Brace yourself, Cape Town, this is how bad things could get
Report paints a gloomy picture of the city's present, and an even gloomier one of its future
Drought, pestilence, nuclear incidents and cyber-attacks: It sounds like a cross between the Old Testament and Mission: Impossible but it’s actually a portrait of what Cape Town should be prepared for in the 21st century.
The “shocks” and “stresses” facing the city emerge in a resilience assessment which warns that more prosaic problems, such as unemployment and traffic, also pose a threat to sustainability of daily life for the city’s four million residents.
Unemployment is listed as the most stressful aspect of life in Cape Town, topping a list of 14 stresses in the document. The report also identifies 12 shocks the city should be ready for, including one that is expected on Thursday: floods as a result of heavy rainfall.
The 76-page document is the first to emerge from a resilience office set up after Cape Town was selected to join the 100 Resilience Cities global network.
The network, which also includes Durban, aims to help cities around the world to adapt, survive and thrive no matter what acute shocks or chronic stresses they experience.
Cape Town’s preliminary resilience assessment will lead to a resilience strategy which is intended to be ready for implementation by 2019.
The report was tabled on Wednesday at a city council committee, and identifies the past as a major source of stress in the present and the future.
“A large number of Capetonians still live with the legacy of apartheid on a daily basis through chronic stresses such as high unemployment, poverty, crime and lack of availability of affordable housing,” it says.
“The spatial legacy of apartheid remains particularly severe and difficult to overcome.”The theme is amplified in the list of 14 stress factors the city faces, many of which can trace their roots to apartheid policies. The report lists them alphabetically:
"[It] impacts Cape Town in a number of ways and exacerbates the occurrence and severity of extreme weather events such as droughts, heatwaves and storms. Cape Town also has large coastal areas and low-lying residential areas that may be impacted by future sea-level rise.”
Crime and violence
“Cape Town ranks among the to 20 most violent cities in the world. Areas like Nyanga and Khayelitsha have some of the highest murder rates in the country, while the level of gang violence in the Cape Flats is a significant concern. Rape, murder and serious contact crimes are very high in the city.”
"For many poor and vulnerable Capetonians, the ability to put food on the table is a daily challenge. At the same time, in light of climate change-related shocks, ongoing food security is of crucial importance to Cape Town’s resilience.”
Inadequate public transport
“[Challenges range] from a lack of integration to poor quality, unreliability and a lack of safety.”
“A large portion of Cape Town’s population resides in informal settlements. Providing formal housing is relatively slow and there is a significant backlog, hence there is now a concerted effort [to upgrade] informal settlements. However, they continue to expand and their residents are particularly prone to the negative impacts of shock events.”
Lack of affordable housing
“Due to South Africa’s apartheid history as well as high unemployment coupled with slow economic growth, many Capetonians cannot afford to live close to work opportunities. [This] means transport and time costs are most heavily felt by less advantaged citizens.”
Lack of social cohesion
“[This] continues through the legacy of apartheid spatial planning and high income inequality, making interaction between people of different races and socio-economic classes more challenging.”
“With sustained inward migration into Cape Town, more and more people are looking for opportunities in the urban centre. This puts additional strain on the ability of people to access services, jobs and housing.”
“A large portion of Cape Town’s population live in poverty.”
“[It] continues to exist in many forms. Whether perceived or real, many black Capetonians do not feel comfortable in all spaces in the city.”
“Drug and alcohol abuse are both very prevalent in Cape Town. This is especially true in poorer residential areas and is often linked to high levels of unemployment and poverty. Drug abuse also has a direct link to crime, while alcohol abuse is linked to domestic violence.”
“Cape Town is the most congested city in Africa and ranks 48th in the world. This is exacerbated by the fact that safe and reliable public transport is not offered uniformly across the city. It can be further worsened by shock events such as rainfall flooding and storm surges.”
“Given the high rates of crime, violence and poverty ... trauma and mental health conditions are experienced by many people. There are insufficient support mechanisms in the public sector.”
“Even though Cape Town’s unemployment figure is slightly better than the national figure, when compared to global cities in developed countries it remains very high and is of significant concern.”
The last time Cape Town experienced a major earthquake was in 1809, according to the report, but because the chance of a repeat is remote it is not one of the dozen shocks listed. They are:
“As a city, our utilities are specific high-risk areas, as is the personal, individual and household-level information that the administration holds. We have an obligation to ensure maximum protection to such data and to ensure that crucial utilities are not suspended due to attack.”
“The high population densities in certain parts of the city, particularly in informal settlements, combined with high levels of poverty and acute weather events ... raise the possibility of disease outbreaks.”
“Climate change has increased the possibility of more frequent and intense drought.”
"[This threat] is most acutely experienced through informal settlement fires, which displace large portions of communities, and through wildfires in mountainous areas.”
“The direct impact of financial crises in a globalised world is most acutely experienced by the poorest segments of the population through job losses and inflation.”
“Increased instances are a distinct possibility. [The impact] on vulnerable people, particularly the elderly and young children, can be particularly severe. Multi-day heat events can results in deaths, and are a contributing factor to wildfires.”
“At the moment the most critical failures in operations are being experienced by Metrorail.”
“Ensuring the continued safety and stability of [Koeberg nuclear power station] is paramount.”
“Cape Town’s electricity supply comes almost entirely from Eskom, hence it is vulnerable to occasional operational issues faced by that utility.”
“[This] affects a large number of Capetonians living in informal settlements on an annual basis. Due to climate change, Cape Town is expected to have more frequent and intense flood events.”
“Perceived slow service delivery as well as the large degree of income inequality between Capetonians can manifest itself in unrest and protest action. These protests are usually localised but the prospect of widespread multiple-location protests is an increasing risk.”
“Being a coastal city with a 307km coastline, Cape Town is prone to extreme weather events such as storms which can manifest in coastal erosion, coastal flooding and high winds, causing damage to both manmade and natural assets.”