Over a year ago, national and city leaders from around the world gathered at the Habitat III conference in Quito to endorse the New Urban Agenda, which sets a new global standard for sustainable urban development and guides global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in the era of climate change.
In just three weeks, early February 2018, representatives of the world’s countries and cities will convene again to discuss “Cities 2030, Cities for All: Implementing the New Urban Agenda” at the world’s premier conference on cities – the Ninth Session of the World Urban Forum (WUF9) in Kuala Lumpur, co-hosted by UN-Habitat and the government of Malaysia.
In the video, World Bank Senior Director Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez (@Ede_WBG) and Director Sameh Wahba (@SamehNWahba) share the World Bank's three priorities at the World Urban Forum.
Too often, however, that dream risks remaining an urban daydream, due to natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods, as well as climate change. Those of us working to help these families find a better future must focus more on ways to support efforts to protect their lives – and their livelihoods.
In the 40 years since the launch of Habitat I, governments and municipalities throughout emerging and developing countries have been proving that their cities can be not only inclusive and secure, but also resilient and sustainable. However, unless they increase their speed and scale, they are unlikely to achieve the goals of the “New Urban Agenda” and its Regional Plans, launched at Habitat III in 2016.
From our perspective helping governments in Latin America and the Caribbean, and ahead of the World Urban Forum taking place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in February, let us share three key ingredients necessary to achieve that goal:
Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria that pounded coastal United States and the Caribbean; the severe drought that struck Somalia; forest fires that are ravaging through southern California… Hard to miss were the natural disasters that displaced – even killed – individuals and families.
There were also the “manmade” disasters – conflicts that erupted or lasted in many parts of the world continued to force men, women, and children out of their homes and homelands.
Just a couple of weeks ago, for example, global and local leaders gathered at the One Planet Summit in Paris to firm up their commitment – and ramp up action – to maximize climate finance for a low-carbon, disaster-resilient future.
Two years ago, more than 180 countries gathered in Paris to sign a landmark climate agreement to keep global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius.
Tomorrow, on December 12, 2017, exactly two years after the signing of the historic Paris Agreement, the government of France will be hosting the One Planet Summit in Paris to reaffirm the world’s commitment to the fight against climate change.
At the summit, mayors from cities around the world, big and small, will take center stage with heads of state, private sector CEOs, philanthropists, and civil society leaders to discuss how to mobilize the financing needed to accelerate climate action and meet the Paris Agreement goals.
For the first time in history, more people live in cities than in rural areas. Although cities hold the promise of a better future, the reality is that many cities cannot live up to expectations. Too often, cities lack the resources to provide even the most basic services to their inhabitants, and cities all over the world fail to protect their people effectively against the onslaught of natural disasters or climate change.
It is estimated that worldwide, investments of more than $4 trillion per year in urban infrastructure will be needed merely to keep pace with expected economic growth, and an additional $1 trillion will be needed to make this urban infrastructure climate resilient. It is clear that the public sector alone, including development finance institutions like the World Bank, will not be able to generate these amounts—not by a long stretch.
The recent series of devastating hurricanes in the Caribbean has reminded the world, once again, that natural disasters are not equal-opportunity destroyers. The economically marginalized and those lacking secure land and property rights are often disproportionately affected for at least three reasons:
Finally, they are less likely to be the recipients of government risk mitigation or recovery efforts. Government recovery efforts – no matter how well intentioned – rarely reach those most in need. After the floods and landslides in Nepal in 2011, for example, only 6% of the poorest received government support – compared to almost 90% of the well off.
The increasing frequency of natural disasters with tragic human consequences should also serve as reminders that resources spent on disaster risk reduction (DRR) are much more effective at saving lives and property loss. Yes, despite substantial evidence that reducing disaster risk is more cost-effective than responding to disasters, expenditures for disaster response and reconstruction exceed spending on disaster risk reduction and preparedness at a rate of about 20 to 1.
To overcome that spending gap will require innovative thinking on a time-tested idea. Governments, the World Bank, and other donors are doing the right thing when trying to devote more resources to disaster risk reduction – and to make land and property rights reforms part of a multi-faceted DRR strategy. In doing so, they would do even better by recognizing that those rights exist in three dimensions, encompassing not just the ground beneath our feet but to the space above (and below) it.
In search of answers, we spoke with the leaders of the World Bank’s Global Program for Safer Schools (GPSS), who have recently launched an innovative tool, the Roadmap for Safer Schools. This roadmap is a guide to design and implement systematic actions to improve the safety and resilience of school infrastructure at risk from natural hazards.
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.
What the photographers tried to communicate was a need: both the urgent need for infrastructure that leads to more resilient, sustainable cities, or a need to aspire to greener ideals of building sustainable communities for all.
There is no better day than today, World Cities Day, for us to share with you the 10 finalists – including 3 winners and an honorable mention for climate action – of the photo competition.
In the winning photo by Yanick Folly, one can practically feel the chaos of a city in Benin, the smell of exhaust fumes as cars crawl up alongside motorcycles and pedestrians down narrow alleyways.
Yanick Folly (Benin) – Winner
The photo is also a reminder that cities are made of people. Any set of solutions for “sustainable cities” will have to make sense to a city’s inhabitants, who tread its streets daily.
In other photos, the aspiration is palpable.
Many of the photographers are nationals of developing countries from all over the world. Yet quite a few of them shared photos of cities we regard as environmentally friendly: Singapore, Amsterdam, London, and Paris... We saw many photos of parks in developed countries, and heard the same message: These green spaces and pedestrian walkways are what we want in a city.
Adedapo Adesemowo (UK / Nigeria)
Many photos also reflect the vast difference between the aspirational city, and what most people actually live with.
We received photos of what many of us may categorize as rural areas, but we should reconsider these preconceptions: some “cities” in developing countries are little more than makeshift towns.
So, it is all the more reason why we are excited about this winning photo by Oyewolo Eyitayo from Nigeria. You might think this is an uneventful photograph of a typical urban suburb. Except that the half dirt roads are lined with solar panels.