Montego Bay, 2 July 2018 — Last week in Montego Bay, Jamaica, UN-Habitat convened a workshop as part the “Pro-Poor Planning of Climate Resilience in Marginalized Neighbourhoods” Project, an initiative focussing on five cities in the world. The objective is to advance in understanding the impact of climate change on slum dwellers and the possible interventions likely to help vulnerable communities to address the many challenges ahead in informal settlements.

People living in poverty in urban informal settlements are often among the most vulnerable to climate change. This is due to their location in hazardous areas, along river banks, on hillsides and slopes prone to landslides, near polluted grounds, in unstable structures vulnerable to earthquakes, and along waterfronts in coastal areas. The lack of risk-reducing infrastructure and services and the low adaptive capacity of populations in these areas are adding to the challenges. It is UN-Habitat’s role to guide decision-makers at the national and local to start addressing the issues through risk assessment, planning and interventions. UN-Habitat team met with national authorities of Jamaica and local authorities of Montego Bay, as well as with the private sector, to initiate a collaboration for the project. The Montego Bay workshop was followed by the Urban Caribbean Forum, an opportunity to raise awareness on climate resilience in informal settlements at the regional level, looking at the particular issues of the Caribbean Islands.

The three-day conference was designed to address specific policy issues within the Caribbean urban sector. It brought together land use practitioners, policy makers, academics and professionals interested in urban and land management issues within the region. Mayors have been particularly vocal at the conference taking the lead in voicing issues in the region. In his address, Senator Delroy Williams, the Mayor of Kingston, emphasized  that “urban and regional planning is the key to formalize the informal and to achieve urban sustainability”.

The conference not only supported the collaborative efforts of planners in the Caribbean and wider America’s region but across the globe. These past days were an opportunity to highlight the need for greater acceptance of informality. The informal context presents a great potential for investments in resilience that would target the most vulnerable. While communities have a great “bottom-up” role to play, national legal and regulatory frameworks are essential to address the underlying factors of informality. In order to strengthen climate action to improve resilience of informal settlements and communities requires a comprehensive approach including legal, political, financial, social and spatial interventions at the local, national and regional scales.

The main concern today is the urgency for action. While long-term systemic aspects need to be addressed, the reality of informality, its impact on cities is compelling and requires short-term action, particularly given the climate change dimension in the Caribbean region.

The Caribbean Urban Forum and the Montego Bay Workshop where well seized opportunities to make climate change resilience in urban planning a central issue for a better urban life quality. Seeing urban planners, local and national authorities, as well as the private sector joining hands and collaborating to aim at sustainable cities give us hope for the future.