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Capetown 246How resilient is your town?

From an article by Apolitical

In the space of just four years, Cape Town, South Africa has endured a severe, once-every-three-centuries drought, and a global pandemic. Both events have sent deep shockwaves through the city’s healthcare system and wider economy.

For one city to absorb two major shocks in such quick succession is uncommon, not to mention unfortunate. And yet, strangely, absorbing the second shock has been helped by the first, not just in terms of civic fortitude, but in the actual methodologies applied by the metropolitan government in its response.

Following the drought in Cape Town, the city council approved the Cape Town Resilience Strategy. The strategy actively considered lessons from the drought and broke these down into priorities for building better resilience to future shocks. That list did not include a pandemic. Still, that didn’t matter. The strategy placed heavy emphasis on the general capabilities and skills that contribute to building resilience, including reflective learning, adaptive management, systems thinking and scenario planning. The City of Cape Town had, in effect, already a broad framework with which to mount its Covid-19 response.

Of course, the pandemic will be with us all for some time yet. It is likely responses to it will continue to evolve as time moves on, particularly as national and local vaccination programmes gather pace. For now though, here are four approaches that have so far been used effectively in Cape Town's response:

1. Think about risk in a dynamic way
Quite early on in 2020 it was apparent that the pandemic was multi-faceted. There was no linear trajectory — transmission of the virus would peak and dip — and the public health response required to suppress it would have unavoidable major economic consequences. The metropolitan government not only had to provide additional resources to support various responses, but also to ensure the continuity of core services, such as energy, water and solid waste management. There was also the overall financial sustainability of the municipality, a problem in such uncertain economic territory.

In order to monitor such a wide range of risks, they built a conceptual model based on four interdependent systems essential to the response: the health system, the disaster system, the essential services system, and the corporate operations system. Each system is represented by a clock face, which is cycled through phases of risk, based on a range of indicators. This allowed decision-makers a single overview of how stresses brought on by the pandemic were manifesting in the municipality, and the degree to which components of their response were functioning.

2. Develop data products to inform decision-making
During the drought, they tracked dam levels and developed forecasts of those levels against which to trigger responses, such as new building projects or stricter restrictions on water consumption. For the pandemic, they similarly tracked and forecasted fatality numbers to decide exactly when to trigger various stages of the contingency plan. This plan provided for resources beyond the regular capacity of the municipality. It ensured redundancy was achieved while minimising the risk of overinvestment in resources that wouldn’t be needed.

They also constructed a bespoke ‘vulnerability viewer’, overlaid with active infection case data, which allowed them to identify thousands of risk areas, including public transport interchanges, shopping centres, highly dense informal settlements, elderly care homes, and pension pay-out points. This product was used to direct scarce resources, such as the disaster volunteer corps to enforce social distancing in congregate settings, within areas that posed a hazard so as to keep service delivery smooth and safe.

3. Invest in project execution skills
Both the drought and the pandemic required the development and execution of a portfolio of responses. In a period of just eight weeks they were able to build 39 additional clinic facilities linked to existing clinics across the city, either through new structures or by retrofitting community facilities. This critical project allowed for safe social distancing across the clinic network as it decongested existing clinics, and meant the city’s health service not only responded to Covid-19 requirements, but ensured it could continue to better deliver on its core primary health care service as well.

4. Use behavioural insights to improve outcomes
The drought and pandemic responses were similar in one very particular way. Both required sections of government to join hands with citizens, and citizens with one another, in order to achieve a desired outcome. For the drought, it was driving down water consumption to extend the dams storage. For the pandemic, it was “flattening the curve”. Both shock events required citizens to not only act in their own interests but in the interests of their neighbours and families.

With the help of behavioural economists, they developed a digital map during the drought that revealed publicly whether individual households were meeting their water consumption goals or not. This was achieved all the while observing strict data privacy provisions. Meanwhile, their “For the love of” campaign made use of compelling images of our city’s elders, religious leaders, teachers, NGO and essential workers, to make the case for collective action.

Read the full article here.

Has your town developed a Resilience Strategy? Could you help it do so?

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From an article by Apolitical, 18/05/2021

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