Socio-economic Benefits of Ecological Infrastructure

Project summary

The overall objective is to develop an evidence-based integrated framework and prototype “investment case” for strengthening water-related Ecological Infrastructure (EI). The project will generate new knowledge by combining livelihoods and value chain analysis with the EI approach to water management and next-generation hydroclimatic modelling at optimum spatial resolution. The research design is based on an inter- and transdisciplinary approach pursuing integration and scaling up across the Berg-Breede and Greater uMngeni catchments in South Africa. The catchments contain strategic water sources upstream and large cities downstream (Cape Town, Durban) with strong rural-urban linkages. Both catchments have a maximized engineered water supply system with deteriorating water quality and no further options for engineered or built (‘hard’) infrastructure (BI). The project examines three EI intervention sites in each catchment; all sites provide a good representation of existing EI implementation models in terms of partnerships and operational structures.

The combined approach will allow the research team to focus on both means and outcomes which are necessary to 1) develop a more sophisticated conceptualization of the linkages between EI and livelihoods, and 2) investigate how people might benefit from a strengthened and cost-effective water supply system realised through an optimised restoration and rehabilitation of EI with income creating co-benefits. The project particularly supports UN Sustainable Development Goal SDG 6 (“Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”) but it also addresses poverty alleviation and livelihood options in catchment communities (SDG 1), and the protection, restoration and promotion of sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems as well as the halting and reversal of land degradation and biodiversity loss (SDG 15).


Midterm report
SEBEI aims to assess and connect hydrological and societal benefits of maintaining and restoring nature’s own environmental services to mankind, i.e. strengthening the Ecological Infrastructure. This is needed in order to ensure quality and quantity of water supplies to economic activities and private consumption both in urban and rural areas. We develop process-based models for strategic water source catchments for improved estimation of the results from restoration and maintenance projects.

We also assess various landowners’ perceived benefits of EI restoration and examine the livelihood benefits for workers who are employed in EI restoration projects. Subsequently we link key ecological and hydrological benefits generated by EI restoration with the social and economic outcomes. By doing so we are able to explain and promote continuous and increased investments in EI for the dual benefit to nature and society. Our results have been communicated to academic, public and private stakeholders through recurring workshops, thematic conferences, scientific papers, and popular media.

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