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The adaptive governance capacity of the city of Cape Town built in response to extreme events
This paper argues that to build resilience to future climate extreme events and multi-hazards, it is essential to establish a systemic approach across sectors at the city scale. The City of Cape Town recently endured an extreme drought, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through a series of interviews and engagements with senior government officials, a detailed understanding of the City of Cape Town’s response to the 2015–2018 drought and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020–2021 was attained.
In reviewing the City’s response, five inter-related adaptive governance capacities were identified as necessary for building a rapid and effective systemic response to future extreme events within city government. First, local government must be able to respond to hazards and risk systemically; second, system-level data is needed to quantify and develop an integrated understanding of important system components; and third, flexible governance mechanisms can help support agile leadership at the senior city management level. The fourth capacity is that of project execution skills for the rapid implementation of responses and infrastructure; the fifth is the ability to partner with civil society and the private sector. An analysis of these two proximate extreme events reveals the nature of these five capacities and how they have been put into practice in Cape Town. It is important to unpack and share the nature of these capacities and how they enabled a more systemic response, especially given the call for more attention to be paid to what adaptive urban governance looks like in practice when managing multi-risk and extreme events in cities.