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Forced Displacement to Cities Demands an Urban Development Approach to the Crisis

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Forced displacement is increasingly an urban crisis that needs an integrated humanitarian and development approach in towns and cities hosting displaced populations to better serve all residents and ensure sustainable urban growth, says a new World Bank report released today at the World Urban Forum.

Forced displacement is among the most pressing challenges in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. The number of people forcibly displaced worldwide continues to increase, particularly in MENA, where waves of unrest and conflict have driven a huge increase in displacement.

In 2016, there were an estimated 65.6 million people forcibly displaced around the world, of which about one-quarter were living in countries across the MENA region. For each refugee displaced in MENA, there are almost five internally displaced people (IDPs).

According to the new, “Cities of Refuge in the Middle East: Bringing an Urban Lens to the Forced Displacement Challenge” report, contrary to common belief, most of the forcibly displaced live outside of camps. Today, most of the displaced are in towns and cities.  This pattern is particularly evident in the already highly urbanized MENA region, where an estimated 80-90 percent of displaced live in towns and cities – significantly above the global average of 60 percent, and underscoring the need to bring in longer-term urban development approaches to address protracted forced displacement situations.

Such a sudden and rapid influx of large populations compounds difficulties that cities already face in the highly urbanized Middle East region, leading to overcrowding of informal settlements and increasing demand for urban services, land, jobs, and housing.

“The reality in the Middle East is that the forcibly displaced are actually urban residents in cities that are struggling to meet the needs of the poor and vulnerable,” stressed Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, Senior Director of the World Bank’s Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice. “With the forcibly displaced no longer residing in segregated areas in camps, but, in fact, blending into existing urban populations, traditional programs targeting individuals based on their IDP or refugee status are no longer sufficient.”

Ijjasz-Vasquez emphasized that “In a constantly evolving urban and social fabric, where the location and needs of host and displaced communities are increasingly hard to distinguish, targeted assistance to the displaced should be complemented with place-based development approaches that build on existing governance structures and service delivery mechanisms to promote the welfare of all residents, regardless of origin.”

With the majority of displaced people no longer living in camps and blending into existing urban populations, the international community needs to think differently and apply an urban lens. Assistance targeting individuals based on their refugee or IDP status can be complemented with development approaches that aim to improve the urban environment for all, building on existing national and local governance structures and service delivery mechanisms.

For greater impact, humanitarian and development partners need to work in complementary ways, depending on conditions in host cities, including size, magnitude of displacement, existing infrastructure, as well as services and financial and administrative capacity.

“Although addressing forced displacement in cities is a relatively new challenge, there is much that we can learn from proven urban development approaches, adapted to each situation. Investing in urban services, promoting social cohesion, and building resilient communities and institutions are critical to respond to protracted crises effectively,” said Sameh Wahba, Director for Urban Development, Territorial Development, and Disaster Risk Management, World Bank.

As the refugee crisis in the Middle East wears on, the report calls for a concerted effort from communities, local authorities, national government, and the international community to apply an urban development framework in thinking about forced displacement from an urban angle.

The scale and nature of the challenge also requires governments and the international community to mobilize additional resources. The World Bank has been addressing the unprecedented burden of forced displacement on middle-income countries by supporting countries such as Lebanon and Jordan to access financing on concessional terms through the Global Concessional Financing Facility (GCFF) for development projects that benefit refugees and the communities that host them.  The GCFF has unlocked $1.4 billion since its launch in April 2016 with the United Nations and Islamic Development Bank.

“A development approach to urban forced displacement expands the focus from reducing the vulnerabilities of the displaced to mitigating impacts on host communities. Supporting the community as a whole in this way can help to shape the overall policy dialogue,” said Axel Baeumler, Senior Infrastructure Economist, World Bank, co-author of the report.

Financial support for this policy note was provided by the Global Program on Forced Displacement, German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, The Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation. 

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Urban Development

The living air purifiers cities need more of

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In our all-too-hectic urban lives, a city park is a great place to unwind. Trees and green spaces have mental health and well-being benefits, on top of being great for relaxation and recreation.

Trees also help reduce air pollution. According to the study Tree and forest effects on air quality and human health in the United States, particulate matter, which is particularly damaging to lungs, is retained on tree surfaces, while leaves act as filters, absorbing polluting gases.

But the study also warns that while trees can mitigate the effect of air pollution, deposits of air pollutants on leaves can also affect photosynthesis “and therefore potentially affect pollution removal by trees”. As with everything, balance is key.

The cooling effect of trees

Trees can also significantly cool temperatures in cities. In hot climates, tree cover can reduce energy expenditure on air conditioning, while driving down the consumption of air polluting fossil fuels that power these cooling systems. Experimental investigations and modelling studies in the United States have shown that shade from trees can reduce the air conditioning costs of detached houses by 20–30 per cent.

“Trees could reduce temperatures in cities up to 8°C, lowering use of air conditioning and related emissions by up to 40 per cent,” says Simone Borelli, an Agroforestry and Urban/Periurban Forestry Officer with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

“When part of a wider landscape mosaic, large green patches within and around cities would also reduce emissions through avoided sprawl and excess mobility requirements,” he adds.  

Urban tree-planting has to be done right. Species planted should be ones that are most effective at trapping pollution, typically those with large leaves. Officials also need to account for things like wind patterns and tree spacing. If water is scarce, they’ll want to consider drought-tolerant varieties, and avoid trees that increase pollen and allergies.

Action is all the more important given that urbanization is accelerating—the proportion of people living in cities will be 60 per cent in 2030 and 66 per cent in 2050. Nearly 90 per cent of this increase will occur in Africa and Asia. To address the impacts of this rapid growth and the related challenges, a large-scale effort is needed.

 Building the Great Green Wall of Cities

Nearly 8,000 km long and 15 km wide, the Great Green Wall is an African-led movement of epic proportions initiated in 2007 to green the entire width of northern Africa, a semi-arid region extending from Senegal to Djibouti. A decade in and roughly 15 per cent under way, the initiative is slowly bringing life back to some of Africa’s degraded landscapes, providing food security, jobs and a reason to stay for the millions who live along its path. 

An initiative of this nature in urban areas is being developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization and other partners in preparation for the UN Climate Summit in September 2019. It aims to create up to 500,000 hectares of new urban forests and restore or maintain up to 300,000 ha of existing natural forests in and around 90 cities of the Sahel and Central Asia by 2030. Once established, this “Great Green Wall of Cities” would capture 0.5–5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year and stock carbon for centuries. 

On 1 March 2019 the UN General Assembly established the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, which should give further impetus to tree-planting efforts.

“UN Environment promotes the planting of trees as a key way to mitigate climate change and boost land-based biodiversity, 80 per cent of which is in forests,” says Tim Christophersen, head of UN Environment’s Freshwater, Land and Climate Branch, and Chair of the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration. “We are working with partners across the planet to boost tree planting for ecosystem restoration. There is scope for planting one trillion more trees, in addition to the 3 trillion that already exist on Earth. But it has to be done right; planting indigenous trees, supported by local communities, is a good way to go.”

Let the stones gather some moss

In those forest ecosystems, trees are not alone in cleaning the air. An ambitious project by Greencity Solutions in Berlin, Germany, seeks to marry high-tech applications with another natural air purifier: moss.

“The ability of certain moss cultures to filter pollutants such as particulate matter and nitrogen oxides from the air makes them ideal natural air purifiers,” says Greencity Solutions.

“But in cities, where air purification is a great challenge, mosses are barely able to survive due to their need for water and shade. This problem can be solved by connecting different mosses with fully automated water and nutrient provision based on unique Internet of things technology,” it explains.

Or by planting more trees that will provide the cover and humidity, that will help moss take hold and grow.

UN Environment

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Urban Development

New study expected to chart Melaka’s pathway to urban sustainability

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photo: UNIDO

Within the framework of the ‘Sustainable City Development in Malaysia’ project, which seeks to address the country’s urban challenges and which is being implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), executed by the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT), and supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the ‘Melaka Sustainability Outlook Diagnostic: Pathway to Urban Sustainability’ was launched today. The report is the result of an assessment performed by the World Bank’s Global Platform for Sustainable Cities (GPSC) in which Melaka actively participates. The study will inform the Melaka State’s Structure Plan and its long-term planning document; it will also offer key recommendations for the State to chart its own pathway to urban sustainability.

The diagnostic consists of an overview report containing a policy brief, an executive summary and a benchmark assessment as well as six supporting reports that cover each of the diagnostic’s dimensions, namely Reinforcing Melaka’s Economic Success; Integrating Environmental Plans; Enhancing Housing and Services; Shaping a Compact, Efficient, and Harmonious Urban Form; Shifting Melaka’s Mobility Modal Split; and Demonstrating Fiscal Sustainability.

One of the report’s recommendations calls for the State and the City of Melaka to obtain a credit rating; accordingly, both entities already agreed to undergo a formal rating assessment with UNIDO’s support. Depending on the assessment’ result, they could tap capital markets to finance future infrastructure projects. Moreover, another recommendation calls for the City of Melaka to complete a climate-smart capital investment plan for which the city indicated its willingness, with UNIDO coordinating local and national inputs to raise funds.

Being one of most urbanized countries in Asia, 75 percent of Malaysians reside in urban areas and over 90 percent of the national economic activities are conducted in cities. Rapid urbanization has created tremendous economic opportunities for the country, but has also put enormous pressure on its urban infrastructure and services.

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Urban Development

Make Dhaka Walkable

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When it comes to urban mobility, Global South cities suffer significant challenges such as lack of transport equity and poor accessibility for the urban poor. On the March of 25-28, 2019, the Share the Road Programme (a partnership between UN Environment and FIA Foundation) participated in a workshop dubbed ‘make Dhaka walkable’ held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, organized by the Sustainable Transport Equity Partnerships (STEPS) – a global alliance of researchers and practitioners including the Walk21 Foundation, UN Environment and the University of Leeds. The organizations are committed to identifying the essential steps decision makers and multi-disciplinary teams of experts must collectively take to meet the needs of people walking. STEPS aims to promote urban transport systems that can meet the travel needs of low income, city populations in the Global South.

Despite walking making up to 75% of all journeys, the conditions in which people walk in Dhaka are often unsafe and unpleasant. In order to highlight the needs of pedestrians in Dhaka, the meeting brought together engineers, planners, civil rights activists, NGOs, social scientists and many more for a real interdisciplinary perspective of the transferability of global walkability practices.

The opening workshop included representatives from Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA), Road Transport and Highways Division, Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges, University of Asia Pacific and others to help push the local walking agenda forward.

A study visit was also conducted in the Korail slum in Dhaka, to assess the real insights into the walking and accessibility issues affecting local, low income communities.

One of the gaps identified through the STEPS programme is the severe inadequacies of non-motorized transport in transport policy in the Global South.  The Share the Road programme shared knowledge on the experience of non-motorized transport in Nairobi -the small initiatives needed to make big differences, the need to have NMT users included in the planning of road construction projects, and the importance of securing a percentage in transport budgets. The vital and economic aspects of walkability projects cannot be ignored.

Having discussed the ‘eight steps to walkable Dhaka’ facilitated by Walk21, the workshop was brought to a close by Professor Jamilur Choudhury from University of Asia Pacific who gave some personal reflections on the development of transport policy and walking in the city, and stated his commitment to moving the walkability agenda forward locally.

UN Environment

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