Technical assistance

World Bank’s $1 billion grant for Vanuatu aims to reform squatter settlements

By Hilaire Bulé

A VT2 billion grant from the World Bank Group is intended to reform unplanned urban settlements in Vanuatu and effectively improve the living standards of many families.

Government of Vanuatu and World Bank officials at the launch of the Vanuatu Affordable and Resilient Settlement (VARS) project.
Photo: Supplied / Hilaire Bule

It comes after the recent launch of the Vanuatu Affordable and Resilient Settlement (VARS) project by the Government of Vanuatu and the World Bank.

The project is the first of its kind in the Pacific region and the total cost is less than a VT3 billion grant. The money will cover urban unplanned settlements, specifically 23 unplanned settlements identified by the Vanuatu authorities.

The Director General of the Ministry of Lands, Henry Vira, welcomed the assistance from the World Bank.

“Vanuatu is prone to multiple natural hazards, rapid urban growth rates, the provision of serviced land is slow, expensive and limited to high income groups, and low and middle income people are settling in settlements unplanned on high-risk land with limited land registration and services leading to poor quality living environments, high incidence of preventable diseases, poor quality housing stock and increasing disaster risk in settlements,” Vira said.

In 2016, the Vanuatu government requested assistance from the World Bank Group to address the growing problem of squatters in various disaster-prone areas of Port Vila, he said.

The technical assistance was to focus on two key issues under the VARS, namely future residential land and housing needs for low and middle income people, and where and how the needs can be met given the constraints. accessibility and natural hazards. risk.

The second is how government can direct and enable the activities and resources of public and private actors to meet the needs of urban expansion, guide future development, and contribute to national economic growth and prosperity.

Vira said the capital, Port Vila, was the main economic center of the government and the country, accounting for around 65% of GDP.

“The city has an estimated population of 66,000 people living within the municipal boundaries. The municipal area and surrounding peri-urban settlements with strong economic and social connectivity to the city center are home to nearly 114,000 people, or almost 40% of the country’s population,” he said.

“Immigration from other islands accounts for most of the urban growth of 60%, with the remaining 40% coming from the natural growth of the urban working-age population.

“Urban-rural income gaps and rural underemployment are major drivers of people moving to Port Vila and smaller towns such as Luganville in search of jobs, better wages, health services and educational opportunities.”

Vira said the pace of urbanization was limiting institutional capacity and resource constraints had impacted the quality and resilience of urban settlements in greater Port Vila and that development over the past decades had been in largely unplanned and unregulated, resulting in the emergence of 23 informal settlements within the municipality. and adjacent peri-urban areas of SHEFA province.

He said people and assets were increasingly located in marginalized and hazard-prone areas, including floodplains, steep slopes susceptible to landslides and coastal areas prone to tsunamis and flooding.

“Households living in unplanned settlements with insecure tenure are reluctant to invest in resilient structures, which increases their vulnerability,” Vira said.

The VARS project encompasses two priority approaches: the modernization of existing settlements through upgrading to improve services and resilience and the development of new models of planned and served urban expansion.

The World Bank’s Resident Representative for Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, Annette Leith, said Vanuatu was one of the most exposed and vulnerable countries in the world to natural disasters.

“The rapid pace of urbanization and the growth of unplanned settlements add a new dimension to this challenge,” Leith said.

“I commend the government and people of Vanuatu for the many steps taken to build resilience through policies, investments, institution building and capacity building at national, provincial and community levels.

“I am pleased that the VARS Project is providing financial and technical resources to help implement some of these policies and provide resilient investments. This is an exciting project led by the Government of Vanuatu in partnership and with the support from the World Bank.