Examining governance systems and structures relevant to urban disaster displacement in Sierra Leone, Kenya and Uganda

Towards the end of 2022, country teams participating in the public sector innovation programme developed problem descriptions that would guide their examination of issues concerning climate-related displacement into or within their cities. During January, work focused on exploring more closely the governance systems and structures dimension of the FIRE framework in relation to this problem description. All teams decided to focus on flood-related displacement within informal settlements. In Kenya, a sub-group will also examine drought and the mobility of pastoralists. Work of this sub-group will be highlighted in a separate blogpost.

This blogpost highlights some of the insights that emerged around flood-related displacement, focusing on the five elements within the governance systems and structures dimension:

Rather than recounting specific observations relating to any particular country or city, some general points will be identified.

First, flood-related displacement is a feature of life for people living in informal settlements in Kampala (Uganda), Freetown (Sierra Leone), and Ruiru (in Kiambu county, part of the wider Nairobi metropolitan area, Kenya). Some of the factors that contribute to displacement include the decreased natural drainage capacity that results from urban expansion, the accumulation of solid waste that impedes the free flow of water through drainage infrastructure, and of course the exposure and vulnerability of homes in areas that are prone to flooding.

Local authorities have not developed initiatives to specifically reduce displacement risk, and more broadly disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation is at best partially integrated into town planning processes.  Infrastructure work focusing on drainage was discussed, and this would partially address exposure and vulnerability to the hazard. Work on ‘soft infrastructure’ in terms of early warning, evacuation and protection of people, including those in situations of particular vulnerability, does not seem to be prioritised. There is no mechanism for pre-identification of people in situations of particular vulnerability, and no systematic collection of disaggregated data on people displaced at the municipality level.

Interesting questions about responsibility for preventing displacement and protecting people during displacement arose in discussions. Adopting a human rights-based approach means recognizing that the state has a duty to protect people within its jurisdiction from foreseeable harm. In situations of recurrent flood-related displacement, there is a duty for the state to take appropriate risk reduction measures. However, there was a lack of clarity in some discussions concerning how responsibility was shared between national government agencies and local authorities. Further discussions will revert to the challenging issue of informal settlements, which by definition are not planned, but which nevertheless potentially bring residents within the jurisdiction of the municipal authority. As we move into Module 4 on fundamental rights and equality, we will focus more on how local authorities address the duty to respect, protect and fulfil the right to adequate housing in this context.

Planned relocation was discussed in some contexts as a way of moving people away from exposed and vulnerable settlements. However, proposed solutions often took affected people away from livelihoods and access to services, resulting in people returning to exposed informal settlements. The need for more active and meaningful participation of affected people in decisions that affect their lives was discussed in some groups, and will be explored more closely in Module 6, which focuses on the participation and access to information dimension of FIRE.

Although contexts for civil society to interface with local government were identified, the focus appears primarily to be on the emergency phase, civil society actors deliver humanitarian relief in the immediate context of displacement. Broader platforms focusing on environment and housing may provide a context for local government and civil society to discuss the issue of disaster displacement in more detail.

Capacity was also highlighted as an impediment to effectively addressing the issue of flood-related displacement within the municipalities. Even where national disaster risk management frameworks exist, they depend on authorities having sufficient human, financial and physical resources at their disposal.  Similarly, none of the municipalities has dedicated evacuation facilities, meaning people who are displaced may find shelter in schools, sports stadiums, with relatives or friends, or in the open in ad hoc shelter provided by humanitarian actors.

The accountability, transparency and access to justice element was discussed more in passing. Participants recognized the overarching principle that authorities have responsibilities to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of persons within their jurisdiction, but also discussed the complexity of progressively realising the right to adequate housing in exposed informal settlements. Clarifying roles and responsibilities for preventing displacement, protecting people during displacement, and facilitating durable solutions to displacement within governance systems and structures can provide a starting point for more concerted action to address the issue. The question of access to justice for people adversely affected by disaster displacement does not appear to have been explored closely in the municipalities.

As the course moves into Module 4 on fundamental rights and equality, the City Profiles continue to develop. The FIRE framework provides a clear structure for examining a wide range of human rights and gender equality issues relevant to disaster displacement in African cities, and the course participants are expertly placed to examine them using this City Profile format.

The completed city profiles will be launched in August 2023.

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