Building Resilience Through Green-Gray Infrastructure: Lessons from Beira

Building Resilience Through Green-Gray Infrastructure: Lessons from Beira

Feature Story by The World Bank | Originally p

ublished on 31 January 2022


  • For cities threatened by climate change, bringing together green and grey infrastructure may be the key to climate-proofing them and saving lives.
  • Recent investments in the coastal city of Beira in Mozambique showcase how cities can implement new infrastructure that brings not just climate benefits, but socio-economic and environmental benefits, too.

Mozambique is among the planet's most vulnerable countries when it comes to climate risks—and also one of the poorest. In 2019, Cyclone Idai, one of the strongest and deadliest cyclones on record to hit Africa, demonstrated the need for resilience-building investments in Mozambique’s coastal cities.

Beira in particular, named one of the world’s cities most threatened by climate change, is showing how other cities in the country and across Africa can combine innovative green approaches and conventional gray infrastructure to protect residents and assets from climate hazards, while enhancing ecosystems and services.

The World Bank and its development partners have been providing much-needed financing to support these efforts on the ground, in particular, through the Cities and Climate Change Project (3CP). This project, which was implemented by Mozambique’s Administration for Water and Sanitation Infrastructure (AIAS) in coordination with the Municipality of Beira, financed conventional gray interventions, such as upgrades and extensions of inadequate drainage systems, as well as green nature-based solutions (NBS), which focused on restoring the Chiveve River’s capacity to mitigate floods in Beira.


As part of the Mozambique Cities and Climate Change Project, Beira’s stormwater drainage system has been upgraded to reduce flood risk.

Why Focus on the Chiveve River?

The Chiveve River is a 3.5 km tidal river that traverses Beira’s central business district and spans from the city’s fishing port to lower income neighborhoods in the southeast. The river was a focus of the project’s intervention, as its intrinsic ability to absorb and mitigate floods, while also providing other societal benefits, had been significantly reduced. The river itself, its mangroves and native vegetation had been severely degraded, cut off from its natural tidal flow, choked by trash, and polluted by fecal waste.

The “Green Urban Infrastructure,” the NBS component supported under 3CP with financing from the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience and Germany, has transformed the formerly degraded river and surrounding area into a green urban park. It will provide recreational spaces, enhance local revenue, and improve resilience by absorbing and reducing floodwaters brought by increasing climate events.

The Approach: Bringing Green and Gray Together

Understanding the challenges at hand, government officials and municipal leaders proposed a project to comprehensively address the issues by investing in green and non-structural measures in conjunction with traditional gray interventions. The goal was to enhance climate resilience while improving the quality of life for city dwellers through the provisioning of recreational, environmental, and economic opportunities as an added value of NBS.

In an initial phase, community-based mangrove restoration was completed. The city also brought together community groups to lead river clean-ups, establish a waste-collection program for informal settlements, and create outreach campaigns to raise awareness about the river’s importance and role in mitigating urban flooding. This was done alongside gray interventions that included widening the river’s tidal basin to increase its stormwater retention function and building a controllable tidal outlet to regulate the incoming and outgoing flow.

The “Green Urban Infrastructure” phase under 3CP focused on expanding the aforementioned work to create a 17-hectare, multi-functional urban green park along the river. This included the continued restoration and preservation of Chiveve’s stormwater drainage and retention function by rehabilitating its degraded mangroves and native flora. The project also increased the number of recreational and public spaces alongside the river by constructing pedestrian routes, event venues, a local market, kiosks, and other community areas.


Expansion of the urban green park (left), and cultural outreach campaigns (right)

The project aims to ultimately increase the perceived and realized value of the river’s space, reducing future encroachment and leveraging the new economic infrastructure as a funding source for the continued operation and maintenance of the park. The Chiveve is now flowing healthier than before, sans trash and waste, and residents feel safer in areas around the park. The green park is estimated to provide enhanced flood protection for about 50,000 people, which is in addition to the flood protection benefits provided to an estimated 234,000 people by the drainage system rehabilitated under 3CP.


WBG President David Malpass visits Beira and the rehabilitated stormwater drainage system after Cyclone Idai in 2019 (left). The ceremonial unveiling of Beira’s urban green park by the President of Mozambique, Felipe Nyusi, in December 2020 (right).

Moving Forward

Building on these results, the new Cyclone Idai and Kenneth Emergency Recovery and Resilience Project (CERRP) is taking the support for a climate-resilient Beira a step further. World Bank financing under CERRP also mobilized co-financing from the Netherlands (RVO, or The Netherlands Enterprise Agency) and Germany (KfW) for drainage and coastal resilience investments. In addition, support provided by the World Bank’s Global Program on Nature-Based Solutions and the Program on Forests (PROFOR) helped capture lessons learned and best practices from the integrated intervention in Beira under 3CP, which are informing technical preparatory studies for the investments under CERRP, and exploring how similar interventions could be adopted in other Mozambican coastal cities.

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Pancakes to Pyramids: City Form to Promote Sustainable Growth

Pancakes to Pyramids: City Form to Promote Sustainable Growth

by The World Bank | Published on 31 May


Read the full report here

Towns and cities are economic and social microcosms in which large numbers of people and firms interact. These interactions largely shape how a city looks, how it functions, and how it grows. But how exactly does this many-sided relationship work? What are the specific drivers of urban economic and spatial development? Pancakes to Pyramids brings us closer to answering these questions, beginning with an idealized contrast between two patterns of urban spatial growth. Pancakes are cities that grow outward and remain relatively low-built. Pyramids are cities that grow partly outward, but also partly inward and upward, filling vacant parcels and adding height to central districts to increase economic and residential densities. Both types of density can help cities overcome the challenges that come with population growth, and most urgently, evolving from a pancake into a pyramid, creating a platform with more options for controlling greenhouse gas emissions. This report draws on new evidence, econometric analysis, and predictive modeling to relate the economic growth of cities to their past spatial evolution, and to the possibility and conditions for future pyramidal growth.

Report Highlights:

  • New empirical analysis of the shape and growth of nearly 10,000 cities around the world and rigorous economic modeling finds that the most successful urban areas are those that connect physical growth to economic demand and support this with good plans, policies and investments that help avoid uncontrolled sprawl.
  • Using data to understand what makes a city grow outward, inward or upward can help us better understand the interplay between city density and public transport and non-car modes of transportation, to help cities reduce their climate footprints.

Key Messages:

Managing city growth requires that city leaders solve a three-dimensional problem.

  • City leaders will need to plan and prepare for urban growth along all three dimensions—not only the vertical layering and infill development that will be enabled by future economic productivity, but also horizontal growth that will occur at the city’s edge.

City growth is driven by economic fundamentals.

  • The forces that peak a city’s skyline, signaling high demand for floor space in the central business district, are those of economic agglomeration. They are the same forces that drive production of goods and job creation.

Flexible regulations are needed for urban redevelopment.

  • Regulations need to be adaptable to changing demand and supply conditions, anticipating the emergence of new uses for scarce urban land.
  • Also important here is to conserve irreplaceable cultural and natural amenities—these have not only intangible permanent value, but also a unique potential to create economic value and attract investment through neighborhood regeneration.

Early investments in network infrastructure shape cities' economic development.

  • A principal factor in setting a city’s growth path is its plan for networked infrastructure, including roads and transit arteries between the city center and periphery.
  • Some capital investments are best to plan for—or even finance and execute—in the earlier spatial development stages, when cities stand to benefit disproportionally over the life of the investment.

Some interesting takeaways from the report include:

The growth of urban built-up area worldwide is not as large as conventional wisdom suggests.

  • Between 1990 and 2015, urban built-up area worldwide grew by 30 percent, or 66,000 km2, the size of Sri Lanka, through both horizontal spread and infill. In developing countries, total urban built-up area increased by 34 percent.[1] Significant, but not quite the explosive and rapacious expansion estimated in many recent studies.

Horizontal growth is inevitable for most cities in most developing countries.

  • In low-income and lower-middle-income countries, 90 percent of urban built-up area expansion occurs as horizontal growth.
  • Nevertheless, there is a silver lining: in high-income and upper-middle-income country cities, a larger share of new built-up area is provided through infill development. For example, a city in a high-income country that increases its built-up area by 100 m2 will add about 35 m2 through infill development and 65 m2 through horizontal spread. But a similar city in a low-income country will add about 90 m2 through horizontal spread and only 10 m2 from infill.

Increasing economic productivity and rising incomes are indispensable for vertical layering, because building tall is capital intensive.

  • A city that grows in population, but not in productivity and incomes, will not generate enough economic demand for its spatial expansion to keep pace with population growth.
  • Our econometric results show that:
    • If a city’s population doubles but incomes stay constant, the city’s floor space per person declines by 40 percent.
    • If per capita income doubles but population stays constant, the city’s total floor space per person increases by 29 percent.
    • Building tall is capital intensive–so increasing productivity and incomes are critical for a rise in floor space per person through vertical layering and pyramidal growth.

Dysfunctional urban land markets, along with zoning and restrictive building regulations, are factors that can work against taller structures, economic density and pyramidal growth.

Improved transport technology enables economic concentration in urban cores, supports cities’ economic and spatial growth, and boosts demand for livable residential floor space.

  • Many developing country cities today struggle with the high road congestion and commuting costs—in time and money—that result from poor transport infrastructure and limited public transit options. Such congestion impedes the separation of residence from the workplace, limiting cities’ spatial expansion along with their economic growth and productivity.

[1] Forecasts by Jones et al (2021), prepared for the European Commission using the Degree of Urbanization approach, predict that total urban land area will grow 29 percent between 2015 and 2050—in line with the spatial growth rates we measure here for 1990–2015.

Pancakes to Pyramids was funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) through the World Bank Umbrella Multi-Donor Trust Fund Sustainable Urban and Regional Development (SURGE), and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the Global Platform for Sustainable Cities (GPSC). 

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Future of Cities Will Shape Post-COVID-19 World
In cities, which are home to over half of the world’s population, long-standing inequities have been deepened by the pandemic. Although urbanization has been accompanied by lower poverty, job creation and growth, distribution of such urban gains has been uneven, often marked by striking spatial, social and economic inequalities.

Future of Cities Will Shape Post-COVID-19 World

by The World Bank | 2 March 2021


  • Cities are at the frontline of the COVID-19 crisis and global response efforts.
  • The pandemic has revealed a new world of multiple, compounded risks.
  • By making the right investments and tackling deep-seated inequalities, cities can transform their economies and people’s lives.

Cities have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to leverage the pandemic and build back in a resilient, inclusive and sustainable way.

"If urban areas are where COVID-19 impacts have been the most severe, it also means that interventions in cities and towns can have the biggest impact. Cities are vulnerable to climate shocks and produce an outsized share of carbon emissions. But that also means they are the key to climate sustainability and where green investments will have the biggest outcomes." - Sameh Wahba, Global Director for the World Bank's Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience and Land Global Practice

March 2021 will mark one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, upending lives and livelihoods. Cities are on the frontlines of this crisis, with dwindling economic activity, high rates of infection and inadequate resources.

Today, urban dwellers working informal, and often precarious jobs, are part of the swelling ranks of “new poor” created by the pandemic. That is in addition to other vulnerable groups of people who often live in crowded urban areas with limited means to practice safe handwashing or social distancing.

“One of the biggest lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis is that sustainable, resilient cities were able to handle the pandemic better," said Jan Vapaavuori, the Mayor of Helsinki, underscoring how it had revealed more than it changed, and given city leaders a better understanding of their cities’ attributes and strengths. “It is actually worth putting even more emphasis on sustainability issues than before,” he said at a recent World Bank event.

For national governments, the pandemic and ongoing recovery efforts offer a real-time glimpse into the myriad of issues cities face during a crisis – and a chance to course correct.

“What COVID-19 did was make the problems [faced by cities] visible to those who are not working in local government,” said Anuela Ristani, Deputy Mayor of Tirana, Albania.

For cities, this could be a pivotal moment where crisis is turned into opportunity. Consider the following:

  • One billion people worldwide live in slums, making social distancing and handwashing difficult.
  • Cities produce 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN.
  • Cities are especially vulnerable to climate shocks and natural disasters.
  • Cities host 60 percent of refugees and up to 80 percent of internally displaced people.

That is why cities’ plans to recover and rebuild from COVID-19 must strive to address long-standing vulnerabilities and go beyond addressing the health impacts of COVID-19 to tackle the persistent inequalities that the poor and vulnerable contend with.

Cities must also take swift, bold action to build back from pandemic – but with a twin goal of fighting climate change.

“Let’s not go back to normal because normal wasn’t working,” said Diana Urge-Vorsaltz, Professor at the Central European University of Budapest, Hungary. “Let’s go toward climate-neutral cities as much as possible.”

 “If urban areas are where COVID-19 impacts have been the most severe, it also means that interventions in cities and towns can have the biggest impact,” said Sameh Wahba, Global Director for the World Bank's Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience and Land Global Practice. “Cities are vulnerable to climate shocks and produce an outsized share of carbon emissions. But that also means they are the key to climate sustainability and where green investments will have the biggest outcomes.”

Over the years, the Bank has committed about $30 billion in lending for nearly 250 operations focused on urban, disaster risk management and resilience, and land issues, and several key analytical and advisory services that largely support work in these areas.  

Through a combination of lending, analytics and partnerships, the World Bank is supporting recovery efforts around the globe, by helping governments tackle issues of equity, the future of work, greening cities, land governance and disaster risk management in a sustainable, resilient and inclusive manner.

Innovations rolled out during the pandemic - and at times of heightening risk like flooding and cyclones - are already making a difference even as cities continue to focus on the basics, as several city officials and World Bank experts noted during a recent event:

  • In India, enhanced safety nets now cover a larger proportion of urban residents than before.
  • In the slums of Freetown, Sierra Leone, the health crisis has accelerated the provision of rainwater harvesting systems and urban farming kits to increase water access and food security.
  • In Tirana, the crisis has reinforced city leaders’ will to plan cities that work for people.
  • In New York City, leaders have been forced to “focus on the basics”: a roof over people’s heads, food security and mental health.

Across the world:

  • Remote work, piloted on a massive scale during lockdowns, could create more opportunities for skilled service workers based in developing countries.
  • The experience of social distancing has highlighted the values people cherish in cities beyond work: the diversity of amenities and restaurants, social networks, sports and culture.
  • From supporting healthy diets and clean air to providing crisis response, city leaders are aware of their growing responsibilities.
  • Innovations deployed for rapid needs assessments like identifying COVID-19 hotspots are helping the World Bank respond faster to client needs.
  • Retrofitting buildings to lower energy use, or redesigning cities to increase green spaces and promote walking and biking, will generate savings, create jobs and yield climate benefits long after the pandemic fades.

Changes underway in many cities paint a picture of possibility. With thoughtful planning and support from national governments, cities can lead the recovery from COVID-19 toward inclusive, sustainable and resilient development.

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Photo: Makola Market in Accra, Ghana. © Tom Saater/International Finance Corporation

The Future of Cities and the Changing Nature of Work
This session is centered on the technologies that are reshaping the nature of work and a debate about their implications for the future of cities.

The Future of Cities and the Changing Nature of Work 

by World Bank | Tuesday, 23 February 2021 | 7:55 AM - 9:15 AM Eastern Standard Time (EST)

Advances in technology and the accelerated trend towards remote working promise to profoundly re-shape the nature of work over the years to come. How these trends might impact cities – especially developing country cities – is an open question.

A Greener Tomorrow
This session will identify where these issues intersect, highlight four cities’ plans to leverage COVID-19 quick fixes into long-term solutions and suggest solutions.

A Greener Tomorrow 

by World Bank

Date and Time: Wednesday, February 24, 7:00 – 8:15 AM Eastern Time

The compounding impacts of the pandemic and climate change reveal new, unexpected problems but also present opportunities for cities to advance green infrastructure programs as part of a national COVID-19 recovery. Many city leaders are responding with creative solutions, recognizing that their actions in response to the pandemic can also make cities more resilient, livable, and greener.

City Fiscal Impacts and Responses Due to COVID-19
COVID-19 has upended the fiscal landscape for local governments, and policymakers have been forced to get creative to adapt. In this session, we’ll hear from a wide range of officials, decision-makers, and leaders steering governments through these uncharted financial waters. 

City Fiscal Impacts and Responses due to COVID-19

by The World Bank | Thursday, February 25, 7:00 – 8:15 AM Eastern Time

COVID-19 has upended the fiscal landscape for local governments, and policymakers have been forced to get creative to adapt. In this session, we’ll hear from a wide range of officials, decision-makers, and leaders steering governments through these uncharted financial waters.

Clearing the Air : A Tale of Three Cities
The experiences of three cities – Mexico City, Beijing, and Delhi – offers some lessons on how countries can tackle the growing challenge of air pollution. Notably, there is no silver bullet, and air pollution will only be tackled through sustained political commitment. Information, incentives, and institutions are the three prongs of an effective air pollution management strategy for any country.

Clearing the Air: A Tale of Three Cities (English)

by World Bank Group

Air pollution presents an increasingly apparent challenge to health and development across the globe. Exposure to PM2.5 is a major health risk and worldwide, an estimated 4.13-5.39 million people died prematurely in 2017 from exposure to PM2.5 pollution.

The health impacts of pollution also represent a heavy cost to the economy. Lost labor income due to fatal illness from PM2.5 pollution globally in 2017 was in the range of US$ 131-317 billion, equal in magnitude to about 0.1-0.3 percent of GDP.

Countries appear to follow growth paths with different levels of pollution intensity, suggesting that policy decisions, investments, and technologies all have an important role to play in affecting the pollution intensity of growth, and that countries cannot simply grow their way out of pollution.

Access the full report here


  • Urvashi Narain
  • Christopher Sall
  • Jostein Nygard
  • Dafei Huang
  • Ernesto Sanchez-Triana
  • Katharina Siegmann

Document Date: October 29, 2020

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A functional city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic