Water and Fire

Water and Fire’ was a participatory action research project that aimed to inform disaster risk management and strengthen the resilience of marginalized communities in response to fire outbreaks, flooding, and water shortage. To achieve these aims and contribute to climate adaptation strategies, SLF led 3 years of research in 3 settings of Cape Town: the informal settlements of Overcome Heights and Sweet Home Farm, and the township of Delft. The research was undertaken in 3 phases –

Phase 1: household interviews with a total of 600 people living in Overcome Heights, Sweet Home Farm and Delft.

Phase 2: participatory visual methods with focus groups of community-based co-researchers living in the research settings. Digital storytelling, community mapping and photovoice enabled the iterative assemblage of first-hand experiences of fire, flooding and water shortage through spoken narratives and visual imagery. SLF worked together with the co-researchers to triangulate the visual methods findings, formulate the community-driven Best Bets, and generate potential interventions for dissemination among multiple stakeholders.

Phase 3: the Best Bets were presented, discussed, and debated at community engagement events held in proximity to the research settings and attended by residents of Overcome Heights, Sweet Home Farm and Delft. A large policy engagement event, held in September 2022, allowed the Best Bets to be shared with government officials from multiple departments of both local and provincial government including Water and Sanitation, Human Settlements, Disaster Risk Management, and the Resilience Department.

SLF continues to engage with local, provincial, and national government, local and global researchers, civil society actors and community members to disseminate and advance the uptake of the Best Bets.

The Water and Fire project provides a case study for the creation of democratic frameworks, the co-development of policy strategies and the formulation of community-driven resilience actions to reduce disaster risks in settings that are most affected.

To view the Best Bets and learn more about the project process scroll down.

Project leader:University of StirlingCo-investigators:Leif Petersen, Gill Black, Anna Wilson, Jen Dickie, Niall Hamilton-Smith, Guy Lamb, Laurence PiperDuration:36 months
November 2019 – October 2022
Funders:UKRI GCRFPartners:University of Cape Town; University of the Western Cape; Urban Works; The Safety Lab

Project outputs and resources

‘The Water and Fire Project’ is a mini-documentary that shows and describes the research process and some key outcomes of the Water and Fire project

waterandfire.info is a project-specific website providing details about the aims, objectives, methods and results of the Water and Fire project

Reflections on measuring the soundness of the digital storytelling method applied to three Cape Flats vulnerable communities affected by drought, fire and flooding in Cape Town is an academic paper. It was written by Tsitsi Mpofu-Mketwa, Amber Abrams and Gill Black, and was published in Humanities and Social Sciences Open in 2023.