Green Cities InitiativeIn September 2020, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) launched the Green Cities Initiative, a program that aims to build more resilient urban and peri-urban communities throughout the world. The FAO is aiming for this initiative to improve social, economic and environmental resilience in 1,000 cities by 2030.

The Urban Boom

The World Bank reports that 4.4 billion people, more than half of the world’s population, currently live in cities, a number on track to more than double by 2050. In the coming years, urban and peri-urban areas will need to respond to increased pressures on infrastructure, affordable housing and transportation systems. These areas will also need to create employment opportunities for a broadening pool of job seekers. With conscious investments in green infrastructure, reforestation and sustainable food systems, cities can increase their resilience in the face of extreme weather while also creating jobs in the process.

An Airborne Warning

The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear the already grim relationship between health and poverty in urban areas. The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (U.N.-Habitat) reports that health risks are already high for urban populations without access to basic necessities like clean air and water, adequate housing and waste management. These conditions aggravate existing inequalities, resulting in inequitable health and economic outcomes.

Globally, the pandemic and its associated economic devastation are increasing inequality and eroding the progress made on numerous Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to the FAO, supply chain disruptions, particularly in food systems, and unprecedented demands on hygiene-related resources and services expose the need for city stakeholders to reimagine and rethink the future of their urban systems.

Building Urban Resilience

The Green Cities Initiative is a unique opportunity to take action on hard lessons learned from these ongoing health and environmental crises. Through site-specific strategies that ensure access to green spaces and nutritious foods, strengthen urban and rural connectivity and provide investments in green infrastructure, the Green Cities Initiative takes a holistic approach to human and planetary wellness.

As of November 2022, 80 cities are participating in the Initiative, including Tunisia’s capital of Tunis, Italy’s Bologna, Kenya’s Nairobi and Sri Lanka’s Colombo city. Here are three examples of programs FAO implemented alongside non-governmental and governmental groups in partnership with the Green Cities Initiative:

  • The Initiative helped reforest at least 1.6 hectares of mangrove forests in Quelimane, Mozambique, a project that mitigated flooding risk in the coastal city.
  • In Nairobi, Kenya, an initiative tackled the city’s prevalent food waste, lowering the amount of rotten and unsold produce that vendors leave behind or that people otherwise lose between production and consumption. Some measures included introducing technology and techniques for composting and “biogas digesters,” which turn produce into fuel.
  • Training for women working as street food vendors in Kisumu, Kenya, gave participants business-generating skills and created a ripple effect of positive hygiene and business practices in the city.

A Focus on Poverty

While the Green Cities Initiative is most obviously environmentally focused, the Initiative works to address poverty in a few unique ways, including:

  • Strengthening urban and rural connectivity. Though most of the world’s impoverished populations reside in rural areas, the FAO focuses on the fact that the majority do not live far from a city. By strengthening connections between rural and urban communities, (particularly via food processing and distribution industries) the FAO aims to create jobs and bolster the overall economy of a given region, thereby reducing poverty and poverty-induced migration.
  • Mitigating environmental catastrophe. Environmental risks associated with extreme weather are elevated in high-density urban areas, manifesting in loss of life and economic shocks. Creating resiliency through green spaces and green infrastructure mitigates such risks and their disproportionate impacts on impoverished residents.
  • Building healthy, sustainable food systems. Impoverished residents of urban areas, particularly those living in congested areas or informal settlements, often lack access to clean air, running water and healthy, affordable food. To curb the resulting prevalence of “nutrition-related and non-communicable diseases,” the Initiative aims to increase the availability and affordability of nutritious and urban-grown foods. Tackling food, water and agricultural waste is also a focus, with the Initiative pushing for circular economies overall.

Supporting Local Governments

In February 2020, the World Economic Forum reported that Africa was home to the 15 fastest-growing cities in the world. Across many regions of the continent, the climate crisis already applies particular pressure, namely in the form of an influx of climate migrants in search of stable incomes. In the coming years, urban communities of all sizes will need systems in place to adapt to, prepare for and respond to economic, social and environmental shocks. The Green Cities Initiative, by supporting “local governments in mainstreaming agriculture, food systems and green spaces in local policy, planning and actions,” offers one pathway toward global stability and sustainability.

– Hannah Carrigan
Photo: Flickr

MinecraftWhen thinking of Minecraft most people will associate it with kids playing something akin to digital Legos, building worlds and if everything goes according to plan, defeating the Ender Dragon. At its core, this view effectively captures the game at the surface level. Partnering with U.N.-Habitat, Minecraft developer Mojang has harnessed the game concept and applied it to sustainable solutions for developing public space and addressing global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Since 2012, the aim has been to integrate Minecraft into urban planning on a local level, prioritizing the involvement of community members, particularly those that lack a voice in public development initiatives such as women, children, refugees and the elderly. The space they are working with is for the people and designed by the people. Behind the success of the Block by Block methodology lies the simplicity of Minecraft, providing an exceptionally effective lens for visualizing a three-dimensional environment that an untrained eye can make sense of, and propter hoc contribute to.

Block By Block

Pilot ventures in Nairobi and Mumbai in 2013 evolved the methodology into what it is today, built on the central tenet of collaboration. Block by Block provides community residents with the training, tools and platforms to develop and share their ideas on how best to transform public space. The exchange of ideas broadens the considerations of all those involved in the collaborative planning process.

Co-created public spaces come into existence, designed by different people and as such take into consideration the needs and concerns of all those involved in the process, resulting in a ubiquitously accommodating locality. Furthermore, what develops as a by-product is a shared sense of ownership and responsibility for the area, increasing the likelihood of maintenance and endurance, whilst simultaneously strengthening the bonds of the community.

Block by Block selects projects based on financial sustainability, accessibility and potential impact. They tend to target youth empowerment, refugee rights, climate change, accessibility, cultural heritage, social inclusion and human rights involving health and safety.


Following the success of a 2015 project in Pristina, Kosovo, that saw the transformation of an abandoned marketplace into a vibrant public space with a range of facilities including children’s playgrounds and Kosovo’s first skatepark, the Block by Block methodology was implemented once more in Mitrovica, some 40 km north of Pristina.

Located on the banks of the Iber river and divided by The New Bridge, the administrative center of the district is burdened by the ethnic divisions between the Serbian and Albanian communities on either side of the river. A symbol of division, the bridge separates the 80,000 Kosovo Albanians living in the north and the community of 20,000 Serbians in the south. In 2016, Block by Block hosted a workshop bringing together residents of both communities to explore ways how to transform the area and collaboratively design their ideas using Minecraft. The approach aimed to negate the divisions between the communities, changing social attitudes towards the city’s unity through democratizing urban planning’s development process. Construction began in 2017, focused on community interaction and urban redevelopment and has had knock-on effects on intercity cooperation to bring about enduring changes across Kosovo’s socio economic landscape.


Dey Pukhu, literally translated to “state pond,” as found in the Kirtipur settlement of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, is as one would expect, a pond, typically used for daily gathering and steeped in tradition, having been designed for socio-religious functions. Rapid urbanization across the area threatened the water systems and affected the use of Dey Pukhu for social and traditional gatherings, with other public spaces similarly experiencing some form of deterioration as well. In 2013 Block by Block selected it for restoration with the aim to sustainably revitalize the area and for the methodology to gain traction and lead to further development initiatives across Nepal.

Gathering local stakeholders to propose ideas for restoration and development, the initiative noted the rise in youth engagement with the project and the notion of public space. As Pontus Westberg of U.N.-Habitat outlined, the young people’s confidence, effort and pride in their work was perhaps the most rewarding outcome from the project. The positive response led to further development programs put in place across the Kathmandu metropolitan area.

Noteworthy is the 2015 Kirtipur project that proposed the development of a site with a school, temple and a water system amidst large open areas of green and vegetation. Following designs and finalized models of the site, the earthquake hit Nepal in April 2015, delaying implementation. U.N.-Habitat allocated $50,000 in emergency response, repairing a damaged local school and providing essentials for survival including water tanks and emergency shelter. By June 2016 the project was running again, with a trash-covered hillside converted into an open park with recreational space and access to clean water as well as a Public Space Revitalisation Plan put in place for the entire municipality of Kirtipur.

Successful Stories

The Block by Block applied its methodology to other cities across the Kathmandu Valley and is active in over 35 countries. The examples above have set off a chain reaction in the areas of implementation. More recent projects include the likes of public gardens as safe spaces for women and children in Beit Lahia. The successes are a momentous use of technology for the public good and make one wonder what other global concerns can have a solution in something as simple and commonplace as video games.

– Bojan Ivancic
Photo: Unsplash

Mayors Migration Council
As the name suggests, the Mayors Migration Council consists of a group of mayors from different corners of the world focused on the global response to migration. The goal of this council is to “empower and enable cities with access, capacity, knowledge, and connections to engage in migration diplomacy and policymaking at the international, regional and national level.” This collaborative effort includes mayors from Zurich, Milan, Montreal, Freetown and Los Angeles and multiple others.

Mayors Migration Council

Recently, the Mayors Migration Council launched a $1 million initiative focused on assisting with needs for internally displaced people (IDPs). This initiative comes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to provide support for migrant and refugee populations worldwide. It has focused efforts on Barranquilla, Colombia; Freetown, Sierra Leone; Beirut, Lebanon; Mexico City, Mexico and Lima, Peru. These cities with high populations of at-risk migrant peoples are provided direct financial support focused on urban areas. In these urban areas, the World Bank projects that communities may lose 15%-25% of total government revenues through 2021.

As government budgets undergo decimation as a result of the pandemic, this program provides support on projects “related to public health, employment, livelihoods, and social protection to mitigate the health crisis and its socio-economic impacts.” These focus areas are a direct illustration of the goal of this council. They hope to provide access to COVID-19 services as well as work with migrants to have a positive impact on the pandemic situation through direct work opportunities.


Through a partnership with UN-Habitat, the Mayors Migration Council has been able to implement groundwork programs that directly affect the lives of these migrant populations. An organization with prior experience with improving urban communities, the UN-Habitat organization takes funds from the Mayors Migration Council and provides direct guidance for these funds. This includes allocating funds to local governments and providing governmental and technological support. In Beirut, UN-Habitat partnered with Mayor Jamal Itani to develop a mobile health clinic to provide free COVID-19. The clinic is available to migrants and refugees as well as the rest of the population.

Cities Working Together for Migrants and Refugees

This new initiative includes commitments from the 2018 Marrakech Mayors Declaration. This declaration established the Cities Working Together for Migrants and Refugees programs. It focuses on the role of the mayors involved and how they can directly impact migration-related issues. Cities Working Together for Migrants and Refugees further supports the mission of the Global Compact for Migration, a U.N. agreement “on a common approach to international migration in all its dimensions.” This important initiative provides mayors in cities across the world a framework on how to handle migration as it happens, a vital framework before COVID-19 but especially amplified throughout the pandemic.

Proven Importance

With a multitude of different nations faced with political corruptness, violence, overall unrest, natural disasters and now the COVID-19 pandemic, large migrations of people will continue to occur. For the majority of nations, the current protocols for handling migration have plenty of room for improvement. These concerns are why a collaborative organization like the Mayors Migration Council is so important. It continues to provide adequate support and opportunities for all persons regardless of migration status. An organization comprised of mayors provides those with the political status to initiate change. Additionally, it offers a platform for meaningful discussion and collaboration between all corners of the world. This most recent million-dollar program further allows for increased national capabilities to handle these migration situations.

Jackson Thennis
Photo: Flickr

Lesotho is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy in southern Africa. Formerly known as Basutoland, the country was renamed the Kingdom of Lesotho in 1966, after gaining independence from the U.K. Following a period of political instability and turmoil, Lesotho is now at relative peace, and its level of homelessness is low. Even still, homelessness and housing are issues that Lesotho’s government must address.

Effects of Rapid Urbanization

As in many developing countries, homelessness in Lesotho reflects one downside of urbanization and development. Lesotho went through a period of rapid economic growth in the last two decades. From $775 million in 2002, Lesotho’s GDP rose to $2.739 billion in 2018. Lesotho’s population has increased rapidly, as well, growing to more than 2 million in 2018 compared to 837,270 in 1960. Lesotho’s economic growth seems largely a result of its economic ties with South Africa. However, Lesotho’s poverty rate still stands at 49.7%.

Following Lesotho’s economic development, rapid urbanization has contributed to homelessness. According to the World Bank, the urban population in Lesotho rose from 3.512% in 1960 to 28.153% in 2018. This increase means that urban development in Lesotho has proceeded uncontrolled, overcrowded and unplanned.

Shortage of Infrastructure and Housing

According to UN-Habitat, recording Lesotho’s urbanization rate is a challenge. This is partly because different agencies within Lesotho’s government disagree on what constitutes an urban area. The Department of Lands, Surveys and Physical Planning, which is responsible for town and regional planning, defines an urban area as any area that has legal proclamation. On the other hand, the Bureau of Statistics defines an urban area as any administrative district headquarters or other settlement of rapid growth where people engage in non-agricultural activities. Such inconsistencies seem to contribute to unplanned urban expansion in Lesotho, which leads to insufficient infrastructures for water, sanitation, energy resources, transportation and social amenities.

A shortage of formal housing also contributes to homelessness in Lesotho. The Lesotho Housing and Land Development Corporation (LHLDC), a major state-owned developer, is mainly responsible for supplying homes in Lesotho. While LHLDC delivered an estimated 76% of formal housing in Maseru, Lesotho’s capital, U.N.-Habitat notes that LHLDC has not supplied adequate rental housing for low-income residents. In its report on Lesotho’s urban housing, UN-Habitat points out that the housing market in Maseru is saturated with expensive two-bedroom houses. The LHLDC tried to reduce prices by lowering construction standards. However, the organization’s high building costs, along with rising land prices in Maseru, limit LHLDC’s ability to help Lesotho’s homeless.

Help for the Homeless

There are certain organizations working to alleviate homelessness in Lesotho. Habitat for Humanity launched a vulnerable groups housing program in 2001, servicing seven of the country’s ten districts. Primarily, Habitat for Humanity helps build two-room homes to house orphans, the elderly and persons with disabilities. In addition to building homes, the organization educates and trains prospective homeowners on inheritance rights and legal rights, to protect against property grabbing. Meanwhile, AVANI Lesotho Group, a hotel in Maseru, commemorated World Homeless Day in 2016 by providing food for homeless children.

Homelessness in Lesotho is defined by unplanned rapid urbanization and a lack of affordable housing for low-income residents. By addressing the country’s homelessness problem, organizations like Habitat for Humanity and AVANI Lesotho Group are creating hope for a better future for the citizens of Lesotho.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Life Expectancy in Kosovo
Kosovo is a newly and controversially independent Baltic state with its fair share of hardships. After only recently deescalating its conflict with Serbia, the war-torn country must continue to find how to establish itself in the world. These 10 facts about life expectancy in Kosovo highlight Kosovo’s unstable internal conditions as well as the efforts that the country is putting forth to improve them.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Kosovo

  1. In 2002, the average life expectancy in Kosovo was 68 years. It has steadily improved since then with the average life expectancy in Kosovo now being 72 years according to the World Bank. Improvements in many sectors, such as increased health care accessibility, education reforms and de-escalation of the conflict in the region may be a cause of this. Compared to the average life expectancy of the European Union (E.U.) nations (81 years), Kosovo has a long way to go. However, many project the yearly improvement over the past two decades to continue.
  2. According to the Kosovo Agency of Statistics, in 2017, 18 percent of the population lived below the poverty line. High poverty levels likely stem from a prevalence of unemployment (31 percent in 2017) as well as exceedingly low wages (500 euros monthly). This makes Kosovo the third poorest country in Europe. However, increased foreign investment and urban development have caused major improvements from figures just five years prior that show the poverty level at 23.5 percent, reflected by a higher unemployment rate of 35 percent.

  3. There is a vast disparity in health care access between minority populations and the general populous of Kosovo. Children living in rural areas are less likely to have access to good health care, and this is even worse for ethnic minorities. According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), more than 60 percent of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian children live in absolute poverty and over 30 percent live in extreme poverty (compared to the average statistics of 48.6 percent and 18.9 percent, respectively). A statistic that reflects this disparity is the infant mortality rate (IMR). The average IMR for the whole of Kosovo is 12 deaths per 1,000 live births. When looking at the IMR for minorities, that number jumps to 41 deaths per 1,000 live births.

  4. Kosovo has a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $7.129 billion and spends 1.1 percent of it on health and social work, as well as 0.9 percent on public administration. While the amount the country spends on public health services is very low, Kosovars have seen improvements in basic health. The government has recently subsidized health care accessibility programs such as the Law on Health Insurance (2014) and the National Health Sector Strategy (2017-2021). The former gave all Kosovo citizens the right and obligation to have a basic, mandatory health insurance package that covers emergencies, pregnancies and childbirth and other health care essentials. The latter is a strategy the Ministry of Health adopted that focuses on better management of health care funds as well as improving the accessibility of basic health care to minorities and other marginalized communities. Ultimately, however, the outcomes of the new policies have been difficult to measure due to lacking administrative records and unclear implementation policies.

  5. The leading causes of death in Kosovo are circulatory system diseases, making up 62.7 percent of all deaths in 2015. Other prevalent causes of death are tumor diseases (14.7 percent) and respiratory diseases (5.4 percent). Kosovo also has one of the highest tuberculosis rates in Europe, according to the World Health Organization. Many of these diseases are due to the overwhelming amount of tobacco products consumed in Southeastern European countries, causing 80-90 percent of all lung cancer cases and increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and tuberculosis.

  6. Starting in 1998, Serbia cast out over 800,000 people from Kosovo during the Kosovo Conflict. Thousands of people still live in refugee camps since they have no way to reclaim their homes. Other organizations or individuals have bought the properties, and Kosovo courts make it very difficult to evict the illegal tenants and allow refugees to return to their homes. However, efforts from UN Habitat, a branch of the United Nations that deals with sustainable human settlements and shelters, have recently pushed for reform in Kosovo’s court system to more adequately handle the illegal seizures of property. The Kosovo Municipal Spatial Planning Support Programme, which UN Habitat developed, has built capacities for sustainable and affordable development of urban areas and has established institutions like the Housing and Property Directorate and the Kosovo Cadastre Agency.

  7. The homicide rate in Kosovo is measured at about 2.1 intentional homicides per every 100,000 people in 2016. This is impressively low, considering the global average is 6.2 homicides per 100,000 people and the U.S. average is 4.9 per 100,000.

  8. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) looks at three categories for fifteen-year-old students: math, reading and sciences. The test thereby evaluates teaching methods and education infrastructure and shows the government whether the improvement is necessary or not. In 2015, the PISA ranked Kosovo as one of the last three countries in all of the evaluated categories. The ranking is devastating, yet the Minister of Education Arsim Bajrami embraced the results with a promise of improvement. He stated, “[The decision to participate in the PISA] was a courageous act as well as a commitment to increase the quality of education in our country.” Since then, with the help of foreign aid, the government has worked to improve the technical training of teachers and the ability of Kosovo’s youngest generation to be financially viable.

  9. Kosovo air quality has been steadily decreasing over the past decade. In December 2018, Kosovo’s capital of Prishtina had an air quality measured as hazardous. Increased investment in coal and biofuel power plants have caused a sharp increase in air pollution. The Balkan Green Foundation and the Institute for Development Policy (INDEP) launched campaigns to raise awareness on the effects of excessive air pollution caused by fossil fuel. They have been pushing for transparency with energy expenditure and power plant output, but the government has been less than receptive. However, the green movement in Kosovo has gained traction very quickly within the past six months. There are now large pushes for the Kosovo government to be more accurate with air pollution reports as well as transportation reform to ensure car emissions are not unnecessarily high.

  10. The people of Kosovo consider corruption to be the most important problem facing them, after unemployment, according to the UNODC Corruption Report on Kosovo. Systemic bribery is endangering Kosovars by obstructing their access to law enforcement as well as health care. Thirty percent of all bribes went to police officers to overlook petty crimes, 26 percent went to nurses and a massive 42 percent of bribes went to doctors to either expedite or receive better treatment. The U.K.’s ambassador to Kosovo Ruairi O’Connell has pushed very strongly for a crackdown on governmental and private corruption, “The moment has come to remove officials whose integrity is contested. Politicians should not meddle in the work of police, courts, and prosecutor’s office.”As of yet, corruption continues to be widespread, and public opinion as well as the justice ministers in the Kosovo government call for immediate reform.

These 10 facts about life expectancy in Kosovo reflect that the condition is gloomy, but improving. Corruption is still endemic and ethnic disparities are prevalent, but outside influencers, like the U.N. and non-governmental organizations like INDEP are helping the government improve. If the government carries out infrastructure, education and health care developments successfully, the country would see improvements across the board and become a more competitive piece of the world with a much higher life expectancy.

– Graham Gordon
Photo: Flickr

town planning and poverty

Also known as city or urban planning, town planning is an interdisciplinary and dynamic field that seeks to understand how policies change in response to community needs, population growth, lifestyle changes and the needs of a changing population. Contemporary urban and regional planning techniques for survey, analysis, design and implementation developed from fields such as architecture, civil engineering, public health, economics and geography to further comprehend the welfare of people, control land use, design urban environments and enhance the natural environment. Urban areas will house 70 percent of the world’s population by 2050, getting town planning right is vital to ensuring that future areas are safe and resilient places, especially for the poorest of residents.

A Multi-Faceted Approach

Planning has and will play an important role in improving the quality of life in urban areas. It is also a critical support for tackling poverty. With its potential to expand accessible services and economic opportunities, informed city planning can help regenerate connection among persons, bring public health amenities and promote social justice. It should not be forgotten that the planning movement sprang from the public health movement and the Victorian slums in the 19th century. Planning went beyond the basic drive to deliver more homes in a sanitary environment to include community design and social separation. Thereby offering people a better way of life after both world wars.

Nevertheless, in order for planning to focus on poverty eradication, Kate Henderson, the chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association said, “Planners must have the skills and opportunity to increase their understanding of places and how their work affects how people live their lives.”

How Does Town Planning Eradicate Poverty?

Different factors contribute to determining poverty levels in deprived neighborhoods such as unemployment, high housing costs, low education, health inequalities and low level of participation in public life. Despite the social separation that the planning movement has brought about, proper planning policies have the ability to bring about the interconnectedness between municipalities and authorities to reduce the social and spatial differences between people and groups. For instance, by decreasing the distance at which rich and poor individuals live with one another, URBinlusion has shown that social stability can be increased as well as the competitive power of cities.

Town Planning in Calicut, India

In Calicut, India, a city with a population of 437 thousand, people depend on the city for employment, education, healthcare and commercial needs. Along with municipalities, the Asian Development Bank has identified poverty reduction as a key sector for development. With a shortage of land for low-cost housing, social exclusion of the poor from decision making and increasing incidences of crime, a poverty reduction program that focuses on sustainable city development was implemented. By 2020, Calicut will be slum-free.

Sustainable town planning is the backbone of poverty reduction through slum improvement in Calicut. They did so by improving basic infrastructure and services in all slums, improving shelter conditions and improving human resource capability of the urban poor. Interventions included expanded coverage of ongoing poverty alleviation programs and strengthening and capacity building of local NGOs.

Town Planning in Caloocan, Philippines

Similar can be said about Caloocan, Philippines, a city with a population of over 1 million. Of this total population, 23 percent is unemployed. In 2002, the city government, along with many urban planners, launched a City Without Slums (CWS) Program that aims to provide low and middle-income families an opportunity to acquire decent housing at affordable costs.

The CWS program was launched with the support of the World Bank and U.N.-Habitat. It has led to the expansion of resources for the urban poor by improving the coherence of effort among on-going urban programs in Caloocan. The program is committed to improving the living conditions of the urban poor by promoting City Development Strategies (CDS) and city-wide slum upgrading.

Town Planning in Da Nang, Vietnam

Da Nang is a key economic area of central Vietnam with a population of 740 thousand persons. 80 percent live in the urban area. Nevertheless, substandard housing penetrates through the city of Da Nang.

Therefore, the Asian Development Bank along with the government and city planners aim to develop new infrastructure and upgrade their water supply system to promote stable urban management. Apart from this, they have launched programs focusing on poverty reduction and hunger eradication, through more jobs and appropriate solutions to pressing social concerns such as subpar health services. The city is currently facing budget constraints on their development, however, it is certain that their urban areas will be free from slums and promote social good for its citizens.

These examples of town planning and poverty display the benefits of a positive relationship between these two social factors. Town planning done right can contribute significantly to the worldwide fight against poverty.

Monique Santoso
Photo: Flickr

Informal Schools in African Slums
The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) estimates that, as of 2010, more than 200 million people in Africa reside in slums. This means more than 200 million people are living their lives in inhumane conditions and circumstances. The children living in these slums have a compromised opportunity at education. According to UNICEF, the youth residing in slums are some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable youth in the world. Due to the burgeoning need for educational institutions in Africa, informal schools in African slums are gaining popularity.

What are Informal Schools?

Informal schools are unregistered educational institutions that are not recognized by the government. Traditional schooling comes in the form of either private or public schools, and informal schools are a sort of middle ground. They typically operate in impoverished areas and are mostly geared around offering the same education as a primary school. These institutions are funded by private parties and non-profit organizations.

Increasing Need

The main reason that the number of informal schools in African slums has been on the rise has to do with a surge of enrollment in public schools. This is, in part, due to the initiative of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which pushed toward target goals that would reduce poverty, such as improved access to education. This enrollment surge is a positive factor in Africa’s education sector, but comes with a downside: there are not enough public schools to meet the rising need of educating African children, and the usual alternative, private schools, are not financially accessible to most African families. Overcrowding in African schools has been an increasing problem; the pupil to instructor ratio in African primary schools is 42:1.

In response to the need for more educational institutes, informal schools have been sprouting up all over Africa, especially in slums. Characterized by the same steel and dirt architecture in the surrounding slums, these schools offer an alternative option for education. There is a lack of government schools in slums, so private sectors and organizations provide funds for the informal schools.

The Benefits of Informal Schooling

Informal schools in African slums not only facilitate access to education but also offer a safe space for the youth. Many of these schools, such as the Destiny Junior Education Center, offer meals and restrooms, which are not commodities in slum-living. Informal schools keep African children off the streets and in the classrooms, which potentially helps them stay away from the vices that are rampant in slum environments like drugs and alcohol.

The Future of Informal Schools

The next step regarding informal schools is to put policies in place to protect them. There are members in the education committee of the National Assembly that are working toward informal schools being recognized by the government so as to strengthen the quality of education in them.

Overall, informal schools in African slums are an attempt to meet the increasing need for education in slums. By offering an alternative to the congested public schools, these informal education centers provide hope for African youth.

– Paula Bouza
Photo: Flickr

Housing Shortage in BahrainBahrain is an archipelago in the Persian Gulf with a very small population and land size. Nearly half its population consists of foreign expatriates. After gaining independence from Britain in 1971, the country’s ruling monarchs led it toward development. Today, however, with Bahrain’s huge expatriate population, housing has proven a critical issue. In October 2010, 41 percent of the country’s population could not afford shelter. This is a sharp increase from 24 percent in March 2009. Lack of adequate planning has led to a severe housing shortage in Bahrain.

The lack of affordable housing is one of Bahrain’s main economic concerns, especially considering the increase in demand from the youth sector. The shortage is one of many key factors creating housing inequality and fueling grievances against the country’s wealthy rulers.

When compared to neighboring Arab states, Bahrain subsidizes fewer housing units. The government has promised to provide living spaces, but the waiting list keeps increasing. According to the housing ministry, more than 46,000 people in Bahrain are waiting for subsidized houses, and current recipients of homes have been waiting since the 1990s.

To resolve the affordable housing shortage in Bahrain, the country’s government launched a new plan based on Public Private Partnerships (PPP). The project aims to build and deliver low-cost housing for ordinary citizens. Its goal is for private corporations to raise funds and brainstorm innovative ideas to support the public sector’s housing projects. This method has proven successful in other countries such as Mexico and Brazil.

The real problem lies in the fact that the government spends more money on luxurious housings units for the wealthy, even though the majority of Bahrainis are looking for simpler, more affordable housing. In addition to this, the government’s plans for new housing units are taking an extremely long time to complete. Nevertheless, the government hopes that its projects will foster better relations with opposition groups in the country.

Recently, Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman urged officials to continue providing speedy solutions to the peoples’ housing needs. He also urged stronger and more cooperative relations with the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat).

Noman Ahmed

Photo: Flickr

A milestone was reached in 2007 – for the first year ever, more people were living in cities than in the country. Forbes magazine estimated that by 2030, around 5 billion of the world’s 8.1 billion people would live in cities. Of those 5 billion, an estimated 2 billion will live in slums in Africa and Asia.

The UN reports that slum children in Sub-Saharan Africa are more likely to suffer from respiratory and water-born illnesses than their rural peers. Additionally, women living in slums are more likely to contract HIV than women in more rural areas. Most lack at least one of the following five basic needs, with some households lacking three or more: durable walls, a secure lease or title, adequate living space, clean water, and working toilets.

Many of the people living in slums are squatters – those lacking legal title to their land and without legal and political rights. Without such rights, there is little incentive for people to invest in their homes or communities. One way to grapple with urban poverty is to promote policies that help squatters attain rights, but in order to do so, the government under which the slum exists must function well enough to enforce such policies.

The infrastructure of these ever-growing cities – roads, public transport, water systems, sanitation, and electricity – cannot keep up with the growing population. Similarly, natural or man-made disasters cannot be managed well because of a lack of emergency resources for all inhabitants.

The education of children is also a problem, as children living in slums are less likely to be enrolled in school than their rural peers. With little economic opportunity and educational opportunity, slums like these are ripe for developing criminal organizations and even militant movements.

Organizations like UN Habitat are working to combat the dangers of growing urban poverty.

City planning, infrastructure development, and participatory slum upgrading are top priority while also focusing on urban legislation, risk management, gender, and youth. Also important is building capacity for organizations and governments that are trying to make a difference.

If unaddressed, there is a danger that our world could soon be dealing with “failed cities” in the same way that it deals with failed states. Mega cities, those with more than 10 million inhabitants, are on the rise across the developing world, and will likely reach 20 million by 2020. Challenges continue to increase and, if left unaddressed, could be detrimental to the global community as a whole.

– Madisson Barnett

Sources: Forbes, UN Habitat
Photo: Wikipedia

Global Slums
The word “slum” usually evokes images of filth, crime, chaos, and deprivation. People typically perceive slums as places to avoid or escape from, places where nothing good ever happens. As many people who live and work in slums know, however, the stereotypes fail to tell the whole story. A publication by the United Nations Settlements Programme, U.N. Habitat, helps to separate myth from fact.

Myth: “Slums serve no purpose.”

Fact: Slums often provide low-cost housing and services to urban populations. They also offer networks of much-needed social support to people migrating from rural to urban areas.

Myth: “All slum dwellers are poor.”

Fact: While it is true that poverty in slums is extremely visible, many people who are not the poorest of society choose to live in or near slums because they run businesses located in the same area.

Myth: “Slum dwellers are a burden on the economy.”

Fact: In many global cities, as much as 60% of employment lies in the ‘informal’ sector of the economy. Research in developed and developing countries proves that by providing opportunities for small-scale entrepreneurship, slums often serve as vital “incubators” for upward social and economic mobility.

Myth: “Slums are the fault of slum dwellers who do not want to help themselves.”

Fact: Failed, inadequate, or non-existent housing policies and laws are more to blame for the presence of slums than the people who inhabit them. In fact, most people move to slums from rural villages because they wish to find work and improve their lives.

Myth: “The poor contribute nothing to society and nothing good ever came out of slums.”

Fact: The largest producers of shelter in today’s global cities are poor people. Slums have also been vital contributors to culture by providing spaces to nurture art including music genres reggae, jazz, hip-hop, and funk.

– Délice Williams

Source: UN-Habitat