International Development Committee: COVID-19: Impact on developing countries



Housing as a Healthcare, Sanitation, Climate & Pandemic Resilience Response


The UK has an important opportunity to build on their pioneering investments to support emerging economies respond to COVID-19. DFID support has been pivotal in harnessing the catalytic power of infrastructure in Africa and Asia to enable 300,000 vulnerable families to gain new homes, provide over 450,000 people with improved water and ensure over 1.1 million people access improved sanitation. The UK Government has been instrumental in achieving these results through support to Reall (previously Homeless International).

Born out of the UK housing sector, Reall crowds in the private sector and delivers economic development outcomes for the bottom 40% through a commercially viable and climate-smart $10k home. Our proof of concept creates assets that equip vulnerable people to build resilience in rapidly urbanising emerging economies, including proven climate- and disaster-resilient housing. As more and more people are asked to stay at home and practice social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19, the fundamental role of the home in individual and collective health and security has been drawn into sharper focus.

The most effective ways to avoid COVID-19 are regular hand washing, avoiding close contact with others and sheltering in place. For those fortunate enough to live in safe housing with adequate space and services, this advice is challenging but possible. For over 1 billion people without adequate housing residing in informal settlements and slums these measures are impossible.

Our response to the pandemic can provide the catalytic investment required to rebuild economies and lift millions out of poverty. Affordable homes represent a rare opportunity in an uncrowded £13 trillion market to develop bankable projects, stimulate the flow of institutional investment and foster sustainable and resilient infrastructure. The affordable homes gap is substantial in Sub-Saharan Africa (50 million units) and South Asia (70 million units) and growing rapidly. There is an opportunity to link our global climate response to the need for 300 million affordable homes by 2030 with new technologies and smarter approaches drastically reducing our carbon footprint. 90% of the urban growth in this decade will occur in Africa and Asia. For us all to be protected and to prosper we need solutions that work for people in low incomes presently without safe homes.

Reall can demonstrate proof of concept in delivering sustainable urban sanitation solutions through affordable homes for vulnerable people. We are poised to deliver market shaping outcomes (including unlocking local capital for 500,000 vulnerable people) alongside opportunities for UK prosperity expertise and emerging economy relationships (such as exporting City of London regulatory standards for new investment models). Reall’s approach creates local jobs, bolsters supply chains and provides sustainable integrated Water and Sanitation (WASH) solutions while rebalancing economies in favour of those most exposed by the pandemic.

Sustainable WASH at Home

Basic sanitation is generally absent in informal housing, and 3 billion people lack basic handwashing facilities. This housing tends to have meagre ventilation, drainage and sewerage facilities, with diseases spreading quickly and contributing to poor respiratory outcomes. People in slums often depend on informal health facilities, and use overcrowded or poorly maintained public transport systems to commute long distances between home and work. They suffer from the absence of waste management, poor construction, lack of basic services and social facilities. The risk of fast contagion for any infectious disease in such environments are high and shocks disproportionately hit those already vulnerable.

Mitigating COVID-19 illustrates the advantages of household WASH services over shared community systems. Just 40% of households have access to clean water in the slums. Considerably fewer have a direct connection, relying on standpipes, wells, boreholes, kiosks or water vendors. Often paying up to 20x the cost per litre. In the slums of Nairobi where six out of every ten people live, less than 20% of residents have a household connection. The burden of collecting water in these environments disproportionately impacts women and young girls.

A significant proportion of WASH financing in developing countries is derived from household tariffs for services provided and household expenditures for self-supply. However, most low-income countries report that household tariffs are insufficient to recover operation and maintenance costs, leading to disrepair and service failure. By providing affordable, quality housing in tandem with services (water, sanitation, waste collection, electricity, roads and transportation), sustainable communities can be fostered in which living standards, health and wellbeing, educational attainment, employment opportunities and economic participation are improved for all residents compared to typical low-income urban environments.

Integrating WASH solutions into the economically viable asset of a home permanently reduces financial burdens. Residents are empowered to fund water and sanitation solutions themselves, sustainably and in perpetuity. As global urbanisation accelerates – and urban environments continue to grow rapidly in unplanned and unmanaged ways – it will become increasingly challenging and more expensive to address community water and sanitation issues and install viable WASH systems. By 2025 Reall will deliver 20,000 affordable homes fully equipped with sustainable WASH facilities in our priority countries (India, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda), while advocating for increased recognition of WASH solutions in national and regional housing policies.

The commercially viable Home offers Frontline Healthcare

The positive association between housing conditions, the built environment and human health has been thoroughly documented in published research. This includes evidence that improved living conditions have significantly contributed to reductions in African childhood disease since 2000. Despite the evidence, affordable housing has been underappreciated in global health initiatives.

As rapid population growth and urbanisation create unprecedented demand for new homes in Africa and Asia, the opportunity to improve public health, sanitation and pandemic resilience alongside kickstarting local economies through the delivery of housing is huge. Unlocking affordable housing with services at scale is a major entry point for building social and economic development assets for vulnerable people and catalysing market reform for the benefit of all.

Globally Interconnected Resilience

The COVID-19 pandemic is a powerful reminder that the international community is deeply interconnected, and densely populated cities are at the frontline. A lack of adequate, affordable urban housing is a major barrier to resilience and social protection. Improved, serviced housing enables low-income residents to protect themselves against disease, maintain their economic livelihoods, mitigate the threats of a changing climate (such as extreme weather events), and better address the inequities of urban governance.

The huge economic impacts of COVID-19 (UNDP estimates income losses exceeding $220 billion in developing countries) necessitate innovative approaches to urban development. Short-term stimulus packages must foster stronger cities that protect citizens health and wellbeing while promoting job creation, climate mitigation, resilience and inclusion. Overcrowded and unsanitary settlements must be decongested and replaced with affordable, serviced housing that is climate resilient and suitable for future global and local shocks.

Housing markets are powerful engines of growth, and the sector has played an important role in economic recovery from depression or recession. The UN estimates that housing construction has multiplier effects on initial investment of between 2–3 in emerging markets. Mobilising investment to eliminate the substantial housing deficits in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia therefore represents a massive economic opportunity to promote GDP growth, job creation, financial deepening, larger tax revenue and climate resilience. What we do today will shape our global ability to respond tomorrow.


Reall COVID-19 Response

IDC Submission                  April 2020