uMngeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership

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uMngeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership (UEIP)

The uMngeni River in KwaZulu-Natal is about 225 km long, starting at the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains and entering the sea just north of Durban. The catchment area feeding this river covers more than 4250 km2   and occupies less than 5% of the surface area of KwaZulu-Natal, even though it supplies water to approximately 42% of the population of the province. The uMngeni catchment is located within the Southern Drakensberg Strategic Water Source Area and supplies water to two major economic centres of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban and Pietermaritzburg). The growing population and increase in economic development in the province has led to greater demand for water, which has resulted in a number of water security challenges in the catchment. Despite investment in built infrastructure to address water service delivery, the catchment is no longer able to provide sufficient water of adequate quality to the people. To respond to this, in 2013 a number of organisations led by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality, the KwaZulu-Natal office of the Department of Water and Sanitation and Umgeni Water formed a catchment-wide partnership, the uMngeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership (UEIP). The partnership currently comprises 17 member organisations from national, provincial and local government departments, business and academic institutions as well as civil society. The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), as a co-founder of the UEIP, has been the centre of coordination for the partnership since its inception. In its coordination role SANBI provides strategic, management and administrative support and capacity to the UEIP; keeping internal and external stakeholders up-to-date with relevant issues and activities of the partnership. The primary focus of the UEIP is to explore the role that ecological infrastructure (EI) can play in supplementing and/or substituting for built infrastructure to improve water security in the catchment. Ecological infrastructure is defined as naturally functioning ecosystems that produce or deliver valuable services to people e.g. wetlands and flood plains, rivers and their riparian zones, mountain ranges, forests, rangelands, grasslands etc.  The idea is to demonstrate the optimal benefits and complementarities of built and ecological infrastructure.



The UEIP is guided by the following strategic objectives:

  • Strategic investment in ecological infrastructure contributing to enhanced water security in the uMngeni catchment
  • Improved governance that is contributing to slowing the rate of degradation of ecological infrastructure
  • Strengthened institutional capacity for the rehabilitation, maintenance and protection of ecological infrastructure
  • An enabling policy environment for investment in the rehabilitation and management of ecological infrastructure in the catchment
  • An improved knowledge base on ecological infrastructure that informs policy and practice
  • Effective collaboration, coordination and co-learning that enables the UEIP to consolidate, grow and demonstrate its value


The UEIP is currently supported by the Ecological Infrastructure for Water Security (EI4WS) Project, which is a five-year Global Environmental Facility (GEF) funded project implemented in two critical South African catchments, the Greater uMngeni in KwaZulu-Natal and Berg-Breede in the Western Cape. The Greater uMngeni catchment is made up of the uMngeni catchments and adjacent catchments; Upper Mooi, Mkhomazi, Ilovu and Umlazi; which supplement its water supply through existing and planned inter-basin transfers. The EI4WS project aims to integrate biodiversity and ecosystem services into planning, finance and development in the water sector to improve water security. The project is implemented in collaboration with various sub-executing partners including Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), Breede-Gouritz Catchment Management Agency (BGCMA), Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), Umgeni Water, National Business Initiative (NBI), Duzi-Umngeni Conservation Trust (DUCT), and the Water Research Commission (WRC) under the guidance of the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) and the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and the Environment (DFFE).


This 5 year project commenced in 2018 and is organised into three interdependent components:

  1. An enabling environment strengthened to allow biodiversity and ecosystem services to contribute to improved water security;
  2. Demonstration of proposed approaches in the Berg-Breede and Greater uMngeni River catchments; and
  3. Improving the integration of biodiversity and ecosystem services into the water value chain through social learning, credible evidence and knowledge management.


Among the key outcomes of the project is enhanced organizational capacity and investment in ecological infrastructure for improved water resource management through coordinating efforts of multiple actors to control invasive alien plants, rehabilitate riparian and wetland ecosystems and related ecological infrastructure activities in the Greater uMngeni catchment. Effective coordination efforts can be achieved by supporting the continued functioning of the UEIP as a catchment-wide multi-sectoral partnership and leveraging on the projects and programmes of catchment stakeholders.



Proof of Concept


Amanzi Ethu Nobuntu (AEN)


Amanzi Ethu Nobuntu (AEN) programme is a multi-partner blended finance community-public-private-partnership that was initiated in 2021 under the auspice of the UEIP as part of the Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme (through the Department of Science and Innovation the Duzi-uMngeni Conservation Trust). AEN was piloted as a 3-month project for proof of concept of a blended-finance model in the Greater uMngeni with 300 young people doing work for the environmental common good and learning for the future.

Various partner organisations across the catchment, from source to sea worked with young people to clean rivers, clear alien invasive plants and facilitate education and awareness to bring change to their local communities. In addition, the youth  were trained to use citizen science tools to gather biomonitoring data and determine the state of their local rivers and streams. The blended finance model is such that partner organisations involved co-funded the Presidential Economic Stimulus Programme with ±10% of their own funds to implement activities related to management of ecological infrastructure. The programme is recognised for its innovation and potential for replication as a solution for managing ecological infrastructure, and creation jobs for the youth. At the end of 2021, the project was awarded with a second phase for a period of seven months (December 2021 to June 2022).  This second phase enabled Amanzi Ethu Nobuntu to grow from a project to a programme involving 20 partner organisations and providing ±600 job opportunities for unemployed youth across the Greater uMngeni catchment and beyond.


For more information about the Partnership please read through:


Otherwise please contact Dr Pearl Gola (Pr. Sci. Nat.) as follows:
Coordinator: uMngeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership
South African National Biodiversity Institute
67 St Patricks Road
Tel: 033 3460796
Cell: 078 4171462
Email: n.gola[at]