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Climate Change

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.
 
Related:

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.

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.

From the “Laguna” to the Delta: Can lessons from Venice help us manage flood risk in Vietnam?

Linh X. Le's picture
A satellite view of Venice and the surrounding lagoon. Upon completion of the MOSE project in 2018, a series of flood gates between the lagoon and the Adriatic Sea will protect the city from high tide and storm surges.
Upon completion of the MOSE project in 2018, a series of flood gates between Venice's Lagoon and the Adriatic Sea will protect the city from high tide and storm surges. Credit: NASA
Venice may seem like an unlikely location for an international development conference. But even though the Italian city is best known for its touristic appeal, it also turned out to be the perfect setting for the Understanding Risk Forum 2016, where representatives from 125 countries exchanged knowledge on disaster risk management and explored ways of adapting global lessons to their own local context.
 
At merely 1 meter above sea level, Venice has had its fair share of natural disasters, especially floods. In 1966, the record-high 194-cm flood had severe consequences on the Old Venice, causing an estimated $6 million worth of damage (1966 US dollars). Given the city’s touristic and historical significance to Italy and the world, protection from flood is a top priority.
 
That's why the Government of Italy has invested over €5.5 billion on the MOSE Project, which involves constructing 4 mobile barriers at the mouth of the water basin to the sea in order to better control high tide and prevent it from flooding the Old Venice. Each barrier consists of several energy-efficient flap gates that can be deployed quickly when high tide occurs, maintaining the ideal water level in the basin while safeguarding the natural ecosystem in the laguna area. Once the project is completed in 2018, it should fully protect the city, and allow future generations to admire the beauty of its glory days.

Can transit-oriented development change travel behavior in cities?

Wanli Fang's picture
Photo: Marius Godoi/Shutterstock
It is pretty easy to understand how and why land use patterns around public transit stations can influence the way we move around the city.

As more and more people live and work in a neighborhood with a limited land area, it becomes increasingly challenging to drive around without encountering congestion or to find a parking space easily. In this situation, public transit and non-motorized transport (NMT) become attractive alternatives for people who otherwise are reluctant to give up the comfort and flexibility of driving.

Conversely, as street blocks get bigger, people may find it takes too long to access public transit stations, which discourages the use of public transport facilities.

As straightforward as the logic may sound, the nature and magnitude of such influence are yet to be evaluated with solid empirical evidence. To take a closer look at the linkages between land use and travel behavior, I decided to study the case of Boston in the United States. I chose Boston because it boasts an effective public transit system, and was one of the first American cities to embrace transit-oriented development (TOD), an urban planning approach that promotes compact and mixed use development around public transit facilities.

Earth Day 2016: In a rapidly urbanizing world, cities hold the key to a greener future

Kevin Taylor's picture
Photo: Mricon/Flickr
This Earth Day, we have good reason to celebrate. It’s been a year that saw historic commitments along the path of our collective response to climate change and how we will live on the planet in this century.
 
In September, global leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals and are now working to put them into force to end poverty, while also combating climate change and ensuring that our future is prosperous for all people.
 
The Paris Agreement reached at COP 21 last December represents our best foot forward toward cutting carbon pollution and building resilience to the climate threats we face. And that momentum continues this week, as leaders from around the world gather in New York City to formally sign the Agreement to turn those promises into action.
 
Increasingly, that future will be more urbanized than ever before. 6 out of 10 people on the planet will live in cities by 2030. However, more than 820 million people live in slums and this number, sadly, is increasing. Fortunately, more and more local leaders are stepping up efforts to make cities more efficient, inclusive, resilient, and productive to address the global challenges of climate change, poverty, and inequality.
 
This year, we can celebrate another global commitment in the launch of the Compact of Mayors. Nearly 500 mayors and local officials have signed the Compact to mark their pledge to tackle climate change. Most of these leaders were in Paris for COP 21 to call on nations to follow their example.
 
It is critical to seize this momentum to turn the promise of the Paris Agreement, SDGs, and Compact of Mayors into reality. For climate change, we need to significantly reduce CO2 emissions as soon as possible, as the window for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change is rapidly closing.

Learning to leverage climate action in cities

Abha Joshi-Ghani's picture
All climate action is ultimately local. At the center of this is city leadership and engaged citizens. It is estimated that cities are responsible for 2/3 of global energy consumption and produce 80 % of the world’s GDP. Density creates the possibility of doing more with less, and with a smaller carbon footprint. While urban areas are responsible for more than 70 % of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, it is cities that can make a difference by effectively tackling climate change. We often find that cities lead the way on climate action against the inertia of national governments.
 
We already see a large number of cities taking the lead in sustainability through innovative financing mechanisms, technological advances, policy and regulatory reforms, efficient use of land and transport, waste reduction, energy efficiency measures, and reduction of GHG emissions.
 
What is needed now for scaling this up is systematic knowledge exchange and learning among cities. Peer-to-peer learning is a powerful tool once contextualized and adapted to the particular socio-economic and political context. Iterative learning with feedback loops can help in finding transformative solutions.

What Vietnam can learn from Singapore about flood risk management

Linh X. Le's picture
Overview of Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, Singapore. Photo: Stefan/Flickr
As Vietnamese, we look very fondly to Singapore as a model for development in the region, especially fostered by a close relationship between Vietnamese leaders and the former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew—Singapore's founder and mastermind behind all its modern-day achievements. Singapore represents modernity and civilization, notably with limited natural resources. The city-state has proved an applicable model of development for cities in Vietnam to achieve not only competitiveness but also sustainability and inclusiveness.
 
I just returned to Vietnam after attending the World Bank’s first-ever Urban Week in Singapore, a series of events that brought together city leaders from across Asia and beyond to explore innovative approaches to urban planning and management.
 
A topic that cut across all these areas is flood risk management, which was featured extensively during the launch event of the Global Platform for Sustainable Cities. I had the opportunity to learn more about the role of green mitigation infrastructure in integrated urban flood risk management, with lessons from Japan, Korea, Sri Lanka, Senegal, and the Netherlands. In these countries, green structures such as retarding basins, permeable pavement, and rainwater storage or infiltration trench have complemented conventional structural measures to reduce flood risk in a cost-effective manner.
 

A new platform to put cities at the core of sustainable development

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Urban areas will play a critical role in achieving sustainable development and combating climate change. Many cities have already taken bold steps to reduce their environmental footprint, and have often been able to do so much more quickly and pro-actively than their national governments.
 
Based on the premise that greener cities are the key to a more sustainable future, the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility launched the new Global Platform for Sustainable Cities (GPSC) earlier this month in Singapore. The new platform will help mobilize funding for urban sustainability programs, while also facilitating knowledge exchange between cities.
 
Thanks to this innovative approach that closely connects finance to knowledge, the GPSC will be uniquely positioned to make cities the driving force of sustainable development.

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