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What can South Asian cities learn from Colombia's Medellin?

Sangmoo Kim's picture
Cable Car in Medellin
The Metro Cable in Medellin has facilitated greater access to mobility, services, and opportunities through connecting poorer neighborhoods with facilities and services throughout the city. Joe Qian/World Bank
Cities are created for human experiences and not for satellites in the sky. So why are there so many cities that while look impressive on a map, exclude so many of their residents from enjoying the full extent of their benefits? The key may be that details matter for inclusion of cities.
Inclusion means that all people and communities have access to rights, opportunities, and resources. Urbanization provides cities the potential to increase prosperity and livability. However, many suffer from poor environments, social instability, inequality, and concentrated pockets of poverty that create exclusion. In South Asia, as in other regions, segregation within cities cause poorer areas to suffer from the lack of access to facilities and services that exacerbate misery and crime.

Medellin, Colombia was once the most dangerous city on the planet with astounding gaps between the wealthy and the poor, vastly different access to services, and the highest homicide rate in the world. Its turnaround has been impressive. Much of the progress has been attributed to the thoughtfulness of its planning to ensure greater inclusion. What can South Asian cities learn from this South American city?

Planning policies and action have often been concentrated on the broad structures and functions of cities. However, drilling down the details can realize an inclusive urban environment that improves life for all in public spaces. In our definition, inclusive cities provide:                                                                              
  • Mobility: A high level of movement between different neighborhoods that provide opportunities for jobs, education, and culture;
  • Services: All neighborhoods have a basic level of facilities and affordable necesities such as housing, water, and sanitation;
  • Accessibility: Urban spaces are designed so that everyone can easily and safety enjoy public spaces. 
 Social inclusion requires greater planning at a micro scale
Scale matters: Inclusion requires greater planning at a micro scale. Sangmoo Kim/World Bank

What happened in Medellin, Colombia? Medellin offers an inspiring example of how improved planning and sound implementation can increase social inclusion. Two decades ago, Medellin was the homicide capital of the world. Illicit drugs were a major export and hillside slums were particularly affected by violence. In response, the government created public facilities inclusive of libraries and schools, public transportation links, and recreational spaces in the poorest neighborhoods; and connecting them with the city’s commercial and industrial centers. As a result of a planning model that seeks to serve all residents, the city has become safer, healthier, more educated and equitable. 

Rebuilding Nepal with traditional techniques

Nripal Adhikary's picture
Traditional house in Nepal's Central Hills
Traditional house in Nepal's Central Hills. Credit: ABARI

In Dolakha, a Thangmi woman rises early in the morning to mix together a paste of manure and clay. She kneels down on the floor of her broken home and smooths the mixture over the careworn earthen floor in preparation for another day of living in the earthquake’s aftermath. Over the mountains in Sindhupalchowk, a Tamang carpenter has fashioned a sturdy lodge from the stone rubble of his former home.

Serving his guests cups of strong sugary tea, he looks out the carved wooden windows he has built to the terraced fields he can no longer farm. Across the landscape devastated by the earthquake, Nepalis are creating shelters incorporating the architectural and design principles of familiar structures. The vernacular architecture of Nepal’s Central Hills is well adapted to the environment, and to the rhythms of agrarian routines.

An ideal Hill home is one with thick stonewalls, a ground floor kitchen, upper story bedrooms, an attic storage room, a spacious courtyard, veranda, and cozy and clean sheds for livestock.

Look around Nepal. What do you see?

Trishna Thapa's picture

Amidst all the hardships of daily life, what are the things that inspire you, give you hope and make you believe in a better tomorrow?

That is the question we asked when we invited people to share with us photographs of people, places and actions which inspired them and gave them hope for a better future for Nepal.

The results were incredible. We received over 200 photographs from across Nepal. Photographs which were not only beautiful but which also carried strong messages of the importance of education, agriculture, heritage conservation, empowerment of women and many more.

Look Around You. What do you see?
Look Around You. What do you see?

Look Around You. What do you see? That is the question we asked when we invited people to share with us photographs of people, places and actions which inspired them and gave them hope for a better future for Nepal. Here are some of the ones that touched our hearts. Learn more:

Posted by World Bank Nepal on Wednesday, October 28, 2015
A selection of our favorite photographs.

These photographs showcase the beauty of Nepal and the resilience of the Nepali people; they show that despite the toughest of challenges, there is always hope, and always time for a smile.

The winning photograph was by 28-year-old software developer Rasik Maharjan whose beautiful photograph depicted a spontaneous moment between a brother and sister. Describing the photograph he said –

“While visiting Pokhara, I saw a little girl in a purple dress on the edge of Phewa Lake, She seemed to be fascinated by the wild water flowers. A boy, her brother, merely 7 years old, jumped into the lake. The little girl was pointing at the wild flower and without hesitation the boy picked it up and began swimming towards his sister. He gave the flower to his sister, while she gave him an innocent smile… The love between a sister and a brother... No love can compare.”

To see more photos and their captions, please visit us on Facebook at

More than dust in Delhi

Mark Roberts's picture
smog in delhi
The smog over Delhi. Photo credit: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier / Creative Commons

Urbanization provides the countries of South Asia with the opportunity to transform their economies to join the ranks of richer nations. But to reap the benefits of urbanization, nations must address the challenges it poses. Growing urban populations put pressure on a city’s infrastructure; they increase the demand for basic services, land and housing, and they add stress to the environment.
Of all these congestion forces, one of the most serious for health and human welfare is ambient air pollution from vehicle emissions and the burning of fossil fuels by industry and households, according to the World Bank report, Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia: Managing Spatial Transformation for Prosperity and Livability.”
Particularly harmful are high concentrations of fine particulate matter, especially that of 2.5 microns or less in diameter (PM2.5). They can penetrate deep into the lungs, increasing the likelihood of asthma, lung cancer, severe respiratory illness, and heart disease.
Data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in May 2014 shows Delhi to have the most polluted air of any city in the world, with an annual mean concentration of PM2.5 of 152.6 μg/m3 . That is more than 15 times greater than the WHO’s guideline value and high enough to make Beijing’s air—known for its bad quality—look comparatively clean.

But Delhi is far from unique among South Asia’s cities.

In a snap: What the World Bank is doing in South Asia

Alexander Ferguson's picture
Afghan Woman in factory
Afghan woman in factory. Credit: World Bank

Need to know how sustained infrastructure investments could boost Bangladesh’s economy? How the delay in implementing key reforms on the domestic front, a weak trade performance and the recent slowdown in rural wage growth pose risks to growth in India? Or how Pakistan could achieve sustained and inclusive growth through reforms in energy and taxation, and increasing investment?

There is a one-stop place to find out what the World Bank is doing in your country and what it thinks about economic prospects there.

Paying it forward in a digital age: A global community committed to a mapped world

Alanna Simpson's picture
Specialists in Sri Lanka receive training on the InaSafe risk assessment platform. © World Bank
Specialists in Sri Lanka receive training on the InaSafe risk assessment platform. © World Bank

​​When I first heard about OpenStreetMap (OSM) – the so called Wikipedia of maps, built by volunteers around the world – I was skeptical of its ability to scale, usability in decision making, and ultimate longevity among new ideas conceived in the digital age. Years later, having working on many disaster risk management initiatives across the globe, I can say that I am a passionate advocate for the power of this community. And I continue to be struck by the power of one small initiative like OSM that brings together people across cultures and countries to save lives. It is more than a technology or a dataset, it’s a global community of individuals committed to making a difference.

Campaign art: Want to be a hero? First, go wash your hands.

Roxanne Bauer's picture

People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Hand-washing is one of the single best habits any individual can adopt to lead a healthier, happier life. Hand-washing with soap is an extremely effective and inexpensive way to prevent diarrhea and acute respiratory infections, including pneumonia, which is the number one cause of mortality among children under five years old, according to the World Health Organization. Over 2 million children die from pneumonia each year, and diarrhea and pneumonia together account for almost 3.5 million child deaths annually. Simply hand-washing with soap could, though, could reduce the number of deaths due to diarrhea by almost half and deaths from acute respiratory infections by one-quarter, saving more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention.

These are some of the many reasons that Global Handwashing Day was established. It is observed on October 15 with the aim of increasing awareness and knowledge about the importance of hand-washing with soap to prevent diseases and save lives.

The following video, produced by Help, encourages people in Nepal to wash their hands with soap. The lyrics ask, “How can Sabunman fly? Why is his body so strong?" and answer “Because before eating a meal he washes his hands with soap and water.”  Composed and performed by Almoda Rana Uprety, "Kina Udcha Sabunman," cheers kids to defeat the dirt monsters by washing their hands before they eat and after they play or use the bathroom.
VIDEO: Kina Udcha Sabunman (How can Sabunman Fly?)

Livability is an economic imperative for cities

Sangmoo Kim's picture
Sarbamati Riverfront Development before
Sarbamati Riverfront Development before
Sarbamati Riverfront Development after
Sarbamati Riverfront development after

Robert Solow once said: “Livability is not a middle-class luxury, it is an economic imperative.” But how related are livability and economic development?  Furthermore, how can we define and measure livability?

Recently as part of the South Asia Urbanization Flagship Report, Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia: Managing Spatial Transformation for Prosperity and Livability, our team compared a sample of South Asian cities with peers from around the world. The report’s framework considered livability (along with prosperity) as being a key outcome of urbanization.

We wanted to highlight that while urbanization has undoubtedly contributed to economic growth in South Asia, its impact on livability is more complex. As they have grown, South Asian cities have faced challenges arising from the pressure of their populations on basic services, infrastructure, land, housing, and the environment.  This has helped to give rise to what the report terms “messy” urbanization, characterized by slums and sprawl, not to mention levels of ambient outdoor air pollution that rank amongst the highest across cities globally.

The report suggests that to have a full understanding of the urbanization process in South Asia, it is necessary to discuss not only the positive productivity benefits that are associated with urban size and density, but also the negative “congestion” forces.  How successfully South Asian cities manage these forces will help to determine the quality of life not only of the region’s current half a billion urban residents, but also of the additional 250 million that will be added over the next 15 years.

In post-earthquake Nepal, open data accountability

Deepa Rai's picture
Nepal Landslide sights by NASA and United States Geographic Survey
This map shows landslide sites. ICIMOD a team led by NASA and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) maps and monitors potential geohazards using satellite data.  

One of the first things I did after the earthquake on 25th April was to connect with my family through the internet as phone lines were then not available. Never before had I been so grateful to have internet access. The quakes in April and May claimed more than 9,000 lives and injured thousands. Million others are now homeless. Of the many ways the Nepalese community, international development organizations, and the Government initially supported the most affected, Internet and open data platforms played a major role. As info-hubs they provided updates for those in Nepal and elsewhere in the world and helped monitor post-disaster rescue and relief efforts.

Exploring the nexus between trade policy and disaster response

Selina Jackson's picture
 Nugroho Nurdikiawan Sunjoyo/World Bank

Strong trade connectivity can help disaster response and recovery by ensuring that humanitarian relief goods and services get to where they are needed when disaster strikes.  Trade policy measures, however, can sometimes have adverse effects.  Research led by the World Bank highlights that a common complaint of the humanitarian community is that customs procedures can delay disaster response, leaving life-saving goods stuck at borders.  Other measures such as standards conformity procedures, certification processes for medicines, and work permits for humanitarian professionals can slow the delivery of needed relief items.  Border closures can exacerbate situations already marked by human tragedy and unlock   full-scale economic crises. 
This nexus between trade policy and humanitarian response was discussed at an event organized jointly by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the World Bank Group and World Trade Organization at the 5th Global Review of Aid for Trade on June 30 in Geneva.  Among the steps suggested to address concerns were rigorous disaster planning; better coordination between humanitarian actors, implementation of the WTO's Trade Facilitation Agreement and better recognition of the role of services.