While the newly created Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD) of the Philippine national government started operations this year, its members had been actively participating in the IKI-funded Building Climate Resiliency Through Urban Plans and Designs (BCRUPD) project in the last three years through its former offices, Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) and Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC).

With its enhanced mandates and functions, the new department articulated the need for the strengthening of its capacities and, through BCRUPD, requested for a costed project extension to assist in the formulation of its human settlements framework.

As the implementing agency of BCRUPD and drawing from its previous experience of facilitating the development of the Local Shelter Planning Manual and Planned City Extension Guide with national government, UN-Habitat conducted a virtual brown bag with DHSUD last March 24, 2020 on local shelter planning (LSP) and planned city extensions (PCEs) to meet these emergent needs. The brown bag focused on integrating LSP and PCE processes into the Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) that DHSUD is mandated to train local governments on. BCRUPD’s current outcome areas include mainstreaming climate resilience building into the CLUP training modules that DHSUD delivers for LGUs.

As such, climate resilience building was strongly integrated into the technical discussions on LSP and PCE, with guidance on how to include analyses on exposure and sensitivity, population growth in risk areas, and climate-driven housing provisions and standards and infrastructure requirements.

Attended by 23 DHSUD staff, the virtual brown bag adopted a more informal format compared to onsite trainings, resulting in a marked increase in participants’ confidence to ask questions and share experiences from the ground. A follow-up, online technical session is scheduled on April 28, 2020.

The Covid-19 Response in Marawi was launched on April 27, 2020 through the turnover of the first batch of PPEs and disinfectants for frontliners manning check points in the city and for cooperative members who will be manning the mobile markets, mobile stores, and sanitation facilities to be delivered by the response. Photo: UN-Habitat/Mark Padida

Marawi, 27 April 2020 – UN-Habitat officially launched Covid-19 Response As We Rebuild Marawi, an initiative being implemented in Marawi City and funded by the UN-Habitat Global Emergency Response Fund. Marking the launch of the initiative, the first batch of personal protective equipment (PPE) and disinfectant supplies was turned over to the city government.

While the impact of COVID-19 can be felt all over the Philippines, it is especially amplified in areas recovering from conflict, such as Marawi, where a siege by pro-ISIS militants against government forces broke out in May to October 2017, displacing thousands of families.

The three-month initiative, which falls under UN-Habitat’s global Covid-19 Response Plan, will be carried out in partnership with the city government, Task Force Bangon Marawi (a national government task force created specifically for post-conflict rehabilitation and recovery of Marawi), and the Marawi Sultanate League.

It will support 2,500 internally displaced families living in transitional sites in the barangays (villages) of Sagonsongan and Boganga, as well as other families there, local authorities, the Covid-19 Incident Command Center of Marawi, women, and youth, among others.

The initiative will involve the installation of permanent handwashing facilities and provision of disinfectant supplies in transitional shelter sites and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPEs) among displaced people living in these sites and among families in host barangays

It will also ensure the operation of satellite markets and mobile stores to facilitate easy access to food and basic necessities sold at subsidized/wholesale prices targeting vulnerable IDPs who receive small cash support from government and promote small-scale vegetable growing at household and community levels to increase food security.

Since the enhanced community quarantine was issued in March by both the city and province to deter COVID-19 transmission, most shops have closed, travel has been restricted, a curfew has been strictly enforced, and people have been ordered to stay home until the quarantine is lifted. Travel exemptions are granted only to essential service and goods providers and individuals going out on essential supply runs. Due to the closure of shops in many communities, people on supply runs would have to travel significant distances to the city center where markets remain open to get food and essentials; some may not be able to do so owing to unavailable public transit. The satellite market is designed to operate ad hoc by making produce and food available at  fixed locations in Sagonsongan ang Boganga, both at the city periphery, to people who would otherwise have to travel at least half an hour to the city center to buy them. The mobile stores—essentially stores on wheels—are small cargo vehicles that will ply remotely located neighborhoods and villages to sell food, produce, and other essentials.

Additionally, the initiative will also provide capacity development support to the local government through enhancement of its Incident Command System.

The Covid-19 response initiative complements UN-Habitat’s existing Japan-funded project, Rebuilding Marawi through Community-driven Shelter and Livelihood, by tapping the livelihood cooperatives organized under the project in the operation of the satellite markets and mobile stores. 

Marawi City Mayor Majul Gandamra, during project coordination talks, remarked that the satellite markets and mobile stores supported the call for minimizing the need of residents to venture out during the current lockdown by addressing food insecurity at the household level. He stressed the need for the initiative to help build capacities of the city government’s Incident Command System, particularly in pandemic response.

Sultan Nasser Sampaco of Marawi Sultanate League noted the timeliness of the project, given the month-long observance of Ramadan in Marawi, the country’s largest Islamic city, amid limited mobility resulting from government-mandated community quarantine.

TFBM Assistant-Secretary Felix Castro, Jr. sums it all up: “Solidarity is the key to beat the Covid-19 pandemic. The communities, the government, UN agencies, NGOs, and the private sector  must work together to prevent transmission. The support of UN-Habitat helps augment the programs of the government. As in the case of the mobile stores, instead of having people travel to buy food, UN-Habitat through their partner cooperatives will be coming to barangays to make sure people have that access to food and water.”

 “Solidarity is the key to beat the Covid-19 pandemic. The communities, the Government, UN agencies, NGOs, and the private sector must work together to prevent transmission,” said TFBM Assistant-Secretary Felix Castro Jr.

“The support of UN-Habitat helps augment the Government’s programmes. As in the case of the mobile stores, instead of having people travel to buy food, UN-Habitat through their partner cooperatives will be coming to barangays to make sure people have that access to food and water.”

Nairobi, Kenya 23 April 2020 – The continuing spread of the COVID-19 crisis threatens the most vulnerable in cities and communities, particularly the one billion people living in slums and informal settlements, including refugees, internally displaced people and migrants. To address the crisis, UN-Habitat is launching an urgent COVID-19 Response Plan for 64 countries focusing on immediate action in poor and densely populated areas. This is supported by the COVID-19 Campaign to mobilize support among national, city and local governments and community leaders through its network of urban professionals, grassroots organizations and businesses.

Over 95 per cent of the world’s coronavirus cases are in urban areas with nearly 1,500 cities affected. People in informal settlements are particularly at risk as they live in overcrowded conditions, lack adequate housing and basic services such as water and sanitation and many are informal workers surviving from one day to the next. This makes it extremely hard to implement measures to slow transmission such physical distancing, self-quarantine, handwashing or community-wide lockdowns.

UN-Habitat Executive Director, Maimunah Mohd Sharif
on the COVID-19 Response Plan and Campaign

UN-Habitat, which has over 40 years of urban experience, much of it in humanitarian situations, is working with its partners on the ground including mayors, governors, transport and utility providers, women, youth and community organizations and NGOs to urgently deliver the USD 72 million Response Plan in Africa, the Arab States, Asia Pacific, and Latin American and the Caribbean.

This catalytic support will amplify the impact of ongoing initiatives by central and local governments, communities and other UN agencies. Funding requirements will be updated as the situation evolves and needs are further assessed.

Over 70 per cent of the support will be used to help informal settlements to improve affordable access to water and sanitation, raise awareness about COVID-19, and support initiatives to prevent people becoming homeless by providing temporary shelter or alternative income generating activities. Ensuring safe transport and repurposing buildings to isolate those infected are other priority areas.

To make sure that urban responses, such as provision of water, food, housing, health services and livelihoods, are targeted at the most vulnerable and high risk areas, UN-Habitat will assist with data collection, mapping of existing and emerging hot spots and analysis working with its network of local and global partners. This will help evidence-based decision making by local governments and key stakeholders.

As the pandemic plunges the world’s economy into a global recession, UN-Habitat is focusing on policies and measures to mitigate the local social and economic impact of COVID-19 and is working with a coalition of global thought leaders and stakeholders in public and private spheres.

UN-Habitat has already provided seed funding of over USD 1.3 million for scaling up projects in 13 countries with community preparedness, outreach and hygiene support. The agency has also jointly launched, with United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) and Metropolis, a #BeyondTheOutbreak virtual live learning series for mayors and local leaders to share urban solutions.

“The UN-Habitat team is working night and day to help city and community leaders on the frontline of this pandemic to reduce the risks in informal settlements and help the most vulnerable.

“With our extensive network of partners as well as our in-house experts, UN-Habitat is working closely with cities and communities to find innovative and targeted solutions to provide water and sanitation and safe transport and to mitigate the economic impact on the urban poor,” said UN-Habitat’s Executive Director, Maimunah Mohd Sharif.

“We want to help build up the resilience of our community partners to respond to specific and varied challenges over the coming months and beyond.”

At the global level, UN-Habitat is sharing good practice and solutions and identifying successful policy, legal measures and governance approaches to respond to current needs and long term resilience.

In Africa, UN-Habitat will support 20 countries, prioritizing the coordination of emergency preparedness and response, improving access to food and basic services including water, sanitation and hygiene, and promoting entrepreneurship. UN-Habitat’s response in 11 countries in the Arab region focuses on improving water, sanitation, and hygiene, ensuring safe transport, securing livelihoods, vulnerability assessments and risk area mapping.

In 17 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, the agency will collate, analyse and produce relevant data, improve hygiene, water, sanitation and health facilities and raise public awareness. And in 16 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, UN-Habitat will strengthen the capacity of local authorities, help mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic on the urban poor and join regional efforts to bring investment to vulnerable areas.

To amplify the impact and broaden the reach of the Response Plan, UN-Habitat is launching a COVID-19 Campaign ‘Take action with us in cities and communities’ which calls on civil society organizations, community groups, professional, academic and research institutions, businesses and local authorities to commit online to acting in solidarity to fight the pandemic in cities and helping the most vulnerable communities. The Campaign will provide a central place to network and share solutions, initiatives, good practice, lessons and stories from partners and strengthen integrated action to improve the resilience of cities and communities.

The Response Plan and the COVID-19 Campaign provide a roadmap and rallying point for the combined commitment of UN-Habitat and its network of urban actors to support cities’ proactive responses to protect their populations, halt the pandemic and work towards recovery and resilience.

The impacts of climate change prompt migration to urban areas, where lack of adequate housing increases the likelihood of disease transmission.

31 March 2020, Manila.  Climate change is an urban health issue. The connection between climate change and health is widely studied, with urban residents facing some of its most adverse impacts. For example, people in urban areas are exposed to higher than average temperatures caused by urban heat stress. This is a result of increasing temperatures compounded by how urban centers are designed and built.  The same people are exposed to toxic air and susceptible to stress (especially in car-centric urban centers with limited green and open spaces), which aggravate the health implications of extreme heat exposure. The elderly, individuals with pre-existing conditions, the urban poor in highly dense slum areas, and those who work outdoors (e.g. construction workers and street vendors) are particularly vulnerable to the effects of heat stress. Urban dwellers are also at risk of water-borne diseases exacerbated by excessive rainfall and flooding, particularly in communities with poor water and sanitation facilities and poor waste management.

In the midst of a new pandemic, we are reminded of another life-threatening aspect of climate change: how it can accelerate the development and transmission of infectious diseases. Pathogens (i.e. viruses and bacteria) and their vectors (e.g. mosquitos) are known to propagate in favorable temperatures, while precipitation and wind affect their transmission. For instance, studies show that temperatures 30C and above shorten the breeding period of dengue mosquitoes. This was the case in Ormoc City in Leyte from 2016 to 2017. From only 63 cases the previous year, dengue cases jumped to 469, a growth attributed to temperature increase.

Climate change and the expansion of cities also amplify the prevalence of “zoonotic diseases”, or diseases transmitted from animals to humans.  

As the earth continues to warm, scientists forecast the movement of wild animals and vectors to colder climates, “bringing hosts, vectors, and diseases currently restricted to the tropics within the range of temperate population centers” (Mills et al, 2010). The outward expansion of cities puts pressure on existing natural habitats, fragmenting them and changing their composition. Oftentimes, most of the wildlife die off or are driven away, but those that move in, remain, and proliferate – like roaches, rats and other rodents – become vectors for the transmission of human diseases. Studies also suggest that a decline in some predator species contributes to the rise of parasites and subsequent parasitic infections.   

Currently, we are also seeing unprecedented levels of migration among people due to climate change. Entire communities are losing their homes, food supply, and livelihoods to extreme weather events and sea-level rise, but their subsequent movements are often from one place of vulnerability to another. Relocation to urban areas is common, where lack of adequate housing increases the likelihood of worsening disease outbreaks. Overcrowding in slum areas facilitates the spread of infectious diseases. Displaced populations are therefore more susceptible to illnesses because of poor health aggravated by poor living conditions.

Climate Resilience Boosts Urban Health

The COVID-19 pandemic has rendered large cities all over the world unprepared for its rapid spread. Although much is yet to be discovered about the virus and disease, it is clear that climate-resilient urban planning and design could help reduce the impact of diseases particularly on vulnerable populations.

Building cities’ resilience to climate change and safeguarding the larger ecosystem while supporting urbanization contribute to improved public health by reducing health hazards and by enabling better response mechanisms to health emergencies.

Urban planning and design needs to shift from “business-as-usual” to climate-responsive if we are to safeguard urban health.

“Two big climate change risks that threaten the health of people living in cities are increasing temperatures and changes in precipitation,” explains Architect Herbert Jose, Building Climate Resiliency through Urban Plans and Designs (BCRUPD) Urban Design Project Development Expert. “Urban spaces are prone to extreme heat, flooding and/or water scarcity, which must be mitigated to avoid their detrimental effects to people’s health,” he adds.

One way to address increasing heat is by carefully planning street patterns of growth areas with respect to sun and wind directions, and optimizing building heights and massing along their edges to shade public areas. For existing urban areas, the most effective way is to incorporate more parks and open spaces into the urban grain, and ensure that people are able to use them for recreation. If adequately designed, these open spaces act as both ‘wind corridors’ that dissipate heat from the center of the city, and relaxation areas where people can ‘cool-off’ and escape increasing heat.

Studies show that green spaces and being near nature are beneficial to people’s mental health. Parks and other open spaces are conducive to rest, recreation, and social interaction: elements necessary for good health and well-being. These spaces must provide adequate seating, restrooms, and trash cans, which are all important to health and sanitation.

Flooding and water scarcity are other climate-related issues affecting people’s health that need to be considered when building resilience. Flooding due to increased rainfall can be addressed at the neighborhood level by reducing water runoff from impervious surfaces. According to Mr. Reinero Flores, BCRUPD National Project Coordinator, “Rainwater harvesting for non-potable domestic use is a simple technique that can reduce both flooding and the demand for increasingly scarce water resources. Stored rainwater can also act as reserve supply during drought periods and emergencies.” Another way is to increase permeable surfaces within urban areas to help minimize flooding while at the same time recharging our aquifers. Well-designed sustainable urban drainage systems ensure that disease-vector-breeding-ground stagnant water areas are minimized, and that our groundwater resources are recharged and maintained.

People living in climate-responsive cities also benefit from reduced car-dependence. By promoting optimal density and mix of uses within neighborhoods, the population’s dependence on private transportation is reduced. Walking and bicycling can be encouraged in these cities by providing well-built infrastructure such as foot paths and bicycle lanes. Studies show that an active lifestyle protects individuals from heart disease and obesity, while exercise is believed to help alleviate depression. Less vehicular emissions and more trees improve air quality and lower people’s risk of contracting cardiorespiratory diseases.

Designing resilience improves urban health by reducing health hazards and enabling better response mechanisms to health emergencies. Photo from UN-Habitat’s Disaster Risk Reduction Training with SHFC in 2015.

Urban gardening within cities contribute to better urban health as well. Architect Louwie Gan, BCRUPD Urban Design Expert, states that “access to healthy food supply growing in community gardens during the present COVID-19 pandemic would not only build resiliency, but also help soften the impact of the community quarantine on people’s health.”

The benefits of urban gardening are well-known and are being integrated into BCRUPD pilot projects. The demonstration projects currently being designed by Ormoc and Legazpi City’s technical working groups, for instance, incorporate “edible landscaping” into their plans as an innovation that can help their communities develop resilience to the negative effects of climate change to their food supply.

A well-designed, climate-resilient, compact city has built-in advantages especially during crisis situations like the current outbreak of COVID-19. “Because of its smaller footprint, the delivery of essential services to and within compact cities is simpler and more efficient. Patient contact tracing, quarantine, and monitoring operations are easier to enforce. Less resources are required to keep emergency services running, and the national health infrastructure is less likely to be overwhelmed. People’s vulnerability to additional health risks is mitigated and the negative effects of the pandemic are minimized,” Architect Jose asserts. 

Climate change is threatening the viability of our cities and our health and well-being. While we try to slow its progress, we should also ensure that we are preparing for its effects while we still have time. Cities and the number of people who live in them will continue to grow in the foreseeable future. The current pandemic shows us that we need to shift our thinking and change our practices to ensure that this growth will not be business-as-usual but responsive to our challenges, so that people can remain strong, healthy and happy. Planning for climate resilience is planning for health.

References: PLOS Medicine, Journal of Urban Health, International WELL Building Institute, Local Government of Ormoc City, Virulence, Environmental Health Perspectives, CNN Philippines, BioScience, World Economic Forum, World Bank, United Nations, World Health Organization