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Retrofitting: A housing policy that saves lives

Luis Triveno's picture
Building earthquake-resistant housing in Peru. Photo: USAID/OFDA, Auriana Koutnik/Flickr
When a hurricane, earthquake or other natural disaster strikes a poor country, families too often suffer a double tragedy: the loss of loved ones and their most valuable (and sometimes only) asset, their home. In the aftermath of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti in 2010, which killed more than 260,000 people, 70% of asset losses were related to housing. Ecuador faces billions of dollars in reconstruction costs from last April’s 7.8 earthquake, which killed 900 and injured almost 28,000. If Peru were hit by an 8.0-degree earthquake, an estimated 80% of potential economic losses would involve housing.
 
And while nature’s fury does not distinguish between urban and rural areas, a large majority of disaster losses are concentrated in cities, where they disproportionately affect the poor. This creates a great challenge for low and middle-income countries.  In Latin America and the Caribbean, 200 million people—1/3 of the population—live in informal settlements, where most dwellings don’t comply with construction codes and home insurance is non-existent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, LAC’s informal districts also account for the majority of disaster-related deaths in the region.
 
Yet housing policies aimed at the poor tend to focus on supporting the construction of new units instead of retrofitting existing homes to make them safer—ignoring the fact that it is mostly buildings, not earthquakes, that kill people. As a result, the deficit in housing quality is still disturbingly high: millions of families remain exposed not just to disaster risk but also to high crime rates, eviction, poor housing conditions, as well as lack of access to basic services, healthcare, schools, and job opportunities.
 
To address these issues, countries will need to tackle the housing challenge from two different but complementary angles: they have to find ways of upgrading the existing housing stock, where the majority of the poor live, while making sure that new constructions comply with building regulations. After all, if floods or earthquakes do not distinguish between old or new homes, why should policy-makers? It is time for resilience to become part of the definition of “decent, affordable housing.”

Safer buildings are the key to a disaster resilient future

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
A few months ago, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Ecuador claimed hundreds of lives, left almost 28,000 people injured, and caused $1 to 3 billion worth of damage. Most human and economic losses were directly linked to the collapse of buildings: the tremor caused the destruction of an estimated 10,000 structures, many of which were located in unsafe areas or did not meet minimum safety standards.
 
The tragedy in Ecuador serves as a stark reminder that, in many cases, it is not earthquakes or other disasters that kill people, but failing building structures. Therefore, improving building safety will be key in protecting communities against rising disaster and climate risk.
 
With over a billion dwelling units expected to be built between now and 2050, focusing on new construction will be particularly important, and will help mitigate the impact of natural disasters for generations to come.
 
The good news is that we have the knowledge and technology to build safe, resilient structures. But, more often than not, this knowledge is not put into practice due to insufficient or poorly-enforced regulation, as well as a lack of incentives.
 
In this video, Ede Ijjasz and Thomas Moullier explain why building safety will play a critical role in enhancing disaster resilience, and discuss concrete recommendations on how to get there.
 
If you want to learn more about this topic, we invite you to discover our latest Sustainable Communities podcast.
 
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World Cities Summit – A festival of ideas for an urban world

Abhas Jha's picture
Photo courtesy of Michaela Lohelt through a Creative Commons license.
Photo courtesy of Michaela Loheit through a Creative Commons license.
Here is a pop quiz – where in the world, over the course of five days, can you talk to the architects of the remarkable turnaround of the city of Medellin, have a conversation with over 100 mayors and city leaders from across the world on the future of cities, and have access to literally hundreds of companies operating at the cutting edge of urban technologies in areas like desalination, solid waste management, and urban analytics? If you answered the World Cities Summit in Singapore next week, you would be right.
 
The Summit is a biannual event that is one of the premier showcases of the state of urban development around the world. The fact that it is being hosted by Singapore – a city-state that epitomizes livability, inclusion and sustainability – is particularly fitting. The World Bank’s Infrastructure and Urban Development Hub team is proud to partner with the Center for Livable Cities in participating in several events during the World Cities Summit, such as the Mayors Forum, an ADB learning event on Cities and Middle Income Countries, and thematic sessions on culture, municipal finance, and innovation. One of the benefits of large global events such as the World Cities Summit is the opportunity to meet city leaders, counterparts, partner agencies, and colleagues from across the world to discuss ways and means on how the World Bank Group can continue to support them in their development objectives.

Five reasons cities should take a leading role on food waste

John Morton's picture
Reported figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on food loss and food waste highlight its importance to the global environment. Food loss and waste annually contribute 3.3 gigagrams of CO2 equivalent, or over twice the total emissions of India; waste 250 cubic kilometers of water which is equivalent to 100 million Olympic-sized swimming pools; and 1.4 billion hectares of agricultural land, an area larger than China. Considering that, if only 1/4 of the food lost or wasted across the globe could be recovered, it could feed 750 million people, it is also shocking when presented in the context of global food insecurity and hunger.
 
These statistics highlight the need to address the problem as global citizens. But if you look at it closer, the incentives for action are indeed very local, making cities—as the centers of consumption in the world—important game changers with strong reasons to take action.

Eight stubborn facts about housing policies

Luis Triveno's picture
A low-income residential neighborhood in Mumbai, India. Photo: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank
As John Adams famously warned, “facts are stubborn things” that we cannot wish away. Governments in the developing world are finally facing up to the increasing need for affordable housing: today 1.2 billion people live in substandard housing; by 2030, 3 billion will need new housing. While challenges may vary by country, I believe there are at least eight “stubborn facts” about housing policy that should not be ignored.

Building sustainable cities starts with smart urban design

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
The global conversation about urban sustainability focuses primarily on the big picture: how to reduce the carbon footprint and energy consumption of cities? How can we provide the infrastructure and services necessary to meet the needs of a soaring urban population? How can cities create enough jobs for everyone?
 
These issues are critically important, no doubt. But what about the city itself as a physical space? What should a sustainable city "look like"? Are there any big design principles that all successful urban planners should follow?
 
Because urbanization is often a chaotic process, many countries feel like they don't have the time or resources to address those questions. Yet evidence has shown that considerations about urban form and design are anything but cosmetic: creating vibrant public spaces within a city, for instance, can boost competitiveness, improve health outcomes, and strengthen social cohesion.
 
In this video, Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez and Jon Kher Kaw delve deeper into the linkages between urban spaces and sustainability, and describe the many benefits that come with a well-designed city.
 
If you want to learn more about this topic, we invite you to discover our latest Sustainable Communities podcast.
 
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Five ways to increase citizen participation in local waste services

Silpa Kaza's picture
ICT services offered by I Got Garbage in Bangalore
Web platforms, apps, and citizen surveys are changing how solid waste management services are conducted globally and showing that waste infrastructure alone is simply not enough. These interactive platforms provide incentives, quantify actions, and increase pressure on service providers, and thereby improve waste management with greater citizen engagement.
 
The World Bank recently hosted five individuals representing organizations and projects that use information and communications technology (ICT) to engage citizens with local waste services. Their varied approaches reveal incentive models that effectively lead to strategic behavior change.

Success when we deemed it failure? Revisiting sites and services 20 years later

Sumila Gulyani's picture
Between 1977 and 1997, the World Bank supported “sites and services” projects in 27 cities across India
A freshly-minted architect stood staring at a sea of toilets. Row after row of them, on small “housing plots” meant for low-income families who would build their house incrementally as their incomes and savings grew. The neighborhood was “planned” and provided with services—under a World Bank-supported “sites and services” project—to serve as the anti-thesis of and an antidote to the slums that were, at the time, increasingly becoming the only housing option for low-income families.

It was 1980 and the architect, Barjor Mehta, was deeply disappointed. There were no houses, no people and no chance that they would ever come, given the seemingly god-forsaken location—in an area called Arrumbakkam—so far from the city center in Madras (now Chennai). Having just completed his thesis on housing, he wrote a scathing news article in the Times of India denouncing the sites and services approach. Barjor wasn’t alone in his critique, and by the mid-1990s the World Bank had almost entirely abandoned such projects.

In October 2015, Barjor, now Lead Urban Specialist at the Bank, invited me to revisit Arumbakkam and other neighborhoods developed, between 1977 and 1997, under four Bank-supported sites and services projects: With my colleagues Kate Owens and Andrea Rizvi, I visited 15 of the 28 sites developed in Chennai and Mumbai. We also reviewed archival material, analyzed satellite images, and recently presented our preliminary findings. Now, Barjor and I agree that previous assessments of failure may have been both premature and erroneous. Why?

Can Singapore become a role model for quickly-growing cities?

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
In the 1960s, Singapore was struggling with limited resources, a small domestic market, and high unemployment. Living standards were low, with most residents living in crowded, unsanitary slums.
 
Today's picture couldn't be any more different: in the span of just a few decades, the city-state has completely reinvented itself to become a model of urban innovation, consistently topping international rankings for livability and competitiveness.
 
But Singapore's transformation was no happy accident. This success story is the result of an innovative and carefully executed vision that looks at all aspects of urban development in a cohesive way. Singaporean leaders and urban planners have integrated land use, housing, transport, and natural resources management into one coherent, long-term strategy so they can work in sync and reinforce each other.
 
In this video, Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez and Abhas Jha take a closer look at the city's urban development approach, and describe how other countries can draw on Singapore's experience to build sustainable, livable cities.

The Global Urban Footprint: A map of nearly every human settlement on Earth

Thomas Esch's picture


Urbanization is increasingly central to the global development process, but until recently, basic spatial information on the world’s urban areas has been unavailable, inconsistent, or unreliable. The lack of consistent data on the world’s cities makes it hard to understand the overall impact of urbanization. However, innovations in geospatial mapping are now helping to provide one major piece of the puzzle:maps of practically all built-up areas around the world are available thanks to new uses of satellite data.
 
Scientists at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) have succeeded in using a newly developed method to map the world’s built spaces at an unprecedented spatial resolution, resulting in the ‘Global Urban Footprint’ (GUF), a global map of human settlements at a spatial resolution of 12 meters per grid cell (aggregated to 75m for public use).
 
The German radar satellites TerraSAR X and TanDEM X acquired over 180,000 images between 2010 and 2013, which were processed, together with additional data such as digital terrain models, to produce the Global Urban Footprint. In total, the researchers processed over 20 million datasets with a combined volume of more than 320 terabytes.

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