New CAD29m to address urban heat, flash floods, others in three sub-Saharan African cities


A new 3-year project will reduce climate-fuelled flood risks and enhance the resilience of approximately 2.2 million people in three sub-Saharan African cities while promoting gender equality and social inclusion and strengthening biodiversity protection.

The Scaling Urban Nature-Based Solutions for Climate Adaptation in Sub-Saharan Africa (SUNCASA) project will undertake watershed restoration and adaptation actions in Dire Dawa (Ethiopia), Kigali (Rwanda), and Johannesburg (South Africa). Jointly managed by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the World Resources Institute (WRI)—and guided and implemented by a wide array of local partners, policy-makers, and stakeholders—SUNCASA will directly benefit approximately 2.2 million people in high-flood-risk areas, while indirectly benefiting an estimated 7 million residents in these cities. The project is funded by Global Affairs Canada through the Partnering for Climate Program. Approximately CAD 29 million will be invested in the three cities until 2026.

Specific actions were identified through multiple rounds of engagements with key stakeholders in each of the three cities. Through the City Water Resilience Approach, stakeholders worked collaboratively to develop high-impact solutions to critical resilience challenges. These include: catchment restoration in the Dechatu River in Dire Dawa for flood risk reduction and water stress mitigation, and urban tree planting and green space development to alleviate the heat island effect in lower-income neighbourhoods;  restoration of six critical upstream micro-catchments of the lower Nyabarongo River watershed in Kigali to reduce downstream floods and landslides risks; removal of alien invasive species, afforestation, reforestation, and riverbank restoration in the Johannesburg Jukskei River catchments to reduce flood risk and increase water quality.

Challenges in Dire Dawa: Flash floods continue to pose a significant risk to Dire Dawa’s residents, while catchment degradation has affected water security and the livelihoods of vulnerable communities. In Dire Dawa, SUNCASA will work with women farmers and local small and medium-sized enterprises to rehabilitate the Dechatu Catchment through a combination of reforestation and agroforestry, helping to address water stress and enhance the economic resilience of the most vulnerable. The project will also aim to reduce stormwater runoff and heat within the city through tree-planting campaigns that target low-income neighbourhoods.

Challenges in Johannesburg: Invasive species in wetlands and river systems threaten the water security of the City of Johannesburg, increasing flood risk and impacting biodiversity. The SUNCASA project will work with local communities along the Jukskei River Catchment to remove alien invasive species clogging waterways, helping to reduce flood risk by rehabilitating riverbanks. The project will directly support 14 local cooperatives, expanding employment opportunities and ensuring women and youth leadership in ecosystem conservation.

Challenges in Kigali: Climate change and urban expansion are increasing the impact of flood events and landslides in Kigali. The SUNCASA project will support local farmers and women-led cooperatives in rehabilitating the Kigali sub-catchment, reducing flood risks in densely populated urban areas. Restoration efforts will prioritize the protection of agricultural lands and the expansion of urban forest cover, reducing soil loss, improving agricultural productivity, and boosting air quality.

By choosing actions that reinforce or restore natural solutions for managing water—and by selecting projects that engage and strongly benefit women and vulnerable communities in these cities—the SUNCASA project will demonstrate the “triple win” possible for climate, society, and biodiversity with gender-responsive nature-based solutions.

H.E. Kedir Juhar, Mayor of Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, said: “As Mayor of the Dire Dawa Administration, it is my priority to rally political support for solutions that help our administration address citizens’ vulnerability to climate change-related disasters, like rapid onset floods. The Dire Dawa Administration welcomes the recent announcement from Global Affairs Canada regarding new funding to support locally led nature-based solutions for the rehabilitation of the Awash River Basin’s Eastern Catchment. This investment means more women and youth at the forefront of our climate adaptation measures, helping to boost water security not only in Dire Dawa but in our neighbouring cities as well.”

Lord Mayor Samuel Dusengiyumva, Mayor of Kigali, Rwanda, added: “The City of Kigali welcomes the recent commitment from the Government of Canada to support the city’s green aspirations with the resources needed to increase its climate resilience through nature-based solutions for watershed restoration targeting urban high-risk areas. We look forward to advancing this work with our partners, in alignment with Kigali’s ambitious green development goals, and strengthening communities against climate impacts.”

Kabelo Gwamanda, Mayor of Johannesburg, South Africa, said:  “Flood protection is a critical aspect of the City of Johannesburg’s Water Security Strategy. Exacerbated by climate change and urbanization, flooding poses a significant risk to lives, livelihoods, and infrastructure, causing devastation and disruption on a massive scale. Through the protection and restoration of ecosystems, we can address flood risk across the city while enhancing water quality, preserving critical habitats, and safeguarding ecological integrity for generations to come. This is where the SUNCASA project comes into play, as it will implement the nature-based solutions outlined in our strategy.”

Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s Minister of International Development, said: “Canada is proud to continuously partner with IISD, a Canadian organization that leads the charge for sustainable development around the world. Together, we are pleased to support the cities of Johannesburg, Dire Dawa, and Kigali in advancing their climate change adaptation, biodiversity conservation, and livelihood priorities through gender-responsive nature-based solutions. As part of Canada’s CAD 5.3 billion Climate Finance commitment (2021–2026), Partnering for Climate supports projects that use nature-based solutions to help communities and people in sub-Saharan Africa become more resilient to the impacts of climate change.”

Patricia Fuller, CEO and President, IISD, added: “Despite their wide-ranging benefits for people and the planet, nature-based solutions are not being scaled up enough to fulfill their potential. SUNCASA is a tremendous opportunity to advance this cause. IISD is pleased to be applying our experience with nature-based solutions to the management of this project in partnership with WRI, and we look forward to working with our wide array of local partners to implement it for the benefit of communities and ecosystems in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Ani Dasgupta, President and CEO, World Resources Institute, said: “Africa’s cities are the fastest growing in the world. Yet half of these urban residents are living in informal settlements and are dangerously threatened by climate risks from droughts, floods, and extreme heat. To address these challenges, we must harness the power of nature—trees and other forms of “green infrastructure” that can clean and cool the air, build flood resilience, and improve people’s health and well-being. Canada’s Partnering for Climate Initiative will allow IISD and WRI to work with cities across the continent to mobilize political support, deliver technical assistance, and unlock finance, effectively streamlining the process to scale up nature-based solutions to support vulnerable communities.”

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is an award-winning independent think tank working to accelerate solutions for a stable climate, sustainable resource management, and fair economies. Our work inspires better decisions and sparks meaningful action to help people and the planet thrive. We shine a light on what can be achieved when governments, businesses, non-profits, and communities come together. IISD’s staff of more than 250 experts come from across the globe and from many disciplines. With offices in Winnipeg, Geneva, Ottawa, and Toronto, our work affects lives in nearly 100 countries.

Founded in 1982, the World Resources Institute (WRI) is an independent, nonprofit global research organization that turns big ideas into action at the nexus of environment, economic opportunity, and human well-being. We are working to address seven critical challenges that the world must overcome this decade to secure a sustainable future for people and the planet: climate change, energy, food, forests, water, sustainable cities, and the ocean. WRI has a global staff of over 1,800 people with work spanning 60 countries. We have offices in Africa, Brazil, China, Europe, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Colombia, and the United States, as well as a growing presence in other countries and regions.