Published on Sustainable Cities

Making homes safer to build resilient cities

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Children are often told that home is where to run inside when thunders hit or when the rain comes, and that home is a safe place. However, for billions of people in the world, it is not.
By 2030, it is estimated that 3 billion people will be at risk of losing a loved one or their homes—usually their most important assets—to natural disasters. In fact, the population living on flood plains or cyclone-prone coastlines is growing twice as faster as the population in safe homes in safer areas.
Due to climate change, extreme weather and other natural hazard events hit these populations harder and more often.  The 10 natural disasters causing the most property damages and losses in history have occurred since 2005. The damages and losses were highly concentrated in the housing sector. While the poor experience 11% of total of asset losses, they suffer 47% of all the well-being losses. Worse, natural disasters can lead to unnecessary losses of life, with earthquakes alone causing 44,585 deaths on average per year. This is an issue that policymakers and mayors need to address if they don’t want their achievements in poverty reduction to be erased by the next hurricane or earthquake.

World Bank Group

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

So what can be done to ensure that resilience becomes part of the definition of “decent, affordable housing for all“ in cities?  That a safe home means one that can withstand extreme weather and other natural disasters? That it becomes more than just a roof? At the World Bank, with the technical and financial support of the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), we support national and city governments to do precisely that. Here are three solutions that have been proven to work:

  • Prioritizing urban infrastructure investments to prevent occupations in hazard areas. Mayors can play a key role in aligning the interest of public spaces and urban infrastructure with the objective of preventing illegal occupations in areas where risk cannot be mitigated. This is what we call “the No-Regrets Strategy.” Cities will be always better off when public spaces are built and evacuation routes are protected.
  • Building new housing in safer areas. For the almost 60% of the places that will be urbanized by 2030 and which haven’t been built yet, it needs to be ensured that new housing stock is built in safer areas to risk-informed standards, building regulations, and codes. Similarly, efforts of post-disaster reconstruction must ensure that we do not just house the victims of natural disasters, but create housing that doesn’t make them victims of a future disaster.
  • Making homes safer in existing areas. What about the existing housing stock at risk of natural hazards? The good news is that, for the largest portion of the housing stock, it is possible to identify and locate—at a low cost—the housing units with structural risks that can be retrofitted to reach life-safety standards.
Voluntary resettlement must also be part of the solution.  Between 2003 and 2016, housing policies in Colombia have already helped resettle 33,800 people from low-quality housing in high-risk areas to safer homes in safe areas. It is possible to conduct such a process when the resettlement plan involves active citizen participation, and is aligned with all other policies—land management, housing subsidies and urban upgrading investments—to ensure better life standards for the moving families and individuals, and to incentivize them to join the process.

[Read: Let’s build the infrastructure that no hurricane can erase]

This topic will be discussed at this month’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP23) in Bonn, Germany, at a World Bank-led panel discussion, “ Resilient Housing for Resilient Cities,” where Mayor Haryadi Suyuti from Yogyakarta, Indonesia and Mayor Monica Fein from Rosario, Argentina will weigh in on the challenges and opportunities for building climate and disaster-resilient housing for all.  

There can’t be resilient cities without resilient housing . As Richard Branson rightly pointed out when he visited the World Bank in October 2017, the time to act is now
World Bank Group
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Kristina Wienhoefer

Disaster Risk Management Analyst, Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice, World Bank

Luis Triveno

Luis Triveno, Senior Urban Development Specialist

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