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AVN Wins Dubai International Award for Best Practices!

Tony Kaye's picture

Association La Voute Nubienne (AVN) LogoAssociation La Voûte Nubienne (AVN) was awarded a DM grant in 2009 to test an innovative strategy for scaling up and accelerating the recruitment and training of Nubian Vault (NV) apprentices and the growth of a self-sustaining market in NV houses in Burkina Faso. The Nubian Vault is an ancient Egyptian technique of building vaulted roofs made from local bricks without using any wood, instead of typical tin roofs that are more expensive and use scarce wood during construction. AVN is transforming traditional housing available in the harsh climate of the Sahel region by providing a sustainable housing alternative and helping to avoid further deforestation.

AVN has won one of the Dubai International Award for Best Practice (DIABP) to Improve the Living Environment. The Award, co-sponsored by UN-Habitat, specifically recognised the program in Burkina Faso for 'best practice transfer'.

The DIABP was established under the directives of late Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, during the United Nations International Conference in Dubai in November, 1995 with 914 participants from 95 countries, to recognize the best practices with positive impact on improving the living environment.

Masdar: Mirage or Green-City?

Dan Hoornweg's picture

Masdar City

Recently I saw Masdar City for the first time.  I was excited to visit since over the last few years at almost every ‘Green Cities’ Conference I attended someone mentioned Masdar. Masdar City seemed the big hope: with potential and excitement of a whole new city in the desert. After $20 Billion in infrastructure investments, 50,000 people would live in this “emissions free”, closed-system suburb of Abu Dhabi. Masdar is to be a city of the future; a living laboratory to develop new technology. Planners, engineers and financiers are rushing to get in on its development. Easily a dozen times in the last two years someone enthused over coffee or lunch. ‘You need to visit’, I was told many times.

When competition forces the market to serve the poorest

Dilip Ratha's picture

Poor people are not used to receiving customized services from businesses that are usually vying to serve rich customers. Every now and then, however, one comes across an example that defies convention. The example I have in mind is the story of Esterelle, a remittance agent who goes to the migrant camps in Abu Dhabi to provide remittance services to poor migrant workers from Bangladesh and the Philippines and other countries. In a story published today - Bringing it all back home - John Gravois describes how Esterelle provides not just a standard remittance service, but actually deposit and loan services customized to the needs of the poor individuals. And she does it for profit, not charity (even though the story hints at this motive). Charity is not sustainable; profit motive is.

This example is also an exception to the notion that services for the poor must rely on state subsidies and earmarks. When small numbers add up to create large profit opportunities, market competition can pressure businesses to provide customized services for the poor at market prices. Such services are likely to be more sustainable over time than those relying on public or private subsidies.

Dubious Dubai

Dilip Ratha's picture

I was in Dubai two weeks ago to attend a meeting of the World Economic Forum. Our hosts, the Government of Dubai, told us that Dubai had turned the corner – hotel occupancy was up, airline traffic had recovered, and Burj Dubai, the tallest building in the world was complete. And then the story broke – Dubai World was having difficulty repaying creditors. 

  Photo ©
I have been to Dubai twice this year. In early 2009, I learnt that migrants were not returning en masse as reported in the media at the time. They have stayed on instead, even at the cost of losing legal status in many cases.  This time conversations with some Bangladeshi construction workers at a labor camp brought out some interesting facts: Because new construction is slowing, maintenance is doing well. Migrant workers in maintenance and hospitality are doing better than those in new construction and finance. Many migrants are moving on to Abu Dhabi and other oil-rich Emirates and neighboring countries where huge infrastructure investments are going on. Many are coping with the crisis by cutting consumption and sharing accommodation. Many have sent their families back home, so the funds spent in Dubai are now remitted home.

Many migrant workers, from Bangladesh in particular, are somewhat stuck in Dubai because they cannot afford to return. It costs about 12,000 dirhams to pay recruitment agencies and travel costs. At a monthly income below 900 dirhams – no overtime these days – a construction worker can easily take three years to save enough to repay recruitment costs. Too bad there is a crisis – they just can’t risk returning home. So many are entering into creative arrangements (e.g., taking unpaid leave) with employers to simply wait it out in Dubai.

Dune bashing in Dubai...with a hawaladar!

Dilip Ratha's picture

Dubai is a must for any one working on migration and remittances. One of the seven Emirates, but one that depends more on trade, finance and real estate than oil and gas, Dubai is a wonder in the desert. It has a large – perhaps the largest – migrant population relative to natives (no pun intended) in the world. If you ask me which is the most developed Indian city, I would say Dubai!

   Photo © Curt Carnemark / World Bank

For sure, Dubai has some of the best Indian food. (As an aside, London used to be the city with the best Indian food. I was there a couple of weeks ago, and was a bit disappointed with the Indian (actually Bangladeshi) restaurants. Perhaps the recent visa restriction on hiring cooks from other countries is beginning to have an impact!)

With all the photos in the media of migrants leaving Dubai (abandoning cars on the airport parking lot), I was forced to visit Dubai in April, and once more after that. The level of activity seemed to me as high as the skyscrapers, although the locals reported a slowing down in the pace of construction. I visited a few embassies and remittance service providers. Dubai is slowing, but only for a while, and not all sectors are affected the same way by the crisis. For example construction workers are more affected than hotel workers. Migrants from Kerala (India) and Bangladesh are more affected than those from Nepal and the Philippines. Pakistani drivers are also affected, not the least because rising house prices in Dubai has forced many of them to send their wives and children home. It occurred to me that this could be a reason for the surge in remittance flows to such separated families in South Asia.

Money transfer companies - many of which are also exchange houses and employers of registered hawaladars - were doing brisk business. Remittances to South Asia seemed to be booming.

A highlight of the Dubai trip was a ride to the desert. Sanket and I went dune bashing with a hawaladar/money transmitter friend!