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The ‘Rivers and People Plan’

A Strategic, Participatory, and Collaborative Approach to Planning for Urban Rivers and Water Management

by Pascal Mukanga

Rivers are essential social and ecological blue-green networks and critical to sustainable and climate-friendly development of cities. As habitats of flora and fauna, rivers and their development provide opportunities to achieve and improve the sustainability of cities, as well as balance social, economic and ecological needs of cities.

Due to the harmful effects of rapid urbanisation, the health of rivers in many cities is severely choked, leading to a decline in their biodiversity, life and quality of flora and fauna, soil and water quality, and their attractiveness to people.

For instance, in Nairobi a stretch of one of the city’s biggest rivers, the Ngong River, flows through the Mukuru informal settlements where the river is said to be most polluted. Untreated sewage, liquid and industrial waste are directly discharged into the Ngong River. Solid waste from industries and households is also dumped into the river.

At the same time, encroachment and settlement within the river’s floodplain have put many households in Mukuru at risk of flooding. Vulnerability to these risks is exacerbated by the unprecedented impacts of climate change, coupled with limited adaptive capacities of residents.

As a remedial response to this complex water management nexus, and to mediate relationships between urban rivers and people, as well as inadequate water and waste management infrastructure in cities, KDI, together with residents are co-developing what KDI refers to as a Rivers and People Plan for a section of the Ngong River in Mukuru informal settlements.

The Rivers and People Plan is a blue-green infrastructure master plan, co-developed through an evidence-based and participatory process. It is an alternative planning approach to haphazard removal of people living in river riparian reserves. It emphasises strategically working with people living along rivers and other waterways to co-develop blue-green infrastructure solutions at a local scale.

Since development of rivers takes time, starting small and linking efforts into a long term vision is worthwhile. While locally-focused, through the Rivers and People Plan, we place future developments within the context of large municipal planning and infrastructure investments. This includes linking to large-scale settlement- and city-wide infrastructure and development initiatives, as well as influencing integration of the plan in city and national level government planning.

We also place future developments within a technical understanding of the hydrological and ecological functions of the river at the watershed scale.

So far, a city, settlement and neighbourhood scale desk analysis of the Ngong River basin, and participatory community mapping of environmental, water management and river aspects have been done in Mukuru under the Rivers and People Plan. Visioning has also been done with residents to co-develop a vision for their neighbourhood.

KDI, together with CCI, are also implementing a similar process in the informal settlement of Mji Mpya in Vingunguti, Dar es Salaam.

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