By 2030, urbanization and economic growth project that nearly 61% of the world’s population will live in cities, the Asia Pacific Region alone housing approximately 2.7 billion urban residents. This will be juxtaposed alongside increasing inequality, environmental concerns, and growing infrastructure deficits, resulting in inadequate standards of living. Eight hundred million people in South Asia alone live in climate hotspots and will see their living conditions decline sharply by 2050.
Despite this urgent and recognized need, the provision of basic services and infrastructure, particularly for urban poor and informal households, which could reduce their exposure and vulnerability to disasters, has been piecemeal and inadequate. Losses from disasters and climate change induced stresses in Asia and the Pacific region could account for 40 percent of global economic losses, and small island developing states and least developed countries could lose up to 4 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively, of their GDP annually. Historically, between 1970 and 2016, Asia and the Pacific region has lost $1.3 trillion in assets.
Despite global initiatives towards adapting and mitigating the impact of disaster risks and shocks, increasing resilience through urban low-income housing has not been adequately addressed. In the aftermath of a disaster, losses in housing and infrastructure are significant, adversely impacting the quality of life and livelihoods for urban poor households. In the absence of resilient and adequate housing, a household’s adaptive capacity; their ability to retain and utilize assets to meet needs, is severely compromised.
Importance of Housing
Housing often accounts for a major share of monetary losses in disasters. Between 1991 to 2010, only (12.7%) of global disaster-related expenditures ($3.3 trillion) was dedicated to risk reduction, whereas 87.3% was spent on emergency response, reconstruction, and rehabilitation, wherein damaged homes accounted for the bulk of expenditures. For every dollar spent on mitigation, it saves four dollars in recovery and reconstruction. Yet the majority of projects focus on post-disaster rehabilitation rather than successful preemptive measures.
More often than not, urban poor and informal households live where they can afford to, with limited physical infrastructure, in areas inevitably more susceptible to hazards and in housing that is less resilient, often foregoing secure tenure. They are likely to incur more losses when affected by hazards; have fewer financial resources with which to reduce the effects, and have limited access to social safety nets to help recover from the impact. In the absence of resilient housing, their livelihoods and assets are more exposed to extreme events, and they are more vulnerable to slow-onset stresses such as increasing temperatures and rising sea levels.
Insecure tenure makes urban poor and informal households less resilient. In the absence of economic and social incentives to improve their living conditions and the threat of routine evictions, they resort to inexpensive and readily available building materials. Structural inequalities such as limited access to formal housing finance and restrictive governmental policies on ownership and land titling create further barriers, thereby increasing their vulnerability towards climate change and disaster-related risks.
Housing is more than physical shelter and is a prerequisite for building resilience in urban poor and low-income households. It is a unit of economic production, the basis for accessing social welfare schemes, and an inheritable asset which improves quality of life. Increasing resilience towards climate change and disaster risks have little meaning when spoken without the security of tenure; since in its absence, housing finance, community mobilization, resilient construction practices, etc. have limited impact and are sunk costs.