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BRIEF January 31, 2022

Global Program for Resilient Housing


Photos by Xavier Conesa / World Bank



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Over the past 25 years, disasters caused by natural hazards have claimed 1.3 million lives and resulted in untold damage around the world. From earthquakes in Latin America to cyclones in Southeast Asia,

These disasters are becoming more frequent, damaging, and deadly – particularly for the poor. Walls crumble, roofs blow off, and structures collapse. The World Bank’s Unbreakable report found that the impacts of disasters and climate change are more than twice as significant for poor households than others, because they tend to live in the most vulnerable areas, often with weak housing standards and limited or no access to credit or insurance.

Across the fast urbanizing developing world, the number of people living in substandard housing is expected to more than double to 3 billion over the next 15 years. These homes are under threat from earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and other disasters. Unfortunately, the supply of formal, affordable, and safe housing has not kept pace with unprecedented rates of urbanization.

The World Bank’s Lifelines report finds that the overall net benefit of investing in resilient infrastructure in developing countries amounts to $4.2 trillion over the lifetime of new infrastructure, with $4 benefit for each $1 invested. However, creating a comprehensive strategy for resilient housing poses enormous technological and policy challenges.

For years, a main strategy has been to “build back better” – to rebuild housing after a disaster. While this is an important and necessary approach to help countries get back on their feet after the worst happened, it can also be a hardship for those in vulnerable areas and for governments that must pay for costly rebuilding efforts.

Meanwhile, most solutions have focused primarily on working with families that can afford new homes and mortgages. But what about poorer families that cannot afford new homes or mortgages, and live in homes that do not meet modern building codes? There is a need for a strategy that accounts for the value of their effort and investment.  

To complement rebuilding efforts and improve preparedness before a disaster, advancement in technology and policy design were necessary. For too long, countries and cities have relied on outdated census data or sample surveys collected by individuals canvasing neighborhoods in identifying substandard houses. Worse, housing subsidy data was typically stored in spreadsheets without GPS coordinates. It was a time-consuming and unreliable method.

to identify which can be made safe before it is too late, and to connect them with government subsidies and private capital.

Supported by Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) The goal of the program is simple: to help communities #BuildBetterBefore a disaster strikes to save lives and protect livelihoods after one occurs.

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#BuildBetterBefore the disaster by creating resilient housing: a five-step solution

As governments and development institutions increasingly make housing resilience a central part of their strategies, the Global Program for Resilient Housing can help countries and cities – at a fraction of the cost in a fraction of the time – secure economic investment, boost local construction industries, spare communities from some of the trauma of these disasters, and most importantly save countless lives.


There are five simple steps to this process:

Step 1: Neighborhoods and houses are mapped in cities and communities, using advanced technologies, such as drones, street cameras, and machine learning algorithms,

Step 2: Engineers use machine learning to teach the computer to extract critical information – such as material, building height, window count, garage door openings – from images of the mapped areas. Such information helps identify identifying potentially vulnerable structures that could pose a risk to families – house by house and block by block.

Step 3: The data is aggregated on a one-stop housing portal containing actionable knowledge to design and implement housing plans as well as to activate construction, credit, and insurance markets. The Program team shows where the greatest risks are, who needs a new home in a safer place, which homes need to be studied in more detail, and which houses are ideal for easy, inexpensive retrofit.

Step 4: With this actionable knowledge at hand, policymakers can design housing subsidy programs to connect affected families with local construction or financial institutions – or even leverage a World Bank loan to their governments – to maximize finance for resilient housing. Unlike larger infrastructure efforts, retrofitting is relatively simple and helps support small and medium-sized construction and financial companies, while offering families affordable and effective alternatives to living in dangerous homes or moving to completely unfamiliar neighborhoods. Drawing on successful international examples, the Program adapts best practices and solutions to common pitfalls to the local context.

Step 5: As a result, the Program team supports governments to promote resilient housing save and improve lives, protect assets, and shield economies from increasing disaster risks.

(Photo: iStock)

A win-win for all

Everybody wants safe homes. That is what families want; that is what governments want; and that is what banks, construction firms, and insurance companies want as well. Resilient housing offers a path to making homes safe from natural hazards.

Benefits of resilient housing can be quantified. The Program helps governments conduct rapid economic analysis to justify investments in making homes safer, and works with countries, banks, and other financial institutions to develop a home improvement subsidies policy informed by best practices.

This approach appeals to housing ministers, who respond to disasters; as well as finance ministers, who pay for reconstruction. They understand that for every dollar invested in infrastructure strengthening beforehand, $10 can be saved in reconstruction efforts later. This program facilitates such investment through the promotion of home improvement programs that make resilience a central strategy.

Resilient housing protects each family’s investment, which is especially important given that on average up to 90% of a family’s life savings are invested in their home.

Similarly, If governments only focus on rebuilding, they may face a greater challenge in effectively upgrading and expanding their infrastructure.

Where to start? This strategy starts with incentivizing homeowners and the private sector to invest in home improvement programs. Private firms often find it difficult to provide insurance coverage or loans to lower-income households that lack documentation of important housing information. With a suite of tools and methods, the Program can help close that gap, laying existing data with low-cost tools to assess property values, analyze local infrastructure, and estimate hazard exposure levels – all essential factors for determining risk. Once insurance companies have the information they need to extend coverage, private lenders can offer loans for home improvements to creditworthy households, and local banks can feel confident in investing their resources in a larger housing subsidy program.

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The approach of the Global Program for Resilient Housing has been successfully tested and actively employed in World Bank projects. For example:

  • In Colombia, the Program is supporting the government in the design and implementation of its recently launched home improvement subsidy program, “Casa Digna, Vida Digna.”
  • In Guatemala, buildings at risk of collapsing in an earthquake were identified and mapped.
  • In Indonesia, the government is working to make resilience a central part of their home improvement subsidy program, one of the largest in the world.
  • In Mexico, the authorities are upgrading their housing programs to make them more inclusive and resilient.
  • In Peru, automated property valuations and vulnerability assessments were conducted to support municipalities.
  • In Saint Lucia, rooftop damage risks related to Category-5 hurricane winds were assessed.
  • In Sint Maarten, the government is working to estimate the costs of scaling up a housing resiliency program.

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