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Improving water security and reducing climate risk in Angola’s coastal cities


Millions of people fled Angola’s rural areas for coastal cities during the country’s 27-year civil war. Most settled on environmentally fragile land on the urban periphery: low-lying coastal zones, floodplains, and steep ravines susceptible to flooding and landslides. Today more than half of Angola’s 31 million people live in urban coastal settlements and floodplains that are vulnerable to climatic events.

Municipal officials in these areas confront two major challenges: providing adequate water supply and safe housing to their war-displaced populations, and adapting to more frequent and intense climate-related extremes. These challenges are complicated by the fact that 98% of the country's meteorological stations — and their rich climate data records — were destroyed during the war.

Between 2012 and 2014, IDRC supported the non-governmental organization Development Workshop Angola to address this massive data gap. Working closely with city planners, policymakers, and vulnerable communities, Development Workshop Angola carried out research in the coastal cities of Luanda, Cabinda, and the twin cities of Benguela/Lobito. Together they identified the most vulnerable communities, where natural hazards are most likely to occur, and how a changing climate may exacerbate these problems. 

Determining climate risk and variability

Researchers developed a national climate database from archives and oral histories that reconstructs close to 30 years of meteorological data lost during the war. The database provides a better understanding of past weather patterns and present-day and future projections of climate change risks. It demonstrates that the intensity and variability of climatic events (such as rainstorms and floods) has more than doubled in Angola’s coastal cities over the last 60 years.

Participatory community risk mapping

The research team used satellite images and participatory research methods to develop detailed maps of the climate-related risks threatening the four coastal cities — including flooding, erosion, sea-level rise, storm surges, and saltwater intrusion. The team went door-to-door to conduct household surveys in affected communities and held focus group discussions to validate the data. The research showed that engaging communities and municipal authorities directly more readily identifies actions that respond to specific local challenges, thereby reducing vulnerability.

Municipal officials are using the risk maps to guide urban planning and identify where action is needed to safeguard communities. For example, the maps revealed that over 12% of households in Luanda were at risk of flooding, coastal inundation, and erosion. In the other three cities, 40-50% of the population were living without adequate access to clean water, resulting in frequent cases of malaria, diarrhea, and cholera due to poor sanitation and scarce, polluted water.


Flood risk planning and response

Researchers worked with the Climate Change section of the National Environment Directorate to establish an early flood warning system in southwest Angola. This involved collecting data from remotely operated flood gauges and sharing it with the Department for Civil Protection to assist with flood planning and response. In 2015 and 2016, Development Workshop Angola worked with the Ministries of Environment and Territorial Administration in Benguela and Lobito to advise on projected storm and flood risks ahead of major storms. A combination of near real-time satellite imagery and the results of the preliminary risk assessments were applied to track the approaching storms, warn communities, and evacuate hundreds of families. These extreme events highlight the importance of risk assessments, municipal risk maps, and early warning systems to inform action to safeguard communities.

Improved water availability and affordability

The most important outcome of the research for Angola's vulnerable urban populations is more available and affordable water at the household level. In three Luanda neighbourhoods, consumers elected water caretakers to create water associations that collect user fees, manage maintenance, and buy water in bulk from the parastatal provincial water companies. The result was greater access to clean water and a 90% cost reduction. The approach ensures that locally elected committees finance the maintenance of water points by collecting fees for services and take an active role in promoting hygiene and basic sanitation. The model was incorporated into the government’s “Water for All” policy and has been replicated across the country.


Lasting effects

The evidence base and lessons generated through this IDRC-funded research helped Development Workshop Angola secure additional funding to work in two more coastal cities (Soyo and Namibe), where they are mapping climate risks and developing local adaptation strategies to enhance urban resilience. Development Workshop Angola has also been liaising with the National Department for Urban Resilience (established in 2018) to share data from the project and to ensure its use. In recognition of their expertise, the Angolan government has asked Development Workshop Angola to provide support in developing a national climate change strategy and action plan.