Evidence for the effectiveness of nature-based solutions to water issues in Africa

Acreman, M. et al. | Environmental Research Letters | 2021 | Peer Reviewed | Review | https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ac0210


There is increasing global interest in employing nature-based solutions, such as reforestation and wetland restoration, to help reduce water risks to economies and society, including water pollution, floods, droughts and water scarcity, that are likely to become worse under future climates. Africa is exposed to many such water risks. Nature-based solutions for adaptation should be designed to benefit biodiversity and can also provide multiple co-benefits, such as carbon sequestration. A systematic review of over 10 000 publications revealed 150 containing 492 quantitative case studies related to the effectiveness of nature-based solutions for downstream water quantity and water quality (including sediment load) in Africa. The solutions assessed included landscape-scale interventions and patterns (forests and natural wetlands) and site-specific interventions (constructed wetlands and urban interventions e.g. soakaways). Consistent evidence was found that nature-based solutions can improve water quality. In contrast, evidence of their effectiveness for improving downstream water resource quantity was inconsistent, with most case studies showing a decline in water yield where forests (particularly plantations of non-native species) and wetlands are present. The evidence further suggests that restoration of forests and floodplain wetlands can reduce flood risk, and their conservation can prevent future increases in risk; in contrast, this is not the case for headwater wetlands. Potential trade-offs identified include nature-based solutions reducing flood risk and pollution, whilst decreasing downstream water resource quantity. The evidence provides a scientific underpinning for policy and planning for nature-based solutions to water-related risks in Africa, though implementation will require local knowledge.