Shanties stand along the bank of Buriganga River in Hazaribagh, Dhaka District, Bangladesh. Photo by: Abir Abdullah / Asian Development Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

BANGKOK — Strategically sandwiched between 2016’s Habitat III and the World Urban Forum in 2018, the Asia Pacific Housing Forum welcomes stakeholders to Hong Kong this week to talk about continued action on the New Urban Agenda, including how to address housing issues and promote affordable housing as a driver of economic growth.

The agenda, presented in Quito in October 2016, set a new global standard for sustainable urban development. While the focus in Quito was meant to be on commitment and action, the Hong Kong forum will provide further opportunity to present known challenges and new ideas, as well as proven housing solutions, according to Heron Holloway, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Hong Kong.

Lessons learned at Habitat III

After last year’s Habitat III conference, national delegates and members of the development community headed home to implement the New Urban Agenda in their local context. Devex looked at some of the key issues that emerged at Habitat III that will inform those plans.

“It took a lot of consultation work to present the New Urban Agenda at Habitat III,” Holloway said. “Now, we need to be asking: What is the roadmap to achieve this?”

At the start of the forum, Habitat for Humanity, which is organizing the gathering, will present its own road map for delivering on the New Urban Agenda, but Holloway urges the more than 300 participants to come equipped with their own ideas on the way forward.

The gathering will focus on current challenges and advancements in addressing shelter issues from across the Asia-Pacific region, she said, while also addressing urbanization, resilience and financing for low-income populations.

Here are three things expected to top the agenda and be discussed in side conversations at the forum.

1. Technology for housing solutions

The forum will for the first time introduce a “Technology for affordable housing” track, focused on how technology can be used to increase access to affordable housing, land tenure, and sustainable construction materials.

Drones, for example, can be used in planning housing solutions. On the southern Philippine island of Mindanao — where fighting against pro-ISIS militant groups has devastated much of the city of Marawi — SkyEye, a drone service company, is already using drones to map the area to help plan temporary housing solutions when residents are able to return. The team did similar work following Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, founder and CEO Matthew Cua explained, and also uses drone technology to help identify locations for schools and dump sites.

“In the Philippines, we have a lot of uncontrolled development, so it’s hard to make sure that we are able to conduct manual surveys for all residents, with side roads here, side roads there,” Cua said. But “by using the drones, we are able to work with NGO partners to make sure they respond to target populations most effectively.”

2. An informed community’s role in resilient housing

Decent and affordable housing can lift entire communities out of poverty — a topic that will be front and center throughout the forum. With panels on housing policy challenges in ensuring gender equality and tenure formalization strategies to bring greater benefits for low-income populations, the event seeks to recognize the power that comes with an active, supported community and an engaged government.  

Celine d’Cruz, urban practitioner for the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, notes that already many informal settlement communities have shifted their communication style over time in order to better negotiate with their local governments.

Shouting and screaming about the unfairness of eviction or lack of basic services in front of municipal offices in Mumbai, for example, has given way to building competence in areas of finance and information collection, then coming to the negotiation table with facts to barter with, the founder of Slum Dwellers International explained.

“Now, a community might say ‘800 people use one toilet in Dahravi, and we want to bring those ratios down,” d’Cruz said. “City, how much land can you give us? How can you help facilitate the process? Then the city starts trusting and engaging.”

Now, d’Cruz is looking to use this knowledge and experience of slum communities in India to encourage other communities to think and work effectively with government: “You need the support of your city, and it’s high time they wake up to the fact that in many cases, 60 percent of their populations live in slums. I think many cities are waking up to that.”

3. Shelter and urbanization

David Gazashvili, country director for CARE in the Philippines, expects disaster risk reduction in urban settings to be a popular area of discussion — especially when it comes to using innovative building techniques to address a rapidly growing urban population in an era of rising displacement.

Response to flooding, typhoons or earthquakes in urban settings is often constrained due to a lack of space for displaced persons. Common areas such as schools or basketball courts are quickly overrun, yet those affected by disaster need proper temporary shelter to gather and live in until they can go back to their houses if possible, Gazashvili explained.

CARE, along with several partners, is currently in the process of designing several two-story urban shelter prototypes to be tested in metro Manila that can be erected and pulled down quickly, then stored for future use — one of the many innovations expected to be presented at the forum.

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About the author

  • Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is an Associate Editor for Devex. Based on the U.S. West Coast, she works with Devex's team of correspondents and editors around the world, with a particular focus on gender. She previously worked as Devex’s Southeast Asia correspondent based in Bangkok, covering disaster and crisis response, resilience, women’s rights, and climate change throughout the region. Prior to that, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.