Published on Sustainable Cities

Resilient housing challenges in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

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As the World Bank expands its engagement in the housing sector with countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (ECA), two major challenges have emerged. At one extreme of the housing spectrum is the potential seismic risk posed by certain multifamily buildings built before the 1990s. At the other end is the exposure of poor communities living in informal settlements to frequent natural hazards. In this video blog, Senior Director Ede Jorge Ijjasz-Vasquez and Senior Urban Development Specialist Ashna Mathema discuss how both issues need to be urgently addressed.

Pre-1990s multifamily buildings in ECA. One of the housing challenges facing ECA countries is the seismic threat faced by certain building types that are believed to have outlived their design lifespan. The engineering problem is layered with complex political, economic, social, legal, and financial realities, and the sheer scale, which explains why it has been so difficult to address.


Of even more concern is the limited understanding of underlying risks and the absence of a clear path forward for risk identification, quantification, or mitigation. The World Bank recently undertook assessments of the housing sector in Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia, and in Azerbaijan, which present these issues in more detail.

As a follow-up, there is now on-going work to quantify seismic risk in one particular typology of pre-1990 multifamily buildings in Bulgaria. This could help inform the development of a broader risk mitigation strategy in the housing sector.

Informality and disaster vulnerability in ECA. Unlike informal settlements in the Mumbais and Nairobis of the world, which serve as a ‘stepping stone’ to longer-term prosperity for their inhabitants, residents of many informal settlements in ECA countries appear trapped in the vicious cycle of unemployment, poverty, lack of education, and social exclusion.  
Take the Roma communities, for example: a disproportionate number of Roma live in unacceptable conditions of extreme poverty and face segregation, discrimination and harassment on a regular basis. By virtue of their poorer housing quality and their location – typically in less desirable areas, or on disaster-prone or otherwise environmentally hazardous land – they are also much more vulnerable to disasters.
Current growing concerns around climate change and the greater frequency of natural hazards, together with the growth of informal settlements, make a compelling case for the World Bank to engage in informal settlement upgrading integrated with low-cost techniques for resilient self-built housing in ECA countries.

In this video blog series on Adaptation and Resilience as part of our Sustainable Communities blog series, we’ll explore how these challenges can be addressed in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

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Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez

Former Regional Director, Africa, Sustainable Development Practice Group

Ashna Mathema

Senior Urban Development Specialist

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