Assessing KwaZulu-Natal coastal vulnerability to sea-level rise

10 April 2018

The coast of KwaZulu-Natal stretches over 580 kilometers along the southeast of South Africa. As well as being a popular touristic area, the province’s economic activity and human settlements are also concentrated here, with some communities living in poverty. On average, coastal municipalities have a population density five times higher than inland municipalities. This disproportionate concentration coupled with rapid infrastructure development and extreme storms, has changed the coast’s natural functioning.

In 2007, a storm caused extensive erosion, loss of property and significant changes to the seabed profile that reduced the coastal system’s ability to respond to severe storm erosion.   

A Coastal Vulnerability Index (CVI) is a simple and widely used method to assess coastal vulnerability to sea-level rise. However, one key limitation is its inability to address socio-economic characteristics beyond physical vulnerability. In 2011, The Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI) in partnership with the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA) set up a long-term project to address this by developing its own technique to determine a CVI for KwaZulu-Natal that could not only identify coastal physical vulnerability but determine which populations and infrastructure are potentially at risk. 

The case study is part of a series from our Policy Action work, which aims to accelerate the pace of climate policy development and adoption at the state and regional level. See more case studies in our interactive map.

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