Vanuatu: 2nd mission, 2015

Vanuatu National Housing Policy

Geoff has been appointed by the World Bank to help prepare a National Housing Policy for the Republic of Vanuatu. An archipelago in the South Pacific, the people of Vanuatu have the reputation of being the happiest in the world, even though it has also been defined as the world’s most environmentally vulnerable country due to its exposure to earthquakes, volcanoes, cyclones and rising sea levels.

Geoff was the land and housing consultant on a World Bank mission to the capital, Port Vila in October, 2014, for which the main focus was to assess the role of the National Housing Corporation (NHC). The mission concluded that the key priority for the country was to develop a National Housing Policy within which the future of the NHC could be considered.

In March, 2915, Tropical Cyclone Pam swept through Vanuatu with winds of up to 120 miles and hour. A large number of houses were destroyed or damaged and some people were killed, with many injured, or suffering the loss of their livestock assets.

The Government of Vanuatu invited the Bank to return with the objective of preparing the basis for a National Housing Poilcy and Geoff was in the country during 04-17 June. Three quarters of the population live as subsistence farmers in small villages scattered over many islands. Houses are made of local materials and can quickly be repaired, but are not resistant to Force Five cyclones, so people move to permanent buildings, such as local schools to see out the worst storms. Rural housing needs are therefore modest, though the number of future units needed will increase substantially by 2030 as more than 40% of the rural population is less than 15 years of age.

The real challenge is in meeting housing needs in urban and peri-urban areas, especially in and around Port Vila. Already, approximately a third of the capital’s population live in substandard, informally developed housing and the urban population is increasing. A further consideration is that land outside the municipal boundary is held under customary tenure, little of which has been surveyed, leading to widespread boundary disputes that prevent owners from developing it and rendering in-migrants insecure. Large plot sizes of 1,000m2 or more also lead to urban sprawl and consequent high costs of services provision and encroachments onto fertile agricultural land. Putting land to socially, economically and environmentally efficient use, is a key element, though the policy will also address issues of building design and construction for cyclone resilience, housing finance and services provision.

When completed in early July, the draft policy will be submitted by the Bank to the Government of Vanuatu as a basis for extensive local consultations between public, customary and civil society stakeholders to ensure that the final policy document enjoys full local ownership.

The traditional Nakamal meeting house in Tilikasoa village on the island of Nguna which withstood the cyclone almost intact.

Composite customary and modern design

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