Durban Research Action Partnership

The Durban Research Action Partnership (DRAP) was officially launched on the 30th January 2017 at the Durban Botanical Gardens. The research partnerships between local governments and their academic institutions represents a win-win situation where the power of research institutions can be harnessed to develop both capacity and knowledge that is useful to the local government. Although this research partnership was officially launched beginning of 2017, eThekwini Municipality and University of KwaZulu-Natal had involved in number of research programmes prior the launch.

Together at the launch of D’RAP are (from left) Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, Mr Errol Douwes, Professor Rob Slotow, Professor Mathieu Rouget, and Dr Sean O’Donoghue.
Global Environmental Change Research Programme (2019 – 2022)

The third phase of the GEC research programme has broadened its scope of work from being biodiversity focused to guiding the implementation of all ten themes of Durban Climate Change Strategy, brought together around the central unifying theme of “Rivers: Source to Sea”. This will be achieved through undertaking multi-disciplinary research projects which relate to the ten DCCS themes. This theme is envisioned to link biodiversity, climate and people as rivers are the “lifeblood” of ecosystems and communities.


Previously the social aspects of the GEC programme were under-explored and so the development of this theme is aimed at aligning the research with the global Sustainable Development Goals. This has been addressed through the inclusion of Professor Catherine Sutherland to be part of the DRAP Steering Committee. Professor Sutherland is from the School of Built Environment and Development Studies. Her research work aligned with the theme and thus she has been instrumental in implementing the Educational Partnership for Innovation in Communities (EPIC) at UKZN.

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in many changes in 2020. Some post graduate students were allowed back on campus from June 2020 if they required access to lab facilities etc. otherwise they continued to work from home.  Although the lockdown levels eased up as the year progressed, some students were set back in progress with their studies.  As a contingency, students’ supervisors were encouraged to guide students to tackle aspects of the research that could be done at home, for example manuscript preparation and literature reviews to ensure the continuation of research. Students were working off campus and to assist were provided with 1GB data packages once off during lockdown from UKZN so they had internet access to continue their studies remotely.


Seven MSc and three PhD candidates were initially chosen to be supported this phase. One of the PhD candidates will no longer be studying further and the allocated money has been redistributed. Additionally, three MSc students were added to the programme in September 2020 and a top-up bursary was awarded. A Post doc has been appointed from the 1st of April until December 2021. Her post doc project will look at the anthropogenic impact of debris on rivers and offshore. Previously they have focused on just the marine impact but have now designed the project to track the debris and contaminant from inland to the sea. This project will be looking at potential mitigation factors and moving into the social science aspect.

The DRAP steering committee continues to meet quarterly to oversee programme management, strengthening the partnership and institutional collaboration. The committee is planning for the scaled up implementation of the Durban Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities (EPIC) pilot, implementing the NRF-funded Biodiversity: Community of Practise Project, and engaging with the municipality’s Research and Policy Advocacy (RAPA) Unit to translate research outputs into policy through a series of workshops. DRAP also oversees implementation of the Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems research programme, funded by the Wellcome Trust, which aims to understand the nexus between sustainability, nutrition and health. Other research programmes within DRAP include the BRICS Coastal Governance Adaptation and Miji Bora projects.

 There have been notable outcomes so far from those students who are further along. The first is a paper submitted to the South African Journal of Science for publication from one of the PhD students looking at lightning detection and monitoring titled: “Lightning monitoring and detection of techniques: progress and challenges in South Africa”. The second is a working model of potential scenarios of future land use change for two river catchments, the uThukela and uMngeni, which is to be used to assess future streamflow responses

For more information, contact:

Climate Protection Scientist, Smiso Bhengu


EPIC Africa training workshop:

From the 3rd – 6th February 2020, representatives from African cities visited Durban to receive training on a pioneering initiative that matches real-world challenges in cities with local university students. The event was the first Africa-led training workshop for the Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities (EPIC) programme, and signifies the growing international attention garnered by the approach. The members of Central KwaZulu Natal Central Climate Change Compact (CKZNCCC) agreed to implement EPIC model through the Transformative River Management Programme (TRMP).


Using the EPIC model to match cities’ needs with students in colleges or universities, a broad spectrum of sustainability issues can be tackled in a win-win scenario, where students gain real-world, hands-on experience, allowing them to develop professionally, while local municipalities can leverage the often-untapped expertise of local universities to tackle their sustainability challenges at low costs.


This first African-led EPIC training workshop, funded and organized by START International, took place at the Durban Botanic Gardens. It was the second EPIC training workshop in Africa. The first, led by the EPIC-Network in December 2017, inspired the initiation of three African pilot projects, in Durban, Lusaka and Nairobi, and was funded by the US National Science Foundation and UNEP’s Global Adaptation Network. Twenty-two local and national African governments were represented at the Durban workshop, along with staff from their local universities; the workshop aims to build on the successes of the three pilot projects emerging from the 2017 training, and to expand the model across the continent.​