Tackling climate change and COVID-19 at the local level in Africa

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically affected the work of national, regional, and local governments. Many countries around the world have imposed lockdowns and physical distancing measures while preparing massive economic relief packages.

In several places in Africa, however, hand washing alone has been a critical challenge. Shortages of water, soap, nutritious food, and hospital equipment have all added to the huge challenges that national and local governments in Africa have to deal with.

So, how is it possible to continue climate action efforts in this context?

To support African local governments navigate some of the critical issues they face and help them respond swiftly, ICLEI Africa and the Covenant of Mayors in Sub-Saharan Africa joined forces and created a collection of resources specifically tailored for African cities.

With more than 200 curated entries, this resource inventory includes best practices, training, policy briefs, and articles from around the world that have been customized to support African local governments and are provided in local languages.

The resources were packaged into eight main themes and complemented a series of webinar training scheduled between June and September 2020. Here are some highlights and resources from these main themes.

Adaptation finance is partially there, but scalable solutions and bankable projects remain a challenge
Cities in Africa are among the most vulnerable to climate risks in the world, and for them to become more climate-resilient, a significant amount of funding is required to enable climate change adaptation.

However, not only does just 4 percent of global climate finance flow to the African continent, but only a fraction of that reaches the city-level, mostly for climate change mitigation projects.

Additionally, city officials grapple to understand specific financial terminology and contracts, which further hinders their ability to propose financially attractive and bankable projects.

Potential solutions vary from translating contracts into more comprehensible texts to financial training for public officials, but according to Mayor Mohamed Sefianiof Chefchaouen, Morocco, international city networks are the key: they can, in fact, support local governments with knowledge exchange, training with peers, and connections to initiatives that ease access to finance for cities.

For instance, the Transformative Action Program (TAP) is a partnership initiative to improve the bankability of local and regional governments’ projects through specific and customized tools and services, as well as connecting them to project preparation facilities and financial institutions.

Since 2015, through the support of the TAP, 26 local climate projects have been successfully financed and implemented, more than 50 have been connected to financial institutions, and 66 are now in the TAP pipeline with an estimated investment volume of €2.5 billion.

Read also GM crops could support food security in Africa, new study suggests

Sustainable and nutritious food
Urban growth in Africa has been driving demand for food production and increasingly long supply chains, yet, despite the availability of food, many urban citizens are lacking nourishing food.

In many African countries, the competencies of food production and supply typically lie in national or regional mandates, leaving cities without the necessary powers to manage or resources to invest in improving their local food systems and addressing related sustainability issues.

COVID-19 has worsened the situation, disrupting Africa’s food systems while highlighting the many structural and deeply connected challenges that underpin urban food systems.

However, where strong multi-level governance exists around food, effective food programs have been established and implemented. Improving food systems can lead to wider socio-economic benefits for society, especially in the African context.

Read also Women in Agriculture: My experience shows youth need not waste time looking for jobs – Farmer

This has been reflected in the #AfricanCITYFOODmonth, a social media campaign taking place in July whereby city leaders, food system stakeholders, and urban residents could share insight, learning opportunities, and successful initiatives.

In the words of ICLEI Africa’s regional Director Kobie Brand, “food demonstrates the most powerful interlinkages between our cities, our environment, our health and wellbeing, our nature and our climate, and offers vast potential for improving equity and sustainability on our planet.”

Read also Inspiring the youth towards smart farming through small-scale irrigation

The importance of gender equality in a time of crisis
In times of public health crisis, African women are often on the front lines as they make up the main share of health and social care workers in the continent, and this is no exception with the COVID-19 pandemic.

As African cities deal with the pandemic and develop plans for effective response and recovery towards a trajectory of building back better, leaders at all levels of governance are being called upon to do so with an explicit gender lens.

Read also African women in agriculture suffer disproportionately in COVID-19 pandemic

Through webinars, online training, and virtual events, experts and city leaders have fast-forwarded ways on how to move from theory to action, through mainstreaming gender into city planning, identifying African-specific needs and recommendations to further strengthen the role of women.

In other words, the main takeaway of all discussions and resources has been a recurrent one: reposition women beyond ‘vulnerable and beneficiaries’ of climate actions; rather rightfully recognize them as agents of change and drivers of solutions.

Read also Dwarf hybrid coconut farming for climate resilience and livelihood security

Effective communication on climate change and pandemics’ responses
Communicating with citizens about climate change tends to be a cumbersome exercise for many national and subnational governments: which platforms work best, what are the characteristics of the target audience, and how to translate complex or technical information into accessible terms.

In a continent where many cultures and languages coexist with different value systems and levels of education, meeting the diverse needs of decision-makers seeking to address climate change is a formidable challenge; adding a global pandemic on top does not help.

Read also Rural women must be at the heart of COVID-19 response and recovery

Yet, many African city leaders and officials have quickly adapted to new kinds of communication techniques and new models for engagement.

From phone texts and viral social media songs to virtual events and webinars, decision-makers have been able to build on the strength of existing methods but also pioneer new models for information dissemination, knowledge generation, and collaboration.

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