IHC News

IHC Applauds Sustainable Cities Goal in Open Working Group Recommendations

July 2014

A new global development agenda is currently being negotiated at the United Nations. This new framework is expected to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which were agreed upon by the UN in 2000 and are set to expire in 2015. These MDGs have been broadly successful in creating a global blueprint of goals and targets to meet the needs of the world’s poorest.

The IHC has been an active supporter of an urban-focused Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). In the past two years The IHC and Habitat for Humanity met and provided materials to the U.S. member of the High Level Panel, a group recruited by the UN to provide expertise to the process, and made important contributions to the Communitas paper discussion of the importance of housing to urban growth and development. The IHC also partnered with the Woodrow Wilson Center to organize roundtable discussions by donors and urban experts about the importance of an urban SDG and what indicators and methodology might be used to measure progress.

The IHC is therefore very pleased to learn that the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development (OWG), a group of member states charged with making recommendations on the post-2015 development agenda, has included an urban goal in their final recommendations released this week.

A wide coalition of organizations has come together to support an urban goal, and the IHC is very pleased to see that such a goal has made it into the official recommendations. We are particularly happy that the very first target under the goal to “‘make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable,” is to “ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services, and upgrade slums,” by 2030.

While the inclusion of this goal and target is a major victory, there is much more work do be done. There are still 14 months to go until the General Assembly meets to negotiate the final agreement In September 2015, and many more opportunities for such a critical goal to be weakened or eliminated.

The IHC expects to remain highly involved and will continue to share new information as the process continues.

IHC Highlights Slums, Women and Water at the 7th World Urban Forum

April 2014

IHC CEO Barbara McMurray represented the IHC at the 7th World Urban Forum (WUF) in Medellin, Columbia, as part of the U.S. Delegation in April 2014. The Forum, sponsored by UN Habitat brought together government officials, the private sector and civil society from around the world to discuss issues related to urbanization and cities.

The IHC was selected to present several exciting events that were very well attended and generated lively discussion.

The panel “Eliminating Constraints to Urban Land and Property Ownership by Women: A Practical Perspective” presented different approaches to eliminating legal, political, social, and customary barriers to women owning land and property. The panel featured the IHC, Habitat for Humanity, the Huairou Commission and the Pan American Development Foundation.

A second panel “Planning at Scale: Bringing Sanitation and Water Services to the City and the Urban Poor,” featured the IHC, George Washington University, Slum Dwellers International, and UN Habitat. The panelists all explored the issues and constraints to improving urban WASH planning, access and availability for cities and particularly for slum dwellers, identifying successful programs and approaches from around the world.

IHC Hosts Panel Discussion on Rental Housing

May 14, 2014
By Bob Dubinsky (Board Chairman, IHC)

On May 6 the IHC sponsored a very interesting and important seminar on rental housing at the Washington offices of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Andres Blanco of the Inter American Development Bank was the principal speaker. Barbara McMurray moderated the event, and Larry Hannah, former economist at the World Bank; Eric Beksky, Director of the Harvard Center for Housing; and Ira Peppercorn of the World Bank commented on the presentation.

Rental housing is a much neglected and overlooked development initiative. This is despite the fact that many cities around the world have more renters than homeowners. The seminar explored the demand for rental housing, why the need for rental housing has been overlooked and identified programmatic options for expanding the supply of rental housing, particularly for those of modest income.

The IHC plans to continue to increase decision makers’ understanding and awareness about the importance of expanding the supply of affordable and  rental housing in order improve housing conditions around the world.

Click here to read about or download the IADB  publication “Rental Housing Wanted: Policy Options for Latin America and the Caribbean” (A Blanco, VF Cibils and A Munoz).

Click here to read about or download the World Bank publication “Rental Housing: Lessons from International Experience and Policies for Emerging Markets” (I Peppercorn and C Taffin).

IHC Publishes 2013 Annual Report

March 2014

The IHC 2013 Annual Report is now available online. The report covers the fiscal year October 2012 through September 2013 and highlights the organization’s successes for the year. The IHC elected three new board members and welcomed eight new members. We worked closely with USAID as it developed a new urban strategy, advocated for housing and urban development to be included in the post-2015 development agenda, and sponsored the 4th annual Urban Poverty Essay competition. Read the full report here.

IHC Sponsoring 5th Annual Urban Essay Competition

February 2014

The IHC is pleased to be sponsoring the 5th Annual Urban Poverty Essay Competition, in partnership with USAID, the World Bank, the Woodrow Wilson Center and Cities Alliance.  Each year this competition calls on current masters and PhD students to submit papers on topics relating to urban poverty in the developing world. This year’s topics are: Cities and Climate Change, Urban Resiliency, Inclusive Cities, and Impacts of the Informal Economy. Abstracts are due by March 30th. More information on the competition guidelines and topics can be found here.

USAID’s New Urban Policy: A Response to Christopher Vincent

Guest Post By: Steven Feldstein  (Director of the Office of Policy, Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning, U.S. Agency for International Development)

December 6, 2013

In the weeks since USAID released its policy on Sustainable Service Delivery in an Increasingly Urbanized World, we have received a variety of responses, support for its vision, and suggestions for moving forward. Christopher Vincent’s recent post on the IHC blog praises the Agency for directing renewed attention to this important development trend, but is skeptical of the potential impact of the policy absent additional resource allocations or monitoring requirements.

Vincent equates funding with impact: “Without incentives like funding and clear metrics, USAID missions will perceive this document as an academic exercise and continue business as usual.” He is correct that the policy does not direct additional resources toward urban activities. USAID resource allocations are constrained by a number of factors, including congressional mandates.

But it is incorrect to assume that USAID staff only respond to policies that mandate programmatic adjustments. USAID policies and strategies serve a variety of purposes. This policy serves as a foundational statement on how to improve our development efforts in urban areas. Many missions are already conducting urban programs. Others are eager to address urban issues, but lack tools to design effective programs. We are developing clear guidance for implementing the policy that responds to demand from USAID missions, and helps leverage existing resources to enhance outcomes in urban areas.

This policy marks a critical step to raise the profile of urban development issues within USAID. This kind of shift will not happen overnight, nor will it occur in all USAID missions at once. But we are confident that the impact of this policy will be real.

Vincent is also concerned with the policy’s treatment of housing and land tenure issues. It is true that the policy does not include a large dedicated section on these issues, although housing and land tenure are specifically woven throughout the document. Partially, this is because we spend resources on housing primarily in the context of emergencies and disasters.1 But more significantly, we made a deliberate choice for the policy to focus on addressing the underlying causes of poverty, which impact the quality of housing, security of tenure, and other deprivations. Rather than provide programming guidance for individual sectors, we chose to embed the challenges of addressing urban poverty within our core development objectives—including education, economic growth, democracy, human rights, and governance. Ultimately, we believe this will enable our partners to address the institutional and social drivers in cities that lead to inadequate housing and insecure tenure.

This was USAID’s first policy to benefit from extensive public comment before it was released. We see continued policy dialogue of this sort as necessary and valuable for helping the Agency to achieve transformative impact and for ensuring that USAID policy and staff remains at the cutting-edge of development approaches and practice.


[1] In Fiscal Year (FY) 2013, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) provided more than $25 million in humanitarian shelter assistance and shelter-related risk reduction activities. USAID’s Development Credit Authority (DCA) also provides partial credit guarantees to increase lending and private investment in a variety of sectors; since its inception 11 years ago, DCA has supported 12 guarantee programs for the housing sector in 10 countries, leveraging $84.8M in private capital.

Informal Cities Dialogue Launches Culminating eBook

By Jane Tingley (Intern, IHC)
December 4, 2013

Recently, Next City, a media non-profit which is focused on covering public policy and current affairs matters from an urban prescriptive, released an eBook, which is a compilation of the best stories from the informal sector as part of The Rockefeller Foundation’s Informal Cities Dialogues. The year-long project integrated blog posts, film, and photographs to chronicle the lives of informal workers and settlers from six cities: Accra, Bangkok, Chennai, Lima, Manila and Nairobi.  The project worked in each of these cities to highlight projects designed to alleviate issues in the informal sector, and the contributions these informal establishments have on larger formal communities.  The overall goal of the project was to provide a glimpse into the lives of those involved in the informal sector, and to emphasize its sheer size, as many developing cities continue to grow exponentially. (more…)

USAID Administrator Addresses the Challenges of Ending Extreme Poverty

By Jane Tingley (Intern, IHC)
November 27, 2013

On November 21, The Brookings Institution’s Development Assistance and Governance Initiative hosted an event, Ending Extreme Poverty: Can It Be Done? If So, How?­, in which the focus was exploring the issues that arise in ending income poverty and bringing the consumption of every person on the planet above the threshold global floor a $1.25 a day.  Introductory remarks were given by Brookings Senior Fellow and Deputy Director for Global Economy and Development, Development Assistance and Governance Initiative, Homi Kharas.  Dr. Kharas acknowledged that while there is a great deal of political support for ending extreme poverty, the real question is whether this goal is achievable, and if so, how? He emphasized that based on historic trends we could theoretically end extreme poverty in the next 20 years. However, the challenge is that pure extrapolation will not include the difficulties in reaching marginalized communities, conflict areas, and regions that are facing climate and other shocks. (more…)

Urban Poverty Essay Competition: A Summary

November 22, 2013
By Anjali Bean (Research and Policy Associate, IHC)

This week, the IHC in partnership with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, USAID, the World Bank and Cities Alliance, hosted the culminating event of the 4th annual essay competition focused on urban poverty. As mentioned previously, the competition invites current masters and PhD students to submit work on selected topics relating to urbanization in the developing world. This year the topics were Gender, Incremental Housing Solutions and Big Data. Three finalists were invited to a workshop in Washington D.C, and the winning paper writer received a $1000 cash prize.

This year’s competition received a record number of abstracts, nearly 90 in all, and had an unprecedented number of students submitting from outside the United States. In fact, two of the three finalists came to Washington from abroad, from France and India. The workshop allowed each student to present their work, and paired them with an expert in the topic to comment on the work.

The winning paper, written by a team from the Massachusetts Institute for Technology and presented by Caleb Harper, argued for the importance of allowing incremental growth and adaptation in any government provided housing. Looking at two designs in an upgrading project in Brazil, the team found the design that allowed residents to take ownership, change and update their home in ways that allowed them to jumpstart businesses resulted in the growth of a safer more connected community.

(more…)

USAID’s New Urban Policy: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

November 21, 2013
Guest Post by:  Christopher Vincent, Office of Advocacy and Government Relations, Habitat for Humanity International

In the global context of a broader push for a Sustainable Cities goal in the new Post-2015 agenda, USAID recently launched a policy for urban service delivery, that joins a series of documents on topics such as gender equality, climate change, and democracy that USAID created to guide its missions throughout the world.  While the long-term implications of this policy are unknown, here’s a quick glance at some of its positives, negatives and points that may leave you scratching your head and wondering what else they missed.

The Good

USAID prioritizes sustainable urban service delivery as one of its 10 areas to provide guidance to the field.   This is an important marker for the agency and shows that they understand the foundational shift urbanization presents in the coming years.  By 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population is projected to be living in urban areas, putting unimaginable strains on housing and the delivery of urban services like water, sanitation, health and education. While Congress may have encouraged USAID through the SLUM Act and Sustainable Urban Development Act, the agency should be applauded for recognizing what Steve Feldstein, USAID’s Director of Policy, Planning and Learning, called an “emerging critical issue,” especially when it comes to reducing poverty. (more…)

Shelter Response Underway in the Wake of Typhoon Haiyan

By Jane Tingley (Intern, IHC)
November 18, 2013

Last week, as live reports from Tacloban and Cebu City started to dominate the news waves, attention was focused on fulfilling the immediate health needs to those affected by Typhoon Haiyan.  However, as aid workers have begun to distribute food and medical care, new concerns over shelter are becoming a growing concern.  On November 16th, the UN Office for the coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that 1.02 Million homes were destroyed in the Typhoon, with the most devastated areas loosing up more than 80 percent of their housing.

While many agencies have been responding to the crisis, the Shelter Cluster has been coordinating efforts between different NGOs and reporting preliminary findings from assessments and actions being undertaken in affected regions. (more…)

Kaiser Family Foundation Polls Finds Strong Support for WASH Programs

By Jane Tingley (Intern, IHC)
November 13, 2013

Last week, The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) released the results their 2013 Survey of Americans on the U.S. Role in Global Health, this is the fifth in a survey series designed, conducted, and analyzed by the KFF and is intended to highlight the American public attitudes, knowledge, and perceptions on the U.S. role in global health.  This survey explores topics including U.S. aid’s ability to promote self-sufficiency in developing countries, aid allocation in light of the federal budget deficit, and sources of information on global health issues.

Despite continued concerns over the federal budget and national debt, the basic level of support of U.S. spending on efforts to improve global health in developing countries has remained the same in recent years.  While the majority of Americans reported that fighting terrorism, protecting human rights, and helping out in areas affected by natural disasters were top priorities, improving health in developing countries remains a priority they believe in. When asked about various health priorities, the survey found that the top health priority was improving access to clean water; with 64% of Americans reporting it is one of the top priorities, and 93% supporting U.S. investment in WASH activities in developing countries. (more…)

Creative Housing Solutions: Remarkable Adaptation or Government Failure?

By Jane Tingley (Intern, IHC)
October 23, 2013

In 1990, construction began on the Torre de David in Caracas, the third highest skyscraper in Venezuela.  After the Venezuelan banking crisis of 1994, construction was halted at only sixty percent completion, the government seized control, and the unfinished building was left abandoned.  However, due to massive housing shortages, in October 2007, some 3,000 individuals started to move into the vacant building and transformed the skeleton frame into a vibrant community, full of grocery stores, barbers, tailors, and even a church and gym open to all residents.  Last month, photographer Iwan Baan gave a TED Talk on this community as well as others around the world that are creating creative housing with limited resources, demonstrating remarkable adaptability and ingenuity.  Despite all the communities lacking the infrastructure to support basic services such as running water, sewer systems, and electricity, Baan explores how residents have developed unique solutions to mitigate the infrastructural deficits.

In Makoko, an impoverished slum community of stilt houses found in Lagos, Baan highlights the recent construction of a three-story floating school by local architect, Kunle Adeyemi.  Threatened by encroaching waters, instead of building in the traditional stilt style, he built a floating school, which would be used both as a primary school during the day, and as a recreation center and market when school is not in session.  Mr. Adeyemi said that this school represents the first step in his vision for the entire community to be rebuilt as a floating city. (more…)

The World Bank Group’s New Strategy Proposes Comprehensive Reorganization

By Jane Tingley (Intern, IHC)
October 16, 2013

Earlier this month, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, announced the “World Bank Group Strategy” designed to reorganize bank operations, and focus on reducing extreme poverty and raising equality.  Approved this weekend by the Development Committee, a joint World Bank-IMF forum, the new strategy will organize the bank around 14 “global practices,” including agriculture, education, energy and extractives, health and nutrition, and trade and competitiveness.  For the first time, the bank has a defined goal of reducing poverty below 3% of the population, and a secondary goal of achieving shared prosperity by increasing the incomes of the bottom 40% of the population.  Dr. Kim remarked that the goal of the organization is to make the bank more efficient and more responsive within countries, ensuring that the bank not turn into “a series of regional banks rather than a world bank”.  Similarly to one of his presidential predecessors, James Wolfenson, Dr. Kim highlighted that the idea was to transform the bank into a “solutions bank,” which would provide lending or grants, consulting, and technical expertise to member countries.  With an increased commitment to collaborating with the private sector, Dr. Kim said the bank will be more tolerant of high-risk, high-reward and more controversial ventures. (more…)

Post-2015 Update: Where do Sustainable Cities fit?

By: Dan Petrie (Associate Director of Congressional Relations, HFHI)
October 14, 2013

After the release of the High Level Panel’s report this summer, Habitat for Humanity raised concerns that housing, slums and urbanization were being underrepresented in discussions surrounding the post-2015 development agenda. Perhaps more worrisome is that Millennium Development Goals progress reports continue to tout Goal 7: Target 11, which aims to improve the lives of 100 million slum dwellers, as a success story despite the absolute number of people living in slums increasing by over 50 million between 2000 and 2010. With over 170,000 people added each day to cities in the developing world, it’s worth reviewing what’s happened in the post-2015 process since June and identify how this issue can gain more traction moving forward.

As July came to close, the Secretary General released his highly anticipated report, “A life of Dignity for All,” which called for the acceleration of the MDGs toward 2015 and identified key areas of focus in the post-2015 agenda. He demanded no person should “lack shelter or clean water or sanitation” as they help “form the foundations for a decent life” and urged any post-2015 agenda to “meet the challenges of urbanization.”

September witnessed a flurry of activity surrounding the U.N. General Assembly including a special event on the MDGs which produced an outcome document with member states resolving to redouble their efforts and adopt a new development agenda come 2015. (more…)

House Foreign Affairs Committee Hosts Disappointing Hearing on Aid in Haiti

October 10, 2013

On October 9, 2013, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs convened a full committee hearing titled Haiti: Is Aid Effective? Panelists included Dr. David B. Gootnick, Director of International Affairs and Trade at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), Mr. Thomas C. Adams, Haiti Special Coordinator at the State Department, and Ms. Elizabeth Hogan, Acting Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean at USAID.  The hearing was held in response to a GAO report which evaluated the progress of US Government programs in response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

As previously mentioned in an IHC blog post, because of higher than expected costs, USAID will be funding 3,000 new housing units in Cape Haitian instead of the 15,000 it had planned. The cost per unit will be $33,000. Ms. Hogan blamed poor original estimates coupled with enforcing stronger building and occupational safety standards as the major drivers for increasing the overall costs to almost three times the original estimate.

The committee expressed extreme concern over issues of land tenure rights.  Dr. Gootnick highlighted the lack of formal records for land ownership in Haiti and the resulting decision for all USAID home construction to occur on government-owned land, which is usually not in Port- au-Prince.  Many committee members were concerned that housing beneficiaries would never own their land (as it remains government-owned), and would be at the mercy of a historically corrupt government. When asked about the issue, Ms. Hogan said that land tenure rights are a political dilemma, and not a technical one.

(more…)

Afrobarometer 5 Finds Pervasive Poverty in Africa Despite Economic Growth

By Jane Tingley  (Intern, IHC)
October 4, 2013

On October 1st, results from the Round 5 Afrobarometer Survey of 34 countries were released, and despite improved economic growth, the study reported continued shortages in basic needs, including access to water, food, and healthcare.  Just two years before the completion of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals, the study found that roughly one in five Africans frequently lack access to food (17%), clean water (22%), or medical care (20%), with one in two people experiencing occasional shortages.

Each Afrobarometer survey collects data on national public attitudes towards democracy and governance in Africa, using indicators such as opinions and behaviors related to macro-economics and markets, social capital, conflict and crime, and national identity.  Round 5 included the special topic modules of taxation, gender issues, crime, conflict and insecurity, globalization, and social service delivery. The aim of each survey is to measure poverty in alternative ways to traditional indicators, such as a country’s GDP or annual expenditures.

(more…)

Organizations host events on Post-2015 at the UN General Assembly

By Jane Tingley (IHC, Intern)
September 25, 2013

On September 17th, the 68th Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 68) opened in New York.  The General Debate will be taking place from September 24th – October 2nd, 2013, on the theme of “Post-2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage”.  The General Assembly (GA) is the deliberative assembly of all UN member states, where each country has one vote.  The principal tasks of the GA include resolving discretionary recommendations to states and suggestions to the UN Security Council, overseeing the budget of the UN, appointing non-permanent members to the UN Security Council, and make recommendations in the form of General Assembly Resolutions.  While much attention will likely be focused on the crisis in Syria and the future of US-Iran relations, civil society representatives, UN officials, development experts, and individuals will also be there to discuss possible collaborations to address remaining challenges including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and the post-2015 agenda.

Below are highlighted some events focused on the MDGs and the global development agenda after 2015.  Additionally, follow along with all UNGA 68 events live via UN Web TV here (more…)

Local Nigerian Governments Take Action to Enforce Environmental and Sanitation Laws

By Jane Tingley (IHC, Intern)
September 18, 2013

In the past two months, the local governments in Ekiti and Kano, Nigeria have arrested and fined over 200 persons who were found to be in violation of environmental and sanitation laws enacted by the Nigerian Ministry of Environment and Sanitation.   In Ekiti, over 70 landlords were arrested and charged with violations under the 2004 Ekiti State Environmental and Sanitation Law and 2009 Environmental Regulations.  In Kano, the Sun Yoghurt Company in the Sharada Industrial Area was closed and 116 persons charged for failure to observe a monthly sanitation exercise.  The monthly sanitation exercise occurs one Saturday a month, and encourages all State members to clean their homes, drains, and communal spaces.  Both events indicate a strong government commitment to enforcing environmental regulations, which have a direct impact on the residents of these urban states.

The arrests in Ekiti come after an awareness campaign by the Ministry of Environment aimed at ensuring that landlords follow the Ministry’s “One House, One Toilet” policy.  Under this policy, landlords are required to provide toilets in every rented house.  Landlords were cited for violations of this policy by not providing toilets adequate sanitation.  As landlords have a reputation for constantly testing the will of the government, this decisive move is aimed at demonstrating the government’s commitment to enforcing these policies.

The closing of the Sun Yoghurt Company was precipitated by the company’s noncompliance of the State’s monthly sanitation exercise.  Despite announcements about the sanitation exercise, 116 persons did not observe the exercise and were charged with violating the law and fined 176,000 Nigerian Naira.

Both incidents come after a year-long push by local Nigerian governments to crack down on environmental and sanitation violations.  In the past year, close to 500 people have been arrested, fined, and jailed for violations of existing environmental laws.  The majority of accused have been prosecuted in mobile environmental courts, which conduct systematic inspections of both public and private state facilities.  Violations range from uncut grass to leaking piping to improper disposal of hazardous waste.  While there is a range of penalties for violations, the aim of the mobile courts is to increase awareness of the environmental and sanitation guidelines, and to instill discipline among residents.

More about the Ekiti incident can be found here and here for the Kano incident.

USAID and SIDA launch Securing Water for Food: A Grand Challenge for Development (GCD)

By Jane Tingley (Intern, IHC)
September 12, 2013

On September 2, 2013, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) launched the Securing Water for Food: A Grand Challenge for Development (GCD) program during an opening plenary session of the World Water Week conference in Stockholm, Sweden.  Securing Water for Food is the fifth GCD program launched in the past two years, and the third GCD supported in partnership with SIDA.  This GCD will be focused on the clear connections between water and food security.  The program is seeking scientific and technological innovations that aim to improve water efficiency along the food value chain, leading to enhanced food security and poverty alleviation.

The three focus areas of the GCD program are: water efficiency and reuse, water capture and storage, and saltwater intrusion.    While scientific innovations, such as saliency reduction methods are highlighted as possible supported improvements, the program will also support business and financial proposals that focus on increasing dissemination and adoption of science and technology solutions.

Calling innovators from all industries, including academics, business, and technology, in the first round, the program will be funding 30-40 innovations that are considered to be in the first two stages of innovation, Stage 1, Validation or Stage 2, Commercial Growth/Scaling.   Successful innovations will incorporate market-based approaches to improving water sustainability.

A website has been launched with information detailing the call for innovations, including eligibility and evaluation criteria.  This information and further details about the program can be found here.

Rockefeller Foundation Launches Resilient Cities Challenge

By Anjali Bean (Research and Policy Associate, IHC)
August 8, 2013

The Rockefeller Foundation launched a Centennial Challenge this week, on resilient cities. 100 cities with a population  over 50,000  will be selected to receive technical assistance and support while developing urban resiliency plans. The 100 winners will also participate in a Resilient Cities Network to share best practices and learn from each other.

This new project marks the 100th anniversary of the Rockefeller foundation, and the remarkable urban transformation that has occurred since 1913. The intended resiliency plans that will come from the Challenge will encompass environmental and natural disaster risks, health threats and financial instability.

The project recognizes that while solutions may be significantly different in various parts of the world, cities everywhere nonetheless form the backbone of any resilient society, and government can and should learn from each other as they adjust to a new urban reality.

A new website was launched this week to promote and organize the challenge. Also included in the website is a compilation of Rockefeller resources on resiliency as well as a blog discussing important issues in the field.

This information and more details on the competition itself is available here.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing: “The Impact of U.S. Water Programs on Global Health”

By Matt Seamon (Intern, IHC)
August 2, 2013

Yesterday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations held a hearing focused on the importance of clean water to overall global health. The event, entitled “The Impact of U.S. Water Programs on Global Health,” featured a distinguished panel including:

  • Christian Holmes, Global Water Coordinator at USAID
  • Aaron Salzberg, Ph.D., Special Coordinator for Water Resources at the State Department
  • John Oldfield, CEO of WASH Advocates
  • Malcolm Morris, Chairman of the Millennium Water Alliance
  • Buey Ray Tut, Executive Director of Aqua Africa

Each panelist stressed the significant progress that the development community has made on these issues, and highlighted that U.S. water and sanitation programs are saving and improving millions of lives across the globe. Several of the panelists, including WASH Advocates CEO John Oldfield, discussed the critical linkages between clean water and improved health outcomes.

While celebrating the good work that U.S. programs have done, the panel also called attention to ongoing challenges. They urged the subcommittee and Congress to support increased funding for foreign assistance, while also providing the oversight necessary to ensure these funds are spent most effectively. Panelists also expressed support for pending legislation to strengthen U.S. water programs, including the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2013.

More information about the hearing, including a full video recording and transcript of panelist testimony, can be found here.

New York Times Op-Ed Highlights Complicated Issue of Mumbai Slums

By Matt Seamon (Intern, IHC)
July 17, 2013

The recent explosion of population growth in large cities all around the developing world presents opportunities for economic development, but it has also exacerbated the issue of urban slums. Slums, which are generally characterized by insecure land tenure, extensive overcrowding, squalid living conditions, and a lack of municipal services like water and sanitation, are a massive public health problem. Many cities have increasingly taken steps to eliminate slums by razing slum buildings and replacing them with rapidly constructed residential housing blocks designed to absorb excess population. However, the promotion of hastily-constructed new buildings has produced its own dangers for the urban poor.

That is the focus of an op-ed published last week in the New York Times. The article documents a recent wave of building collapses in the slums around Mumbai, including a collapse that killed 74 people in April and another this month that killed at least six people and injured more than two dozen. In both cases, the root cause was shoddy construction work and dangerously low-quality building materials. In the rush to develop additional real estate, new buildings are neither approved nor overseen by any government agency. In the absence of regulations, and with an ever-worsening housing shortage brought on by Mumbai’s booming population, new construction emphasizes ease and affordability over safety and stability. The result: “shoddily built disasters.”

The op-ed puts the responsibility squarely on the city government, which has implemented faulty urban policies and allowed unrestrained real-estate speculation. The authors call on the city to re-think their current approach and look to other cities that have successfully upgraded their urban infrastructure as inspiration for new policies. They argue that Mumbai “will not solve its overcrowding problems by promoting buildings that could become lethal liabilities in the near future.”

Above all, the op-ed—and the tragic situation in Mumbai—highlight how important municipal governments and comprehensive urban planning are to global economic development and poverty reduction. The full article, titled “Boom and Bust at the Same Time,” can be found here.

Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act Introduced in House and Senate

July 2013

The International Housing Coalition would like to congratulate Congressmen Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) on the introduction of the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2013 (H.R. 2638; S. 1271). The bill is a significant step toward ensuring that U.S. foreign assistance programs are more effective, transparent, and accountable.

The Act strengthens critical U.S. development programs by directing U.S. agencies involved in foreign assistance to employ more consistent and transparent monitoring and evaluation guidelines across all foreign assistance programs, as well as to publish the results of these evaluations online for public access. This builds on recent results-oriented reforms included in President Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development and the State Department’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. The bill also echoes the recent U.S. commitment to participate in the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), a global campaign to create transparency in the records of how aid money is spent and ensure that aid money reaches its intended recipients.

An earlier version of the bill passed the House on a unanimous vote in the previous Congress but was not taken up in the Senate. We strongly encourage the House and Senate to enact this legislation during the 113th Congress.

Read more comments and reactions from the Brookings Institution, OxFam, and InterAction.

Leaders in Congress Discuss Importance of Water Strategy at Launch Event

By Anjali Bean (Research and Policy Associate, IHC)
July 12, 2013

In May, USAID officially released their comprehensive water strategy, which will guide the Agency’s work in the water and sanitation sector in the coming years.  At an event on Capitol Hill, many leaders in the WASH community spoke of the importance of the strategy. Many of the speakers emphasized water’s connection to basic quality of life, nutrition and food security, disease prevention, education, gender equality, and security.

The event was recorded and all of the remarks can be found on USAID’s website here.  Many leaders from Congress and the Administration spoke, including Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chris Coons (D-DE), Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX), and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. Videos on USAID’s water program and one highlighting a successful Development Innovation Ventures project are also available.

We particularly liked the remarks by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), highlighting the importance of focusing on the world’s poorest. Listen to his remarks below.

Representatives Royce and Engel Introduce Electrify Africa Act of 2013

By Matt Seamon (Intern, IHC)
July 10, 2013

In sub-Saharan Africa, energy poverty—lack of reliable access to electricity—is a devastating problem. Nearly 600 million people, two-thirds of the population, do not have access to electricity. Though energy poverty is less talked about than other development issues—for example, access to clean water and sanitation or food security —it is an important problem with significant negative effects for people in the developing world. Hospitals without electricity cannot store vaccines or use lifesaving medical equipment. Schools without electricity cannot access valuable teaching resources, and students without electricity in their homes cannot study after dark. Furthermore, this lack of affordable and reliable power is one of the most significant constraints on economic development. It is estimated that the absence of electricity hinders economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa by up to five percent each year.

Members of Congress are working to address this problem. Representatives Royce (R-CA) and Engel (D-NY), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, recently unveiled their Electrify Africa Act of 2013 (H.R. 2548). The bill aims to accelerate growth, boost education, and alleviate extreme poverty by providing first-time electricity access for at least 50 million people by 2020. The bill prioritizes and coordinates U.S. government resources, encouraging USAID to make loan guarantees to facilitate investment in power projects, promoting Overseas Private Investment Corporation to prioritize investment in the electricity sector, and pushing the World Bank and African Development Bank to increase commitments to power sector projects.

Reliable electricity is an important component of adequate housing and an integral part of long-term economic development.

The full text of the Electrify Africa Act can be found here.

Technology in Informal Economies – for the Developed World Too?

By Anjali Bean (Research and Policy Associate, IHC)
July 3, 2013

A major sign of a developing economy is the shrinking size and increasing regulation of the informal sector. Goods and services that were once unregulated and provided ad hoc by the community itself slowly get enveloped by the state or private companies that are required to act in a certain way and provide certain services.

This is generally considered a good thing; water and electricity are difficult or impossible to provide individually, and informal markets for both are often highly inefficient or predatory. Similarly, unregulated transportation can encourage reckless and unsafe behavior when there are no consequences and time is money.

However, in a blog post from the Informal Cities Dialogue, Nick Grossman argues that social platforms on the internet are beginning to reintroduce the developed world to informality. Beginning with eBay, but now including platforms such as CraigsList, AirBnB, SideCar and Kickstarter, informal “person-to-person” transactions have become a normal part of urban life. You no longer have to go through a company, store, or traditional financer to buy a car, rent an apartment for the weekend, or finance your next big idea; these services are now available from individuals or groups of individuals through peer-based platforms.

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GAO Releases Report on Haiti Reconstruction

By Anjali Bean (Research and Policy Associate, IHC)
June 28, 2013

This week, at the request of the House Foreign Affairs Committee leadership, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a critical report on the use of government funds in Haiti, following the earthquake in January of 2010. Congress appropriated more than $1.14 billion dollars for reconstruction efforts in Haiti in 2010, and the report outlines how little of these funds have been spent and how both economic stimulus projects and housing reconstruction plans have been far slower and more expensive than originally projected.

Of particular interest to the IHC is the section on USAID lead housing reconstruction. Both the number of beneficiaries expected and the projected costs of preparation and construction have been revised several times since 2010, with the number of beneficiaries decreasing while the costs increase. USAID originally set a goal of constructing 15,000 houses for $8,000 each, benefiting 75,000 – 90,000 people. Since then these projections have been reduced to 2,649 houses, costing $23,400 each and benefiting only 13,200 – 15,900 people, an eighty percent reduction in housing units from the original estimate.

The report cites uncertainty around land tenure as a major stumbling block for USAID. USAID stopped efforts to partner with private landowners in 2011, but ownership has been difficult to verify even on government land. Higher international standards for housing construction and Haitian government requests for amenities such as electricity and flushing toilets also contributed to increasing costs.

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Federal Budget Update

By Anjali Bean (Research and Policy Associate, IHC)
June 28, 2013

Negotiations continue as both the House and Senate attempt to solidify the FY2014 budget before the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1st. Much of the recent focus has been on 302(b) allocations. These allocations represent the division of the entire federal budget into sections that each subcommittee then allocates to specific programs and accounts.

Of particular interest to the IHC is the State and Foreign Operations allocation. Both the House and the Senate have released their 302(b) allocations and there will have to be significant negotiations in order to find a compromise between the two. The Senate allocations were passed with a vote entirely along party lines; this is unusual for the appropriations process and does not bode well for any upcoming compromises. And compromise will be needed, with the Senate’s State and Foreign Operations base funding allocation nearly 30% higher than the House’s.

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The Jury Is Still Out On Urbanization and the Post-2015 Agenda

Guest Post by Chris Vincent, Government Relations and Advocacy, Habitat for Humanity
June 21, 2013

The Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015 and the release of a recent report by a United Nation’s advisory group has kicked off a lively discussion about the future of global development.  The jury is still out if housing, slums and urbanization will get any attention from policy-makers.

On May 31st, a U.N. task team called the High Level Panel released its recommendations, including a set of illustrative goals for a post-2015 agenda.  Generally, the report is strong and lays out a vision to end extreme poverty.   However, from a housing perspective, the report has important elements, but falls short.  Good options exist to tackle housing and urbanization issues along with cities and resilience.

The High Level Panel should be applauded for singling out the importance of secure land tenure by increasing the percentage of “women and men, communities and small businesses with secure rights to land, property and other assets.” Secure tenure, or freedom from the fear of eviction, is foundational to adequate housing.  Other essential targets on water, sanitation, gender and financial services are also included in the framework.

While the High Level Panel allows that “cities are where the battle for sustainable development will be won or lost”, there is little of this trend reflected in their goals and targets.  Estimates from the U.N. predict 3 billion people will be living in slums by 2050, a 200% increase from today’s levels.  The U.N. officially states the current MDG target on slums has been achieved, but this “success” discounts that slum populations are increasing dramatically, especially in Africa.  Despite this, the High Level Panel failed to include any target on slums in their report.

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