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The World Bank estimates that climate change could push 86 million Africans to migrate within their countries by 2050 – and the April 2022 floods in Kwazulu-Natal that caused 450 deaths and damaged infrastructure and thousands of homes highlighted the vulnerability of displaced people. To address the needs of migrants and those affected by events like the KZN floods, the Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees (GCF) has promised a new $1.2 million funding commitment to provide financial and technical support to six African cities. eThekwini (Durban) has been selected as one of them. The fund was launched by C40 Cities and the Mayors Migration Council, a global network of mayors who are taking action to confront the climate crisis, backed by the Ikea Foundation. Samer Saliba, the head of practice on the Mayors Migration Council, told BizNews that eThekwini is the second South African city to receive funds, Johannesburg being one of the previous recipients. Saliba said the Council made “sure that the money is actually going directly into the accounts of city governments. There’s no in-between from the national government or from third parties who are receiving this money and then channelling it down.”
Excerpts from the interview with Samer Saliba
Climate change threatens to displace up to a billion people around the world by 2050
There’s a lot of talk about displacement in terms of conflict, but climate change and climate crises actually threaten to move, I think, up to a billion people around the world by 2050 and many of those movements will be on the African continent. At the Mayors Migration Council, we have what’s called the Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees, which started as a modest $1 million fund tied to the pandemic, but has now really grown into a nearly $8 million fund that benefits over 22 city governments around the world and counting on various issues. And we now have a new chapter focused on inclusive climate action and really helping cities, specifically African cities in this case, driving resources and creating more inclusive responses to the climate crisis in a way that directly involves and benefits migrants, refugee communities and internally displaced communities in Johannesburg and eThekwini in South Africa.
Why Johannesburg and eThekwini were chosen for funding
Johannesburg actually just started their project and eThekwini we’re happy to announce just on the back of Johannesburg. So, we now have 11 cities focused on inclusive climate action projects all on the African continent, and two of those cities are Johannesburg and eThekwini
I think the recent flooding not only this year but in previous years in eThekwini really drove home the need for a more inclusive response because tragically, many people lost their lives in the most recent flood. Many of them were newcomers to the city or people who are otherwise marginalised and unfamiliar about how to access resources, how to be more aware of what to do in such a situation. And so we are really excited about the eThekwini project, which is really centred on, let me just simply say, providing information and knowing who the most marginalised in the city are, through what is going to be called the CARE portal in the city. We’re very happy to work with Mayor Kaunda and his team on establishing this CARE portal so that all marginalised residents, including migrants and internally displaced people in eThekwini can be more prepared for future flooding disasters, as well as receive the support they need in response to future climate disasters.
“Recent floods in eThekwini have highlighted the need to provide for our migrant and refugee residents who remain undocumented and out of our reach. It is an issue that drives homelessness and erodes these communities’ connection to basic services like health care and emergency response. Financial resources from the Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees will be critical to launching our CARE self-registration platform, which will give identification to eThekwini’s most vulnerable, help our city better understand the needs of our displaced populations, and ensure essential public services are readily accessible by all, especially in the aftermath of future climate shocks.” – eThekwini (Durban) mayor, Mxolisi Kaunda
Money is going directly into city government accounts, not central government or third parties
We work hand-in-hand with the city governments. We make sure that the money is actually going directly into the accounts of city governments. There’s no in-between from the national government or from third parties receiving this money and then channelling it down. We actually do that ourselves. We work hand-in-hand with city governments to make sure that the money is going directly to them. But then we don’t just step away and sort of check back in a year’s time to see how the project was implemented. We work with them on a monthly basis, making sure that they’re making progress towards their outcomes and really driving impact. That’s one. And two, all of our city governments are required to work with the affected community as equal partners, as equal stakeholders in their project, not simply as bystanders or passive recipients of the activities. So, you know, that’s also part of the reason why we chose Johannesburg and eThekwini, they understood those requirements and they were very happy to meet them. We look forward to working and actually implementing them so that the people of Johannesburg, and eThekwini can really benefit from their project.
Trying to establish a direct link between international donors and cities
We’re very happy to work with the IKEA Foundation and with the Robert Bosch Foundation and some of our other donors on the Global Cities Fund as a whole. We were able to add Johannesburg to the fund with generous funding from the Robert Bosch Foundation, and we were able now to add eThekwini because of generous funding from the IKEA Foundation. Both of our donors are really concerned about climate mobility and the movement of people due to climate change and really making sure that when we’re talking about addressing climate change, it’s not just about building flood walls or reducing emissions or some of these harder infrastructure projects that are often talked about at the national level or the international level, but also about the real lives that are impacted by climate change.Not only those that are impacted by climate crises, but those lives that are upended and homes that are now abandoned because they are no longer habitable and the people who are living in those homes are actually provided for as well. So, we’re really happy to work with like-minded donors in the Bosch Foundation and the IKEA Foundation, and they’re really keen to learn how to directly grant to city governments through the fund. But eventually we hope through the fund that city governments can work hand-in-hand with these international donors to receive funding directly. The donors we have as a part of the Global Cities Fund are really leading the way.
We try not to paint migrants and refugees as a problem – ‘just put yourself in their shoes’
We really try not to paint migrants and refugees as a problem. But, you know, the issues that are driving them from their homes are a problem. We and our mayors see that migrants and refugees really bring benefit to the communities and to the cities that they now call home and what we really try to do is amplify that agency, that opportunity and really their contributions to the cities. and try to highlight that and create more of those opportunities for them to thrive in their new homes alongside their new neighbours.
What I like to do is not so much think about refugees as the term refugees suggests, but as people who are seeking refuge. The hardest decision that anyone will ever make in their lives is the decision to leave their homes, to pack up all of their belongings and leave behind everything they’ve ever known because they’re forced to do so for reasons largely outside their control. So, what I ask people to do is just put yourself in their shoes – not to think about them as refugees but as if you were in a similar situation where you needed refuge, where you needed a safe haven, what kind of response would you want if you were forced to move to a new city?
If you were forced to pack up everything you’ve ever known, your kids leaving behind their friends, your family, in order to survive. How would you want to be welcomed? How would you want to be received? And that’s really the framework and where we really need to put this conversation, right? Less about refugees as just another mouth to feed but really people like you or I. And the way that climate change is trending, we could very easily end up in similar situations where we need to leave our homes. I mean, even in Florida or in California, Americans are being forced from their homes because of the effects of climate change. So, this is a reality, right? It’s a reality that people are being forced to move from their homes and we need to be better prepared to address that reality, but also to talk about it in a more inclusive and positive way, because unfortunately, we’re all close to ending up in a very similar situation moving forward.