The demand for decent, affordable – and safe – housing for growing urban populations is a nagging problem for financially strapped governments throughout the developing world. According to McKinsey & Co., a third of the world’s urban population – 1.6 billion people – will be hard pressed to obtain decent housing by 2025.
, quickly, by strapping themselves inside the myth that it is always better to build new homes rather than strengthening existing ones.
In Colombia, for example, 98% of all housing subsidies fund the acquisition of a new house or apartment; almost nothing goes to retrofitting existing homes to withstand the forces of nature and the tests of time.
While new construction may be a more attractive way to create schools, hospitals, and other public infrastructure, housing is a bigger, more pressing and complicated problem that may have a simpler solution:
It’s not only a more efficient way to deploy limited government subsidies, but also a strategy to leverage these public funds with another private source in reach of governments: homeowners.
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The scene is as familiar as it is tragic: A devastating hurricane or earthquake strikes a populated area in a poor country, inflicting a high number of casualties, overwhelming the resources and capacity of rescue teams and hospital emergency rooms. First responders must resort to “triage” – the medical strategy of maximizing the efficient use of existing resources to save lives, while minimizing the number of deaths.
But if governments could apply triage to substandard housing, medical triage would be a much less frequent occurrence – because
In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, one-third of the population – 200 million people – lives in informal settlements, which are densely packed with deadly housing units. In 2010, when the 7.0-magnitude Haiti earthquake killed 260,000 people, 70% of damages were related to housing. Similarly, it’s estimated that if an 8.0-magnitude earthquake hit Peru, 80% of the economic losses would be to housing.
But the story in rich countries is different. In the past 10 years, high-income countries experienced 47% of disasters worldwide, but accounted for only 7% of fatalities.
- Sustainable Communities
- natural disasters
- resilient housing
- Disaster Resilience
- 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Management
- disaster risk management
- Financial Sector
- Public Sector and Governance
- Urban Development
- Climate Change
- Latin America & Caribbean
Between 2010 and 2017, Chile was struck by 10 major natural hazard events. These disasters affected as many as 340,583 houses and cost $3.6 billion in reconstruction (Ministry of Housing and Urbanism of Chile). Post-disaster assessments point to housing as one of the most affected sectors in the wake of climate-related and other natural hazards—most commonly floods, earthquakes, landslides, and fires. In a 22-year period between 1990 and 2011, minimum losses in the housing sector for 16 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) amounted to $53 billion.
In the LAC region, one quarter of the population lives in slums, characterized by the prevalence of substandard housing quality as well as incremental and self-construction of homes. Families living in these informal settlements are at greatest risk to natural hazard impacts. Programs providing new housing do not always reach families in the lowest quintiles; and without access to affordable and well-located housing alternatives, households have no other option than to build informally, and in areas most prone to natural disasters.