A glimmer of hope for women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan

UNDP will expand its work in Afghanistan to Jalalabad, building on a joint initiative with UNHCR to provide for humanitarian needs, ensuring basic services and keeping the economy functioning inside the country. The UNDP partnership with UNHCR combines humanitarian with development programming, including from the onset of crises, such as when an earthquake struck in June, killing 1,150 people.

A glimmer of hope for women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan

Originally published on 18 August 2022 by UNDP


A worker in Bassgull and Ali Reza's garment factory, which employs 120 people in Herat, Afghanistan

Photo by UNDP Afghanistan/Haroon Hamdard: A worker in a garment factory, which employs 120 people in Herat, Afghanistan.

Torkham is a major border point between Pakistan and Afghanistan. In previous years, the crossing saw Afghan refugees on their return journey home. Now the traffic is in the other direction, with people leaving behind an unfolding humanitarian crisis. In the Afghan city of Jalalabad, 65 kilometres away, the needs are apparent. Community elders in the rural Behsud district say that droughts have caused harvests to fail. Joblessness is the reality for most of their families. People lack money to cover their day-to-day expenses, such as food and medicine.

More than 24 million people in Afghanistan require humanitarian assistance. Forty years of war, recurrent environmental disasters, COVID-19 and political upheaval have left the country facing almost universal poverty. A staggering 95 percent of Afghans are not getting enough to eat, with that number rising to almost 100 percent in female-headed households. Acute malnutrition rates in 28 out of 34 provinces are high, with more than 3.5 million children in need of treatment.

Afghans must be supported to meet basic needs, to be delivered as part of a strategy that can build their resilience, harness strengths, and set new paths from merely surviving to thriving. Behsud’s elders say they need humanitarian aid, but infrastructure that can create livelihoods is their priority. They want canals for irrigation, seeds for drought-resistant crops, and training on farming techniques. With these measures in place, communities would be equipped to meet market demands in neighbouring Pakistan and adapt to climate change. Without this support, however, the elders are deeply concerned that those with the opportunity will leave Afghanistan.

Afghan elders

Photo by UNDP Afghanistan/Haroon Hamdard: Behsud’s elders say they need humanitarian aid, but infrastructure that can create livelihoods is their priority.

A vision of future prosperity from Herat

Herat is the largest city in western Afghanistan, home to some 400,000 people. Humanitarian need spans the entire province, but in the city the seeds of recovery are being sown. The ingenuity of entrepreneurs, especially women, is inspiring confidence for a self-reliant future.  

When Zahra returned from Iran in 2020, she started making high-quality traditional clothing for sale in Herat’s markets. She now employs 15 women producing specialist garments for use in healthcare, winter coats for China, and delicate embroidery for Kabul. “I want my business to grow so I can give more women the opportunity to work, gain skills, and support their families,” she said.

Bassgull and Ali Reza are an entrepreneurial power couple. A hundred and twenty women and men work side by side in their factory to produce winter wear for export, face masks to protect people from COVID-19, and socks and undergarments for sale within Afghanistan. “We need new machinery to reduce dependency on imported fabrics,” said Bassgull. With this equipment, they will be able to provide 20 more jobs.

Zahra, Bassgull, and Ali are among those driving recovery in Herat. They want to expand, but cannot entirely cover the costs from savings. UNDP and UNHCR are helping them bridge the gap. It’s part of the joint UNDP and UNHCR community resilience programme, aimed at creating jobs and market-driven, scalable businesses, and rehabilitating productive infrastructure.

Zahra, a female entrepreneur in Herat meets with UNDP's Francisco Santos-Jara Padron and George May from the Bangkok Regional Human Mobility Team. UNDP and UNHCR support her plans to expand her business.

Photo by UNDP Afghanistan/Haroon Hamdard: Zahra, (second from right) a Herat entrepreneur meets with UNDP's Francisco Santos-Jara Padron (left) and George May (second from left) from the Bangkok Regional Human Mobility Team. UNDP and UNHCR support her plans to expand her business.

Herat’s business people, NGOs, the Women’s Chamber of Commerce, and the Community Development Council imagine a future of prosperity for the city. They have plans for advanced food processing reaching out into rural areas, the manufacturing of clothing for international markets, graduate engineers equipped with skills in computer-aided design, tech-savvy young women and men providing services for a recovering national businesses, and Afghans flocking to the historic renovated city centre.

While the ingenuity of entrepreneurs inspires hope, the lack of critical infrastructure is a significant barrier. Through the ABADEI programme, UNDP is working to address those gaps by providing immediate livelihoods to community members. The UNDP-UNHCR joint community resilience programme also addresses the needs of basic community infrastructure. The solarization of a women’s business centre in Herat will provide a space for women to work, network and access markets and skills online.

The communities of Herat are working on pathways toward sustainable economic development. Together, UNDP and UNHCR are supporting their aspirations for self-reliance and prosperity. The joint programme is one example of how the UN family works with local partners and communities to put women’s economic empowerment at the heart of sustainable value chains.

Afghanistan remains a country in crisis, where even stability seems a long way off. Nevertheless, women and men are taking steps towards recovery and prosperity through entrepreneurship. Of course, challenges remain when working on women’s economic empowerment in the current political situation. The international community must step up to support those women pursuing economic empowerment for themselves and their peers with creativity and courage.

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A year after the earthquake in Haiti, local communities are building resilience

To support local economic recovery, UNDP created employment opportunities for people affected by the earthquake. The ‘Yes! She Paints’ initiative works with 60 women with an aim to reduce the deficit of female workers with trade skills in Haiti.

A year after the earthquake in Haiti, local communities are building resilience

Originally published by UNDP on 16 August 2022

Photo by UNDP Haiti: To support local economic recovery, UNDP created employment opportunities for people affected by the earthquake. The ‘Yes! She Paints’ initiative works with 60 women with an aim to reduce the deficit of female workers with trade skills in Haiti.

Article by the Resilience Unit team, UNDP Haiti

On Saturday, 14 August 2021, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck the southern peninsula of Haiti at approximately 8:30 a.m. local time, resulting in over 2,000 deaths, thousands of injuries and significant damage from collapsed buildings and blocked roads. It was a disaster reminiscent of the impact of the January 2010 earthquake, which was followed by Tropical Depression Grace.

Haiti has capitalized on the lessons learned in 2010. In 2021, the Government was better prepared. The day of the earthquake, through the National Risk and Disaster Management System, the Government activated the National and Departmental Emergency Operations Centres. Within minutes of the quake, UNDP was working alongside the Haitian Government at the national and departmental levels—in Sud, Nippes and Grand’Anse—setting into motion the post-earthquake response plan.

Underestimated but essential: Logistics

Unfortunately, for at least two years, the Southern Region, or ‘Grand Sud’, has experienced periods of isolation from the rest of the country owing to insecurity and fuel crises—a dynamic that tends to make this part of the country even more vulnerable. During the delivery of goods or humanitarian aid, attacks have been carried out and vehicles have been looted in the region and along Route Nationale 2. This impacts the supply chain for companies and humanitarian actors, but most significantly, the local population suffers the detrimental effects. In addition, all intermunicipal roads are in a precarious state. These are two major challenges for post-earthquake recovery.

On 14 August 2021, we therefore asked ourselves: how do we meet the needs of the people affected by the disaster and by the violence of armed groups? They were particularly vulnerable, and we could not leave them behind.

Fortunately, a truce was negotiated with the armed groups and communities along the route to Grand Sud, allowing a temporary humanitarian corridor to be established. This agreement made it possible for UNDP to send staff to the affected areas by providing logistical support, including personnel, vehicles, fuel and security.

Supporting rescue operations and risk assessment

On the ground, local UNDP teams witnessed a spirit of community solidarity. Having learned from other disasters, people were able to respond more quickly and effectively. For example, we witnessed the generosity of a group of anonymous citizens who travelled by sailboat to a hard-to-reach area to bring residents fruit, and even trees.

Moved by this spirit of collaboration, we joined in rescue operations coordinated by our partners on the ground, including the Civil Protection Directorate of Haiti. The UNDP post-earthquake programme response began in the three affected departments, in concert with municipal institutions. We carried out activities related to coordination, economic recovery and risk assessment.

One of the main problems in the affected areas was the accumulation of debris in the streets. To address it, we worked with town halls to organize debris collection. In the commune of Maniche, we assisted teams of volunteers who even used recovered debris to pave a road. 

Building earthquake resilience through local action

Bearing in mind the need to keep communities informed and engaged, we organized informational and risk prevention sessions in local communities and schools. However, this course of action was severely hampered by widespread fuel shortages.

The team saw the need to contribute to local economic recovery by creating jobs for those most severely impacted by the earthquake. As a result, we started a ‘cash for work’ initiative that hired over 1,000 people on a temporary basis (at least 24 days) to clear debris and clean up towns. Financial support provided to 60 companies (20 per affected department) involved in agriculture and food production, handicrafts, sewing and other services aims to help local microenterprises to flourish.

Our commitment to the most vulnerable populations required us to focus on these locations over the long term. A critical component is empowering women, who often lose their jobs in the aftermath of earthquakes and are responsible for most household duties. In May 2022, we launched the initiative ‘Yes! She Paints’, working with 60 women with an aim to reduce the deficit of female workers with trade skills in Haiti. This included training in job readiness, painting buildings and ecological principles, for which there will be a follow-up to guarantee the continuity of these entrepreneurial activities. 

Local institutions have taken note of our engagement with local populations. Despite our limited resources, they expressed appreciation for our efforts after several months. The mayors noted, “You did not hesitate. You were there from the beginning.”

Disaster responses are always complex and require efforts to be sustained for years, particularly in a developing country like Haiti, with a weak economic structure and plagued by social issues such as insecurity. Nevertheless, resilience does not necessarily mean being unshakeable, but rather shortening the time a country needs to recover from an adverse event. In this sense, the efforts to coordinate and strengthen the mobilization of citizens observed this past year represent progress compared to previous crises. It’s an important step forward for Haiti and its people, one that they will surely build on in the years to come.

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Global cost-of-living crisis catalyzed by war in Ukraine sending tens of millions into poverty, warns UN Development Programme

Analysis of 159 developing countries globally indicate that price spikes in key commodities is already having immediate and devastating impacts on the poorest households, with clear hotspots in the Balkans, countries in the Caspian Sea region and Sub-Saharan Africa (in particular the Sahel region), according to the UNDP estimates.

Global cost-of-living crisis catalyzed by war in Ukraine sending tens of millions into poverty, warns UN Development Programme

71 million people in the developing world have fallen into poverty in just three months as a direct consequence of global food and energy price surges. The impact on poverty rates is drastically faster than the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic

Originally published by UNDP on 7 July 2022

Analysis of 159 developing countries globally indicate that price spikes in key commodities is already having immediate and devastating impacts on the poorest households, with clear hotspots in the Balkans, countries in the Caspian Sea region and Sub-Saharan Africa (in particular the Sahel region), according to the UNDP estimates. Photo by UNDP Serbia.

New York –Soaring inflation rates have seen an increase in the number of poor people in developing countries by 71 million in the three months since March 2022, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) alerts in a report released today.

As interest rates rise in response to soaring inflation, there is a risk of triggering further recession-induced poverty that will exacerbate the crisis even more, accelerating and deepening poverty worldwide.

Developing countries, grappling with depleted fiscal reserves and high levels of sovereign debt as well as rising interest rates on global financial markets, face challenges that cannot be solved without urgent attention by the global community.

This report zooms in on the insights provided by the two briefs of the UN Secretary-General Global Crisis Response Group on the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine. 

“Unprecedented price surges mean that for many people across the world, the food that they could afford yesterday is no longer attainable today,” says UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner. “This cost-of-living crisis is tipping millions of people into poverty and even starvation at breathtaking speed and with that, the threat of increased social unrest grows by the day.”

Policymakers responding to the cost-of-living crisis, particularly in poorer nations, face difficult choices. The challenge is how to balance meaningful short-term relief to poor and vulnerable households, at a moment when most developing countries are struggling with shrinking fiscal space and ballooning debt.

“We are witnessing an alarming growing divergence in the global economy as entire developing countries face the threat of being left behind as they struggle to contend with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, crushing debt levels and now an accelerating food and energy crisis”, says Steiner. “Yet new international efforts can take the wind out of this vicious economic cycle, saving lives and livelihoods -- that includes decisive debt relief measures; keeping international supply chains open; and coordinated action to ensure that some of the world’s most marginalized communities can access affordable food and energy.”

Countries have tried to dilute the worst impacts of the current crisis using trade restrictions, tax rebates, blanket energy subsidies and targeted cash transfers.

The report finds that targeted cash transfers are more equitable and cost-effective than blanket subsidies.

“While blanket energy subsidies may help in the short term, in the longer term they drive inequality, further exacerbate the climate crisis, and do not soften the immediate blow of the cost-of-living increase as much as targeted cash transfers do,” says report author George Gray Molina, UNDP Head of Strategic Policy Engagement. “They offer some relief as an immediate band-aid, but risk causing worse injury over time.”

The report shows that energy subsidies disproportionately benefit wealthier people, with more than half of the benefits of a universal energy subsidy favoring the richest 20% of the population. By contrast, cash transfers mostly go to the poorest 40% of the population.

“Cash in the hands of the people who are reeling from the astronomical price increases to food and fuel will have a widespread impact in positive ways,” Molina says. “Our modeling shows that even very modest cash transfers can have dramatic and stabilizing effects for the poorest and most vulnerable in this crisis. And we know from COVID-19 responses that developing countries must be supported by the global community to have the fiscal space to fund these schemes.”

He added that to free up those needed funds, a moratorium on official debt for two years should be considered to assist all developing countries –regardless of GDP per capita - to bounce back from these shocks. This echoes recent calls by International Financial Institutions for enhanced liquidity for developing countries.

The COVID-19 pandemic alone has pushed debt in developing countries to a 50-year high, equivalent to more than two and half times their revenues, according to the World Bank.

Countries facing the most drastic impacts of the crisis across all poverty lines are Armenia and Uzbekistan in Central Asia; Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, and Sudan in Sub-Saharan Africa; Haiti in Latin America; and Pakistan and Sri Lanka in South Asia. In Ethiopia, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Yemen the impacts could be particularly hard at the lowest poverty lines, whereas in Albania, Kyrgyz Republic, Moldova, Mongolia, and Tajikistan the hits could be hardest.

Click here to read and download the report

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Addressing the cost-of-living crisis in developing countries: Poverty and vulnerability projections and policy responses
This paper estimates the potential effects of food and energy inflation on global poverty and vulnerability and simulates the welfare loss mitigation potential of two policy options: blanket energy subsidies and targeted cash transfers. 

Addressing the cost-of-living crisis in developing countries: Poverty and vulnerability projections and policy responses

Originally published by UNDP on 7 July 2022

The ripple effects of the war in Ukraine have disrupted energy and food markets. Among many other factors, supply chain disruptions and price spikes in key commodities have been pushing the world towards a precarious inflationary surge. This will have immediate and devastating effects on household welfare—with those in poverty and near-poverty typically hit hardest due to their higher energy and food budget share— posing significant policy challenges to governments during the response. This paper estimates the potential effects of food and energy inflation on global poverty and vulnerability and simulates the welfare loss mitigation potential of two policy options: blanket energy subsidies and targeted cash transfers. The results suggest that soaring food and energy prices could push up to 71 million people into poverty, with clear hotspots in the Caspian Basin, the Balkans, and Sub-Saharan Africa (particularly in the Sahel). We find that targeted and time-bound cash transfers are the most effective policy tool to address the impacts.

Read the full report here:


Download the attached PDF of the report.

Equator Prize 2022 winners showcase Indigenous and local solutions for people and planet

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on 9 August is a day to celebrate the contributions of the 476 million Indigenous peoples worldwide, with the theme of the role of Indigenous women in preserving traditional knowledge.

Equator Prize 2022 winners showcase Indigenous and local solutions for people and planet

Originally published on 8 August 2022 by UNDP


Women from the Sunkpa Shea Women’s Cooperative in Ghana carry tree seedlings. The Indigenous, women-led cooperative sets an example for sustainable commodity production. Photo: Equator Initiative/A Rocha Ghana

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on 9 August is a day to celebrate the contributions of the 476 million Indigenous peoples worldwide, with the theme of the role of Indigenous women in preserving traditional knowledge.

As the world faces a twin planetary crisis of biodiversity loss and climate change, scientists and policy makers are racing to find solutions. Increasingly, they are recognizing that the traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples and of local communities could well provide some answers and viable, cost-effective solutions. For example, the authors of a recent national environmental assessment in Australia have for the first time recognized the importance of Indigenous knowledge in avoiding catastrophic fires, and a new federal program in Canada provides funding for Indigenous coastal guardians, in recognition of their unique knowledge. This is a radical departure from the past, when the knowledge and efforts of Indigenous peoples have been marginalized or discredited.

The emerging recognition of the importance of Indigenous knowledge of the natural world is part of a broader dawning awareness that there are cracks in our global capitalist system – cracks that if allowed to continue to grow, pose an existential threat to humanity. The front-page headline from the Financial Times in 2019, “Capitalism. Time for a Reset,” summarizes what is needed – a profound transformation in the global status quo on how we protect, restore and manage natural resources, respect Indigenous rights, women and youth, and how we transform our business and economic systems.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the first Equator Prize, a UNDP-led partner initiative that recognizes Indigenous peoples and local communities from around the world who use sustainable nature-based solutions to achieve their local development needs. Joining 264 winners from the past, this year’s 10 winners, selected from a pool of over 500 nominations from 109 countries, represent the profound social and economic transformations needed to reset our current trajectory.

This year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is a timely reminder of the profound transformations we need now, and the need to foster the vital role of women in the intergenerational transmission of knowledge at the core of Indigenous identity, culture, and heritage. This year’s Equator Prize winners are an inspiration that these transformations are already underway, and that effective women-led nature-based solutions and traditional practices are at hand.

Safeguarding Indigenous rights, safeguarding our future

The RED TICCA "Territorios de Vida en Argentina" is a consortium of Indigenous peoples throughout Argentina that conserves more than 3.5 million hectares of “Territories of Life,” through the largest Indigenous Conservation and Conserved Area network in the country. This network allows them to maintain their legal rights and ensure that their cultural values are integrated into public policies.

Building resilience through seed diversity

The Associação Rede de Sementes do Xingu from Brazil brings together women from 25 Indigenous and agricultural communities to collect and commercialize over 220 different species of seeds for large-scale ecological reforestation of the Amazon and the Cerrado. In doing so, they have generated more than $700,000 in local incomes, financially empowering Indigenous women throughout the region.

Creating new legal frameworks for inclusive governance of natural resources

The Mbou-Mon-Tour initiative from the Democratic Republic of the Congo has developed an Indigenous-led system of ecosystem conservation that promotes the coexistence of Indigenous peoples and local communities with local Bonobo populations, an endangered species, through a legal framework of local community forest concessions designed to protect native biodiversity and respect local customs.

Restoring nature, restoring our future

The Coordinadora Nacional para la Defensa del Ecosistema Manglar of Ecuador (C-CONDEM) promotes community reforestation of mangrove forests, reclaiming areas deforested by industrial aquaculture and promoting an alternative model of sustainable and inclusive land use. The women-led initiative has pushed for national and global restoration of mangroves, which helped lead to the proclamation of a UNESCO International Day for the Conservation of Mangrove Ecosystems.

Putting Indigenous women at the forefront of conservation efforts

The Organización de Mujeres Indígenas Unidas por la Biodiversidad de Panamá in Panama is an Indigenous, women-led organization that builds capacity in biodiversity, climate change, and traditional conservation techniques, with a focus on protecting jaguars and preserving both their territory and culture.

Creating a generation of Indigenous youth leaders

The youth-led Mauberema Ecotourism, Nature Conservation, Education Research & Training Center in Papua New Guinea is breaking barriers in the field of conservation by leading a consortium of Indigenous community-based organizations to conserve their ecosystems, and is partnering with local universities to encourage Indigenous youth to become the future of conservation workers in Papua New Guinea.

Planning for a nature-positive future through sectoral plans and laws

The Organisation Écologique des Lacs et de l’Ogooué of Gabon (OELO) has successfully created a sustainable solution to freshwater resource management in and around Gabon's largest Ramsar site - the Bas Ogooué by creating the first community-written sustainable freshwater fisheries management plan. The plan, signed into law in 2018, has improved the lives of local fisherfolk and created numerous alternative economic opportunities in the region.

Changing narratives about people and nature

The Ocean Revolution Moçambique initiative is empowering the local communities surrounding Inhambane Bay to play a central role in deciding how to best conserve their marine resources. By encouraging the community to become an active participant in their conservation efforts, the organization is reshaping ecotourism and rewriting the narrative about the role of nature in local development.

Creating a new, nature-positive economy

Working in the Trincheira Bacajá Indigenous area in Brazil, Associação Bebô Xikrin do Bacajá has developed a sustainable production system of coconut oil. The Xikrin women have turned the community’s ancestral knowledge into an income-generating opportunity that funds the conservation of their lands.

Building community-centred sustainable supply chains

The Sunkpa Shea Women's Cooperative of Ghana, an Indigenous, women-led cooperative, is setting an example for sustainable commodity production through their shea butter production cooperative. The group managed to integrate their organic production into international supply chains, while improving the lives of 800 women.

Learn more about the winners on the Equator Initiative’s website, and join us for a celebration on 30 November at the virtual Nature for Life Hub.

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Engaging Youth in Climate Action: Pragmatically Moving Forward

How can we pragmatically and meaningfully engage youth in city climate action? Join UrbanShift for a lively discussion on this topic on August 12, International Youth Day.

Youth Climate Strike. Felton Davis / Flickr.


Young people must be involved in critical decisions concerning their future and given an active role in addressing the climate emergency. Join UrbanShift for a lively discussion on this topic on International Youth Day.

12 Aug 2022, 8:00AM GMT
ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability


“Youthwashing” was widely raised as a concern at COP26 by several youth groups, signifying that young people were invited to events with an important political scope but excluded from debates and decision-making processes. Fridays for Future activist Dominica Lasota explains that young people are in high demand to bring their perspective to national and global platforms, but once they begin to demand solutions, the doors close.  

The youth of today will have to deal with the legacies of past and current leadership; they must be meaningfully engaged in critical decisions concerning their future and given an active role in addressing the climate emergency at the local, national and global levels.  


  • Eric Mohamad AtthauriqAssistant for Economics and Development, Bandung, Indonesia 

  • Yuwei ShaoProgram Manager, China Youth Climate Action Network 

  • Shamoy HajareProgramme Management Officer, Human Rights and Social Inclusion Unit, Global Solutions Division, UN-Habitat 

  • Mustapha Kemokai, Head of Sanitation, Freetown City Council, Sierra Leone - UrbanShift city

  • Smt. Hemali BhogawalaMayor, Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC), India - UrbanShift city

  • Maryke van StadenDirector of ICLEI's carbonn Climate Center, ICLEI World Secretariat 

This webinar will be delivered with simultaneous interpretation in Mandarin Chinese, Bahasa Indonesia, and Gujarati. Please contact Karishma Asarpota for more information.

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Financing Urban Transformation: Don't Leave It Up To Cities Alone
To achieve more equitable, resilient, low-carbon societies, cities need big changes to critical infrastructure and systems. But ample research shows they can’t raise the investment needed for those big changes on their own. Municipalities depend on higher levels of government to create a fiscal environment that strengthens their capacity to raise revenue and tap into external funds, especially for large projects.


International development institutions have a crucial role to play in the multilevel effort to finance green, low-carbon urban infrastructure projects, as does the private sector.

Johannesburg was able to confront a deficit in critical infrastructure with the national government’s help, but closing the urban finance gap remains a significant challenge around the world. Kim Davies/ Flickr.

National governments, in turn, cannot by themselves create all the capacity needed, especially in developing countries. International development institutions have a crucial role to play in this multilevel effort, as does private sector finance – which, if enabled by these public actors, may be the biggest lever of all in closing the urban finance gap.

The State of Urban Finance

How much money will cities need to achieve the objectives set out for a more sustainable, equitable world in the Paris Agreement, 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and New Urban Agenda? The sectors that need to change are manifold, ranging from public transit to land use, to affordable housing. As a result, estimations of the actual amount needed to transform our cities vary. But one consensus exists: It is more than what cities currently have at their disposal or could generate on their own, especially in less wealthy countries. Even national governments, which currently finance around 60-65% of urban infrastructure in developing countries, fall far short in the face of annual financing needs of $4.6-5.1 trillion per year, leaving an estimated gap of $1-3 trillion.

Studies have shown that private investment can – and must – help meet these needs. The sector is currently projected to contribute about half of the annual infrastructure finance gap between 2015 and 2030. At least part of the prescription for cities, then, seems simple: improve enabling conditions to capture as much of this private investment as possible. This means improving own-source revenue collection, getting the municipal balance sheet in order, and setting up transparent and efficient budget mechanisms to enhance creditworthiness in order to issue bonds, access loans and enter into public-private partnerships.

Climate Finance Infographic 1

This is, of course, easier said than done. In reality, the high upfront costs and long timeframe of many infrastructure projects often create major barriers to private investment. This is where the national government as regulator and enabler comes in. National governments can create positive regulatory environments and help address persistent market failures and lack of capacity and expertise on municipal project financing by both the local government and private investors. They can also leverage the broader experience and financial depth of international development institutions.

National Government as Regulator and Enabler

In its role as the primary regulator and rule setter, the national government not only determines the scope of local spending responsibilities and revenue collection ability but also sets the regulatory framework within which a city can or cannot access capital for investment.

Take Johannesburg, the first sub-Saharan African city to issue both a municipal and a green bond. The local government was able to raise finance at the capital market to confront a deficit in electricity, water and transportation infrastructure in townships due to a clear national regulatory framework that permits municipalities to borrow while releasing the South African government from any liabilities for the debt incurred.

In contrast, the efforts made by Kampala, Uganda, and Dakar, Senegal, to consolidate their finances and improve their credit rating to launch municipal bonds have been futile. Dakar ran up against a last-minute government intervention, and Kampala against inefficiently low legal debt limits. Municipal bonds are one option for cities to raise finance at the capital market – the preferred experience of U.S. municipalities – but long-term tailored loans should not be discounted as a viable option to enable infrastructure development either.

The second role national governments must play is as enablers. A major reason for cities’ inability to leverage private finance is their lack of capacity to prepare projects in a way that appeals to investors, as well as their low creditworthiness, a measurement of trust in a city’s financial management.

While national governments are hesitant to act as direct guarantors for municipal debt, there are other ways for them to enhance investors’ trust in cities. Municipal Development Funds such as the Colombian FINDETER, public-private partnerships like the Tamil Nadu Urban Development Fund or credit enhancement facilities like the Indonesia Infrastructure Finance Facility are examples of vehicles established by national governments to mobilize private capital, often in cooperation with private sector actors and development institutions.

Recent work by the Coalition for Urban Transitions outlines public financial “readiness” and scaling mechanisms and instruments, the two strands of activities necessary for national governments to help cities scale up investment in sustainable urban infrastructure.

Climate Finance Infographic 2

The Role of International Development Institutions

Particularly in developing countries, resources and experience with bridging the city-private investor divide are limited. If national governments are unwilling or unable to support cities in developing creditworthy projects, international development institutions can step in at various stages of the process.

These institutions directly provide capital to some of the country-specific mechanisms like the Tamil Nadu Urban Development Fund or act as guarantor for municipal bonds, as the World Bank did for Johannesburg. Additionally, capacity-building programs such as the World Bank’s City Creditworthiness InitiativeUrbanShift and the Global Platform for Sustainable Cities, work with partner cities and in global outreach to improve integrated city planning and management, setting the foundations for accessing finance.

At a more concrete project level, project preparation facilities such as the City Climate Finance Gap Fund, the UN-Habitat Cities Investment Facility and the C40 City Finance Facility support municipalities in understanding and meeting investor requirements and act as intermediaries. They fill a significant gap, as project preparation costs are estimated to amount to 3-10% of total project investment costs and are unlikely to be covered by investors.

While a relatively recent phenomenon, these project preparation facilities are promising. The 20 projects that have to date received support from C40 City Finance Facility have an aggregated investment potential of $650 million in climate-proof urban infrastructure and are inspiring replication around the world. In 2021, for example, the Ecuadorian housing ministry launched a call for climate financing proposals, with the winners receiving technical assistance to advance their projects to a bankable stage and presenting at the World Urban Forum in June.

Long-Term, Multi-Level Action

There is clearly both demand for and supply of sustainable urban infrastructure finance, but the disconnect between both is currently so strong that it is unlikely we will see a flood of market-based investor-municipality transactions any time soon. Long-term, multi-level action, from local to national and global, is vital to building more sustainable and equitable cities, as outlined in the World Resources Report, Towards a More Equal City.

While cities must lead in increasing investment in urban services and infrastructure, national governments must take on an active role by channeling international and earmarked national funds. Where cities possess strong governance and financial management capabilities, national governments should focus on creating enabling regulatory environments. The international community must further scale up its various strands of direct support to local governments and ensure the continuity of project preparation and capacity-building facilities. Finally, the private sector, apart from coming through on prioritizing sustainable investment, needs to help develop innovative financing structures and investment vehicles that accommodate the specific circumstances of urban infrastructure investment and the tremendous need of the moment.

Julia Gaus is a Young Professional in Development Cooperation, GIZ, and former Visiting Fellow with the Research & Knowledge Exchange team at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

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WUF11 closes with calls for urgent urban action

After five days of debate and discussion, with 400 events featuring 700 speakers from government, civil society, communities, academia and the private sector, the Eleventh Session of the World Urban Forum (WUF11) in Katowice, Poland closed. New friendships and partnerships were formed, new agreements reached and bold ideas formulated among the 17,003 people from 155 countries who attended WUF11.

WUF11 closes with calls for urgent urban action

Originally posted by UN-Habitat on 1 July 2022

After five days of debate and discussion, with 400 events featuring 700 speakers from government, civil society, communities, academia and the private sector, the Eleventh Session of the World Urban Forum (WUF11) in Katowice, Poland closed. New friendships and partnerships were formed, new agreements reached and bold ideas formulated among the 17,003 people from 155 countries who attended WUF11.

Photo: IISD/ENB | Diego Noguera, Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN-Habitat Executive Director

The closing ceremony in the Spodek Arena concluded with the torch for WUF12 being officially passed to the Egyptian government, represented by General Mohammed Sharawy, Minister of Local Development, in a short signing. 

“What we have witnessed here was a rich experience with many inspiring topics,” he said. “I am extremely proud that Cairo is the first African city to stage the World Urban Forum since Nairobi staged the first event in 2002.”

The enthusiasm generated by participants throughout WUF11 was however balanced by warnings that there could be no further delays in taking urgent action to deliver sustainable urbanization, given the multiple crises confronting world cities. 

Addressing the closing ceremony in the Spodek Arena, Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, said: “The climate emergency, pandemics, the housing crisis, violence and conflict, all converge in cities.

“If we want to transform to a better urban future, we will have to increasingly deal with urban crises. We have no excuse not to be prepared.

“We don’t have much time to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal targets of 2030. We have only 7.5 years, 90 months or 2,742 days left to implement the New Urban Agenda in order to achieve the SDGs. So, what shall we do? The time to act is now.”

Ms Sharif announced that the global observance of the World Habitat Day this year will be on 3 October in Belkiser, Turkey.  She also opened a call for the expression of interest to host the World Urban Forum in 2026.

IISD/ENB | Diego Noguera, Martha Delgado, President of the United Nations Habitat Assembly at the World Urban Forum 11

Photo: IISD/ENB | Diego Noguera, Martha Delgado, President of the United Nations Habitat Assembly at WUF11

The Executive Director warmly thanked Małgorzata Jarosińska-Jedynak, State Secretary at Poland’s Ministry of Regional Development and Funds, Marcin Krupa, the Mayor of Katowice, and the local organising committee. 

“The Government of Poland as well as the city of Katowice have exceeded all expectations helping us make WUF11 a most memorable and accessible event,” she said.

Ms Jarosińska-Jedynak responded that WUF11’S Declared Actions must be a basis for action. “This is the time for bold steps and bold action,” she said. “The World Urban Forum has given us energy and enthusiasm to push for change in our cities for a better future.”

IISD/ENB | Diego Noguera, Mahmoud Shaarawy, Minister of Local Development, Egypt, and Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN-Habitat Executive Director, sign the WUF12 agreement

Photo: IISD/ENB | Diego Noguera, Mahmoud Shaarawy, Minister of Local Development, Egypt, and Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN-Habitat Executive Director, sign the WUF12 agreement

Speakers acknowledged the special Urban Crises Track created at WUF11 on responses to conflict and disaster, prompted by the conflict in neighbouring Ukraine, and Poland’s hospitality to an estimated three million Ukrainian refugees.

The Executive Director thanked the President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, H.E. Collen Kelapile, for leading the Group of Friends of Sustainable Urbanisation and UN-Habitat in New York, which is putting its full weight behind the New Urban Agenda. 

She acknowledged the contributions of H.E Madame Martha Delgado, President of the UN-Habitat Assembly and Co-Chair of the Advisory Group, for her work to bring the key messages from all the constituencies of WUF11 to the UN-Habitat Assembly next year.

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Beyond remittances: diaspora play a key role in crisis-response

Large diaspora communities have grown out of emigration from the region. Their engagement has grown beyond traditional remittances for their individual families into concrete development support, such as poverty reduction, economic growth or post-crisis recovery. Diasporas have also been a significant asset in supporting humanitarian action in their places of origin.

Beyond remittances: diaspora play a key role in crisis-response

Originally posted by UNDP on 22 July 2022

Author: Oxana Maciuca, Regional Human Mobility Adviser at UNDP's Istanbul Regional Hub

The Moldovan diaspora has sent money and products to support Ukrainian refugees in Moldova. Photo: UNDP Moldova

Every 10th person in the Europe and Central Asia region is an emigrant, either temporary or permanently.

This region is a valuable source of migration both internally and outside its borders. Out of over 250 million of people, at least 10 percent are emigrants. People leave their homes for many reasons, ranging from economic and social to conflict-related and political. While many go to Europe, 80 percent of migrants in the ECIS actually choose to move within the region itself, with Turkey, Kazakhstan and Russia being main destinations.

The region is also experiencing the highest share of remittances as proportion of GDP, reaching a historic high in 2021 of US$74 billion [1]. This means that every year, around 25 million migrants send money home to around 100 million people who benefit from these flows. It is unquestionable that remittances are a vital source of income as well as a means of reducing poverty in the region. Yet there is much more meaning beyond this statement. 

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, diasporas have played an increasingly front-and-center role in assisting their communities. For example, Viorica Chelban, a Moldovan migrant residing in the UK, returned temporarily to her native village to support local doctors’ in their fight against the pandemic. She brought professional protection shields, designed a local action plan and provided daily support to doctors in treating the patients, until the situation was stable again.

The Uzbek diaspora in Europe launched the “Solidarity with Uzbekistan” campaign which raised $50,000 to provide food aid to 500 families in four regions of the country, assist people suffering from Covid-19, and tackle the consequences of the pandemic. The Armenian Diaspora held a videoconference between leading radiologists of New York University  School of Medicine and Armenian doctors to learn and exchange about global trends, most effective methods of treatment, recent scientific publications and their implication in practice, as well as US efforts to use artificial intelligence for tackling the pressing issues raised by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Albanian Diaspora donated 5,000 COVID-19 tests to the Ministry of Health and Social Protection in order to expand testing.

In a crisis context, this engagement alleviates negative effects on home countries and fellow citizens.  Diaspora communities have extensive knowledge, expertise, organizational abilities and accountability. Most importantly, they understand firsthand the demands of their compatriots. That is why their help goes far beyond financial support. They can contribute to the transfer of skills and knowledge and should be seen as valuable partners for Government and development agencies in providing complex and tailored responses to major events, such as a global pandemic or large refugee movements.

Ukrainian diaspora responds

Take the current war in Ukraine. In the first 4 months after the onset of the crisis, over 14 million people, most of them women and children, were forcibly displaced. The Ukrainian diaspora, estimated at some seven million and already actively engaged since 2014, provided immediate and crucial support. Through its over 1,000 Ukrainian Diaspora Organizations around the world, it responded by delivering economic, social and information services as well as humanitarian relief assistance. Initiatives include collecting food and clothes and sending money to buy basic necessities, as well as raising funds for post-war rebuilding. Ukrainian diaspora also initiated campaigns in their host countries to support women with accommodation, employment and documentation, and to enroll children and youth in kindergartens, schools and universities.

Diasporas now helping neighbors

The war in Ukraine is drawing unprecedented support and solidarity by diaspora communities of neighboring countries as well, such as Moldova, Poland and Hungary. Moldovan diaspora mobilized $160,000 to support the hosting of Ukrainian refugees in their native countries.  

Moldova is no stranger to diasporic support for its country’s ongoing development, transforming emigration into a driving force for local development. Through its network of over 160 Hometown Associations, members of the diaspora have contributed to over 300 local initiatives and projects in their communities, impacting over 350,000 people. Despite the impact the war in Ukraine has had on the Moldova, it has shown tremendous support. While national and local public authorities quickly responded to the immediate needs of the refugee population, numerous constraints dramatically challenged their capacities to address the steady inflow and additional interventions and support were needed.

Within three months, 29 hometown associations helped local authorities and communities provide the necessary assistance to refugees from Ukraine. And a big part came from the diaspora, who responded with financial and in-kind support.

Building resilience to respond to crisis

The rapid response was also possible thanks to UNDP Moldova’s Migration and Local Development Project, which was already working through the associations to connect Moldovan emigrants with their native localities. Such efforts have built strong trust and social cohesion at the local level, and also boosted diaspora engagement, keeping those abroad connected and invested in their place of origin. Together, UNDP, partner localities and associations have hosted more than 13,800 refugees so far.

Across the region, there are many examples where diasporas shared crucial information, gave advice and created an open dialogue to inspire other diaspora members to develop their own initiatives against the pandemic. These practices demonstrate how effective diaspora engagement strategies can quickly be leveraged to respond to crisis situations.

Initial engagements piloted by UNDP have forged the relationships to build more systematic cooperation between diaspora and local governments which were especially important during unforeseen crisis circumstances. These types of practices can be replicated to go beyond emergencies and accelerate the implementation of the SDGs. Working with governments to develop an institutional approach for engagement and interaction with the diaspora, we can create more sustainable and impactful relations.

[1] Number calculated based on the World Bank estimations as well as countries' national available data 

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Urban resilience: Addressing an old challenge with renewed urgency

The need for development action in cities cannot be overlooked. Over half of humanity lives in urban settings, and this figure projected to rise to two thirds by 2050.

Urban resilience: Addressing an old challenge with renewed urgency

Author: Asako Okai, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Director, UNDP Crisis Bureau

Originally posted by UNDP on 27 June 2022

The need for development action in cities cannot be overlooked. Over half of humanity lives in urban settings, and this figure projected to rise to two thirds by 2050. Photo: UNDP Kenya/Kevin Ouma

Incredibly, over half of humanity already lives in urban settings. With this figure projected to rise to two thirds by 2050, the need for development action in cities can no longer be overlooked.

Urban resilience – the ability of city dwellers to withstand economic, social, health, environmental, disaster and climate related risks – has assumed renewed urgency and has become central to our development discourse. We know that the impact of COVID-19 has been predominantly urban (nearly 90 percent of people affected, according to a UNSDG Policy Brief), and most significant socio-economic disruption has occurred in cities. The pandemic has exposed the “soft underbelly” of our urban development, governance and risk management systems.

More than ever before, a multitude of risks are manifesting themselves with higher frequency, greater magnitude and cascading impacts in cities. According to UNDRR, nearly 84 percent of the fastest growing cities face extreme climate and disaster risks; the vast majority of which are in Asia and Africa. This disconcerting scenario is compounded by the location of many high-risk cities in challenging development contexts such as least developed countries (LDCs), low-income countries (LICs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDs), coupled with considerable governance deficits and resource constraints. In fact, the World Bank projects that COVID-19 may have pushed an additional 88 million to 115 million people into extreme poverty, with a majority engaged in informal services and living in congested urban settings.

Crises are no longer stand-alone or episodic. In fact, crises and risks of all types tend to converge in cities. The increasing “urbanization of risks” is making them even more systemic, with cascading impacts across all walks of life and inter-dependent sectors of development – lingering much beyond their immediate occurrence. In parallel, particular city contexts tend to amplify their effect on weaker segments of society, leaving them further behind due to high socio-economic vulnerabilities and pre-existing structural issues like poverty, inequality, migration, informality, etc. and low capacities for managing risk.

The new UNDP Urban Risk Management and Resilience Strategy has identified five strategic priorities for policy and programmatic action to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 11 on sustainable cities and communities.

Driven by this sense of new urgency, UNDP is revisiting its urban risk management and resilience-building practices through a multifaceted approach. The newly published UNDP Urban Risk Management and Resilience Strategy has identified five Strategic Priorities for policy and programmatic action, focusing on urban resilience through a multidimensional lens.

First, UNDP will give more focus to neglected geographies where greatest capacity gaps exist, such as small, medium and transitioning cities in LDCs, low- and middle-income countries and SIDS, including cities in or on margins of crisis/fragile contexts. UNDP’s risk assessment tools such as its Crisis Risk Dashboard will be strengthened to make better use of data in risk atlases, while initiatives like the European Commission’s INFORM as well as UNDP and the Government of Japan’s Global Centre for Disaster Statistics (GCDS) will provide actionable risk analysis and information to support risk management and resilience building needs.

Second, UNDP will strengthen urban governance by bridging the gap between national policy and implementation at the municipal level, and by stepping up engagement with key city interest groups.  Effective urban governance means engaging all actors to shape urban development through connected policies and collective actions. This will improve decision-making processes by fostering participation and overcome traditional barriers to address existing risks and prevent new ones.

Third, UNDP will ensure that urban development and services address the specific needs and vulnerabilities of marginalized groups in urban communities. This will include improving their access to urban services such as health and education, while addressing the circumstances which increase their exposure and vulnerability to small-scale localized incidents as well as growing “everyday” risks.

Fourth, UNDP will augment capacities of less-resourced cities to manage multidimensional risks through well-financed, risk-informed urban development planning and investments. This includes facilitating its application at city levels, and bringing it to scale by fostering an enabling environment that aligns public and private finance to meet development and resilience-building needs. In order to help realize this objective, access to actionable risk information, forecasting and anticipating shocks while effective end-to-end early warning systems is currently being facilitated.

Finally, UNDP will expand innovation for resilient urban futures. Recognizing the dynamic and evolving needs in cities, the potential of innovative and digital technology-based solutions such as modelling, scenario planning and resilience benchmarking are being optimized to improve urban services and functionality, while augmenting urban planning and crisis management systems. The expertise of UNDP and the Government of Japan’s DX4Resilience (“Accelerating Disaster Risk Reduction and Enhancing Crisis Response through Digital Solutions”), UNDP’s Accelerator Labs and the SDG AI Lab will help devise contextual solutions.

But UNDP cannot do it alone. The need to join hands in this Decade of Action to bring the capabilities of all actors and stakeholders to achieve SDGs is well recognized. UNDP is fostering partnerships across the UN system as well as with other key players to adopt an “all hands on deck” approach to help meet current needs, unlock development constraints and address existing governance deficits while laying the foundation for meeting emerging priorities.

Recognizing this imperative, UNDP’s Strategic Plan 2022-2025 seeks to transform our development approach by mutually reinforcing investments in structural transformation, addressing the needs of the poor and the marginalized to ensure that no one is left behind and ensuring resilience to intersecting and systemic risks to foster sustainable development.

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