin or landscape level.

“Collectively, these rising risks – and drumbeat of reports and stories of disaster – make it seem as if the forces of nature are increasingly arrayed against our homes, businesses and economies. But the world can also harness the power of nature to help build resilience and defend us against these risks,” said Jeff Opperman, WWF Global Lead Freshwater Scientist and lead author of the report. “By investing in Nature-based Solutions, the countries and people of Africa can get nature on their side in their efforts to tackle worsening water challenges.”

With interest in NbS increasing, the report focuses on the evidence, both from Africa and globally, on their ability to effectively address five key water challenges – water scarcity, degradation of water quality, flood risk, stormwater and urban floods, and coastal erosion and floods.

The report found that the evidence for the effectiveness and potential for NbS to help address some of the water challenges facing communities, companies and countries across Africa – and help build climate resilience – are compelling.

This evidence base – as well as research into case studies of NbS application in Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa and Zambia – offers some key findings and insights about NbS and water management, which that can help guide decision makers on the continent, including:
  • Native forests can increase flows during dry seasons;
  • Planting of non-native forests can negatively impact water availability;
  • In Africa, removal of non-native trees consistently resulted in greater water production from a watershed;
  • Forests can improve water quality and reduce flood risk;
  • Floodplains can reduce flood risk and regulate flows across wet and dry seasons;
  • Wetlands can provide comprehensive improvement in water quality; and
  • Mangroves and other coastal ecosystems play an important role in coastal protection.
It is clear that NbS have considerable potential to contribute to managing water challenges in Africa, which is why they are a central pillar of WWF's Blue Heart of Africa initiative.

However, funding and implementation of NbS programmes and projects lags far behind, both in Africa and globally, even though these programmes are likely to deliver a high return on investment – and even though they can also contribute to climate mitigation, green job creation and bending the biodiversity curve by enhancing the health of rivers, lakes, and wetlands.

The report highlights how everyone involved in the climate and water worlds has a responsibility to ensure that NbS and improved water resources management are central to efforts to mitigate climate impacts – and calls on everyone to act.

Policy makers should:
  • Promote NbS alongside more sustainable and resilient ‘grey’ infrastructure to tackle water challenges and reduce vulnerability to climate change as well as increase the health and resilience of the continent’s rivers, lakes and wetlands;
  • Invest in adaptive institutional capacity and enabling frameworks for successful and sustainable implementation and management of NbS efforts;
  • Ensure budgets include sufficient funding to implement NbS at a scale that can have meaningful, lasting impact on Africa’s watersheds and water resources, and increase financing for water resource management and climate adaptation overall; and
  • Call for equal investment in mitigation and adaptation, following the leadership of the African Development Bank, and for a larger portion to fund NbS.
Private sector companies should:
  • Understand their water impacts and risks and engage in water stewardship efforts focused on measurable impact in watershed health.
  • Promote NbS as a critical part of the solution to shared water challenges facing businesses, communities and economies, and incorporate NbS into their water stewardship strategies, where relevant.
  • Use their influence and scale to catalyse collective action on NbS by engaging in platforms that allow different companies and organizations from across industries and sectors to work together at basin or landscape scales to address shared water risks and have measurable impact.
Financial institutions should:
  • Develop a strong understanding of water risk and financial value, including the opportunities that exist to create value. Engage with existing efforts and start to create offerings that finance NbS.
  • Invest in NbS as an opportunity to both create value and mitigate risks to assets and investments by engaging with existing efforts and mechanisms to fund NbS and creating new offerings and innovative channels for financing NbS
  • Implement and support policies that lay the foundation for credible green investments since an enabling environment is critical to support the necessary expansion in funding for NbS.
As the report makes clear, together we can accelerate adaptation through NbS. There is no time to waste
Healthy rivers, lakes and wetlands are central to climate adaptation and resilience
© Jasper Doest / WWF
Waterways to Resilience report
© WWF
Nature-based Solutions can help to secure water and food security
© WWF / Simon Rawles
Along with benefiting people, Nature-based Solutions can also help reverse nature loss
© Micael Poliza WWF selous