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To build resilient cities, we must treat substandard housing as a life-or-death emergency

Luis Triveno's picture

Also available in: Español

Damaged houses in Long Island, New York after Hurricane Sandy. Photo by UNISDR.

The scene is as familiar as it is tragic: A devastating hurricane or earthquake strikes a populated area in a poor country, inflicting a high number of casualties, overwhelming the resources and capacity of rescue teams and hospital emergency rooms. First responders must resort to “triage” – the medical strategy of maximizing the efficient use of existing resources to save lives, while minimizing the number of deaths. 

But if governments could apply triage to substandard housing, medical triage would be a much less frequent occurrence – because in the developing world, it is mainly housing that kills people, not disasters.
 
Worldwide, most injuries and deaths from natural disasters are a result of substandard housing. In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, one-third of the population – 200 million people – lives in informal settlements, which are densely packed with deadly housing units. In 2010, when the 7.0-magnitude Haiti earthquake killed 260,000 people, 70% of damages were related to housing. Similarly, it’s estimated that if an 8.0-magnitude earthquake hit Peru, 80% of the economic losses would be to housing.
 
But the story in rich countries is different. In the past 10 years, high-income countries experienced 47% of disasters worldwide, but accounted for only 7% of fatalities.

From algorithms to virtual reality, innovations help reduce disaster risks and climate impacts

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
(Courtesy of Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre)
 

Natural disasters such as floods and droughts disproportionally affect the poor and vulnerable people, causing thousands of fatalities each year. If no further adaptation is pursued, climate change induced increases in disaster risk and food shortages may push an additional 100 million people into poverty.
 
Today, we celebrate the annual World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day. To reduce the impacts of disasters on the poorest and most vulnerable, and build their resilience, it is essential that we collaborate and innovate to bring solutions to the community level. Close coordination with the humanitarian sector is therefore more important than ever before.
 
The World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) have a strong ongoing partnership with the Red Cross Red Crescent—the world’s largest humanitarian network—and in particular the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre.
 
Better disaster-risk data for timely forecast and rapid financing

Building more affordable and disaster-resilient housing in Latin America and the Caribbean: a few policy ideas

Julian Palma's picture
Photo by C64-92 via Flicker Creative Commons

Between 2010 and 2017, Chile was struck by 10 major natural hazard events. These disasters affected as many as 340,583 houses and cost $3.6 billion in reconstruction (Ministry of Housing and Urbanism of Chile). Post-disaster assessments point to housing as one of the most affected sectors in the wake of climate-related and other natural hazards—most commonly floods, earthquakes, landslides, and fires. In a 22-year period between 1990 and 2011, minimum losses in the housing sector for 16 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) amounted to $53 billion.

In the LAC region, one quarter of the population lives in slums, characterized by the prevalence of substandard housing quality as well as incremental and self-construction of homes. Families living in these informal settlements are at greatest risk to natural hazard impacts. Programs providing new housing do not always reach families in the lowest quintiles; and without access to affordable and well-located housing alternatives, households have no other option than to build informally, and in areas most prone to natural disasters.

Lagging lands, violent lands

Somik Lall's picture
Today, over 2 billion people live in lagging and violent lands with the processes of economic isolation and violence closely linked. In Africa, close to 600 million people live within 90 minutes of violence. The issue of "lagging lands, violent lands" was examined at a World Bank seminar on April 22. The session focused on identifying options for stimulating sustainable and inclusive economic growth in lagging lands and urban spaces to bridge economic and social divisions and mitigate conflict and human vulnerability. An integrated policy framework combining the main thrusts of the World Development Report (WDR) 2009 on Reshaping Economic Geography and the WDR 2011 on Conflict, Security, and Development was at the core of diagnosing challenges and identifying solutions.

There is need for urgent action toward a global solution to leave no area behind because persistent spatial disparities in living standards can adversely affect national unity and social cohesion, foster political instability, and increase the risk of conflict. In identifying priorities, it is essential to remind ourselves that leaving no area behind is NOT equal to “doing the same everywhere.” And to advance on the lagging areas agenda, we must recognize that the heterogeneity of challenges across territories needs to be met with a heterogeneity of policy instruments. To leave no area behind, each local challenge needs to be matched with a specific set of policy instruments. Policies should seek unity, NOT uniformity.

Strengthening the link between research and policy for a combined agenda is critical. Georeferenced data provides a tremendous opportunity for analysis of risk factors. In East Africa, for example, the issue of lagging lands is addressed by work in high-risk and conflict-affected areas, by addressing the underlying drivers of vulnerability and by reducing exposure to hazards of people. In the Horn of Africa, the EU has successfully applied geographical targeting in cross-border areas across the region, collaboration across borders through specific actions, and a regional approach based on research and evidence. In Cali, Colombia, the “Territories of Inclusion and Opportunities,” a land-based strategy addressing multiple risk factors, has been a successful tool in combating poverty, exclusion and violence.

Social inclusion essential for eradicating poverty

Lauri Sivonen's picture

The social inclusion of disadvantaged groups is necessary for reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity, said government representatives, experts, and civil society representatives at a World Bank seminar on Friday, April 21. Persons with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons form a large part of the world population affected by poverty. They often face multiple discrimination and exclusion because of their overlapping identities, stressed Maitreyi Das, Social Inclusion Global Lead at the World Bank Group. 

Patricia Peña, Director General for Economic Development of Global Affairs, Canada, highlighted the commitment of Canada—through its foreign assistance, diplomacy, and domestic efforts—to support policies and programs addressing economic and social inclusion of LGBTI people. Disaggregated data collection is one of the priorities for developing effective responses. Harry Patrinos, Practice Manager at the Bank’s Education Global Practice, made a cross-country assessment of poverty among Indigenous Peoples. Ulrich Zachau, the World Bank’s Country Director for Southeast Asia, discussed the Bank’s ground-breaking data generation efforts on LGBTI persons in Thailand. There is a need to find a shared way of measuring disability, said Nick Dyer, Director General of Policy and Global Programmes at the UK Department for International Development.

View tweets from the session below. Learn more about the World Bank's work on social inclusion, disability, indigenous peoples, as well as sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). 

Cleaner streets mean healthier communities: The story of the “Zika Warriors”

Silpa Kaza's picture


Last November, 345 “Zika Warriors” took to the streets of Jamaica to fight the spread of the Zika virus in 30 communities. These local residents trained as vector control aides to prevent Zika primarily by improving waste management in their communities, including cleaning up public spaces and destroying mosquito breeding sites. In addition, they distributed bed nets to pregnant households.

As we observe World Health Day today, we look back with great thanks to the significant reduction in Zika in these communities. Anecdotal evidence suggested that the Zika Warriors significantly stemmed the spread of the virus, especially compared to the 2014 Chikungunya outbreak that led Jamaica to declare a state of emergency.

As a first responder to the pandemic, the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) designed this program within an existing waste management program of the World Bank’s Integrated Community Development Project, directly benefitting more than 140,000 citizens.

All I need is the air that I breathe…

Anna Gueorguieva's picture

Also available in: 中文, Français

Photo by Jens Schott Knudsen via Flickr CC

Recent research shows that air quality affects the productivity of high-skilled workers. What does this mean for developing cities?

City governments invest a lot in job creation—they plan infrastructure, skills initiatives, and industry support with the goal to improve productivity and generate jobs and growth, especially in the high-skill sectors. Yet, there might be an important input to productivity that cities can pay more attention to: clean air.

Recent research suggests that a 10-unit increase in the air quality index decreases productivity by 0.35%. Seems marginal? This “productivity slow-down” costs the high-skill economy of China $2.2 billion per year for each additional 10 units of the air quality index.

The research in question studied the effect of air pollution on worker productivity in call centers in Shanghai and Nantong in China. The firm analyzed is Ctrip, one of the largest travel agencies in the country, employing more than 30,000 people. 50% of the workers’ pay is based on performance and the measures of productivity are very detailed and high frequency. The study concluded that there is a robust relationship between daily air pollution levels and worker productivity. On average, a 10-unit increase in the Air Quality Index (AQI) led to a 0.35% decline in the number of calls handled by a worker in a day at an AQI of 100. If we translate this to the entire Chinese high-skill industries, a 10-unit reduction of air pollution levels would increase the monetized value of improved productivity by $2.2 billion per year.

Why should cities invest in public parks?

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Cities are Brazil’s economic powerhouse—they produce almost 90% of the GDP and are the major drivers of the country’s growth and development. Rapid and unplanned urbanization, however, has led to issues such as concentrated poverty, insufficient access to basic services, and a lack of quality public spaces. Public spaces, such as parks, help enhance livability, while also building up resilience to natural disasters, reducing pollution, and enabling inclusive growth.
 
Fortaleza is a coastal city of 2.6 million in the northeast of Brazil. Its sprawling growth has now given way to stark inequality and major spatial divides. Lack of investment and inadequate planning have also led to environmental degradation.

In an effort to address these challenges, the municipality has partnered with the World Bank through the Fortaleza Sustainable Urban Development Project to improve public spaces and rehabilitate areas of the Vertente Marítima Basin and of the Rachel de Queiroz Park. In January 2017, the project was recognized by UN Habitat for innovative practices for the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

In this video, World Bank Senior Director Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez and Project Lead Emanuela Monteiro discuss the initiative and how it aims to make the city more livable, competitive, and resilient.



Também disponível em: Português 

A year of building sustainable communities in 12 stories

Andy Shuai Liu's picture
What are some of the key issues that will shape global development in 2017?

​From addressing the forced displacement crisis to helping indigenous communities, and from implementing the “New Urban Agenda” to enhancing resilience to disasters and climate change, one thing is clear: we must step up efforts to build and grow economies and communities that are inclusive, resilient, and sustainable for all—especially for the poor and vulnerable.
 
In the timeline below, revisit some of the stories on sustainable development that resonated the most with you last year, and leave a comment to let us know what you wish to see more of in our “Sustainable Communities” blog series in 2017.

The “human scale” in public urban areas

Judy Zheng Jia's picture

Slideshow: Reimagining a park, a river, and other public spaces in Seoul (Photos by Judy Zheng Jia / World Bank)

"If you lose the human scale, the city becomes an ugly place," said Joan Clos, Executive Director of the UN-HABITAT at the Habitat III Conference last month. But more than being "ugly," the lack of good public urban spaces, such as open spaces, parks, and public buildings, often contribute to low livability in many of the world's congested and polluted cities. In fact, the importance of the issue received recognition in SDG 11, Target 7, which calls for the provision of “universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green, and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons, and persons with disabilities,” by 2030.
 
Global experience shows that disconnected, underutilized areas in urban settings can, instead, be opened up to a variety of uses to allow for improved social inclusion, social mixing, civic participation, recreation, safety, and a sense of belonging, ultimately contributing to urban prosperity. Well-designed and well-managed public spaces also offer benefits to environmental sustainability, transport efficiency, and public health improvements, and can equally serve women, the disabled, and people of all ages.

The importance of good urban spaces was the topic of an international workshop—“Vitalizing Cities with Public Space”—held in Seoul on November 14-17, 2016 and co-hosted by the Korea Research Institute of Human Settlements and the World Bank’s Urbanscapes Group. Eight cities from around the world—Seoul, Singapore, Buenos Aires, Chongqing, Kakamega, Zanzibar, Astana, and Tashkent—participated to discuss challenges and opportunities for better urban planning and design.

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