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A water sensitive urban design framework for South Africa

Lloyd Fisher-Jeffes
Kirsty Carden
Neil Armitage


South Africa (RSA) is a ‘developing country’ still facing the challenge of providing basic water services to a significant proportion of the population. Water security is increasingly a matter of major concern, with most of the surface water resources fully accounted for and poor water quality downstream of urban areas. Whereas service delivery and social upliftment are high on the political agenda, the challenge is to promote economic and social equity, whilst simultaneously ensuring environmental sustainability; this challenge is greatest in the rapidly growing urban areas. Alternative approaches to conventional urban water management, which account for these water-supply and -quality constraints as well as the impacts of extreme weather-related events, are thus required. It is postulated that, from a water-management perspective, this will require strategic planning for the wide-scale implementation of Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) – a systems-based approach that focuses on the interactions between the built form and water-resources management. This article describes a way forward for an integrated management (infrastructure and planning) approach for urban water. It defines what ‘water sensitivity’ might mean in the RSA context, and outlines the process that was followed to develop a framework and guidelines for implementing WSUD in South Africa. The four complementary components of the framework – research, vision, narrative, and implementation – highlight what will be required in order to manage the challenges facing the country’s urban water sector and enable the transition towards water sensitivity.

Keywords: Developing countries, water framework, water sensitive cities, water sensitive urban design