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This Sunday we commemorate the World Cities Day. As usual, from the IDB we want to celebrate the promotion of sustainable urbanization and the advancement of cooperation between countries to face common urban challenges. For this reason, and as this anniversary takes place at the beginning of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in 2021, we will dedicate this blog to address some of the main urban threats that our region is facing, paying special attention to the nexus between cities and environment. We hope this blog will raise awareness of the importance of the role of cities and the key moment we are living to achieve a sustainable and resilient development in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC)
What challenges do cities in our region face?
With 81% of the population living in cities, LAC is one of the most urbanized regions in the world. However, the urban areas of LAC still have pending challenges, such as solving the housing deficit (45% of the urban population of the region live in precarious housing conditions), high levels of housing informality, lack of urban planning, lack of access to services or mitigating the effects of climate change in informal neighborhoods.
Despite the efforts made in recent decades, at least 20% of the urban population of LAC lives in informal neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are usually located in risk areas and without basic infrastructure, which makes them especially vulnerable to inclement weather caused by natural disasters. This point is of special importance, because in the last 30 years, more than 91 million inhabitants and 24 million homes have been affected by floods or storms in our region.
In 2020 alone, about 9.9 million people were affected by the hurricanes Eta and Iota, which caused considerable damage to infrastructure, especially in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Colombia. This year, in addition to facing the emergency caused by COVID-19, LAC will have to continue fighting to mitigate the consequences of climate change and natural disasters that have impacted the region. An example of this is the recent 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on August 14, leaving 2,246 dead, 12,763 injured and more than 26,200 displaced. Therefore, the question is: how can we develop safer and more resilient cities taking into account climate change and natural disasters?
The IDB and its 2025 Vision: Opportunities for Sustainable and Resilient Urban Development
From the IDB´s Housing and Urban Development Division we are working hard to mainstream not only the mitigation of the effects of climate change in the management of cities, but also the solution of all the latent development gaps in the region. Last year 57.4% of the Division’s investments were allocated to adaptation and mitigation projects. This shows that, for the IDB, climate change, housing and cities are part of the same equation.
During 2021 we have focused our efforts on supporting a green and equitable recovery process, including actions through operations in informal areas, comprehensive sustainability strategies, and actions that support adaptation and mitigation of the effects of climate change in cities. An example is the neighborhood improvement project and support for vulnerable populations in Chile with a financing of US $ 100 million.
In the same way, we work hard to ensure that cities of our region do not lag behind in the economic and social recovery caused by the pandemic. We also thrive on adapting more easily to climate change through the construction of technical capacities, dialogues, and the exchange of knowledge and solutions. From our Division, we work in accordance with the IDB VISION 2025, which aims to build a sustainable recovery from the pandemic. This vision prioritizes the adaptation of our cities to climate change and the creation of sustainable formal jobs.
Below we list some of the main lines of action that are being addressed by our Division during 2021. All of them are aligned with the 2025 vision and look for a sustainable and resilient development of our cities:
- Adapting cities to climate change and strengthening their resilience
To adapt our cities to the adverse effects of climate change, it is necessary that urban planning and investments draw on the territorial knowledge of the local population. It is key to take their opinion into consideration in the design and execution processes of projects using tools connected with institutions and following the latest urban trends. Similarly, the local financing gap can be reduced with various financial innovation tools (local collection, sustainable bonds, green funds, multilateral banking) that cities can use to implement green or climate projects.
- Promoting biodiverse cities
It is urgent to accelerate the valuation of natural capital and biodiversity in inner cities and prioritize solutions based on nature. Can other forms of life, besides human life, thrive in our cities? How can biodiversity and ecosystem services be critical axes on which cities depend to achieve a better quality of life? The publication ¨Biodiversity and Resilient Cities in Latin America and the Caribbean¨ can be used as a guide for decision-maker to design strategies that generate tangible benefits, derived from the promotion of biodiversity in cities. The rigorous and practical methodology proposed in this publication emphasizes promoting dialogue, understanding and financing projects that protect and increase biodiversity in our cities.
- Developing the housing sector to accelerate economic recovery
Promoting the housing sector is a great tool to stimulate a sustainable and resilient recovery in LAC. The direct impacts on the economic reactivation made by the housing sector are quite evident: the construction sector accounts for 13.1% of the national GDP in the region, of which residential construction represents 45% of the total.
The future of cities in Latin America and the Caribbean
Climate change, biodiversity loss and urban informality are among the main challenges facing cities in the region. Those tensions, along with the ravages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, have generated widespread social, cultural, economic and health impacts.
However, the cities of Latin America and the Caribbean have the potential to recover, adapt and prepare to face the various challenges that may arise in the short, medium, and long term. From the Housing and Urban Development Division of the IDB we work with the purpose of supporting the cities of the region to innovate and strengthen themselves with technical and financial assistance, sharing knowledge and good practices so that LAC can meet its objectives of adaptation to climate change.
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Authors listed by alphabetical order