Namibian campaigner among winners of UN awards for progress in housing


A Namibian campaigner for the poor, the Malaysian creators of a tunnel designed to relieve both traffic and storm water congestion and a Cuban research institute dedicated to cheap and eco-friendly building materials are among this year’s six winners of an annual United Nations prize rewarding work in the field of human settlements development.

The Scroll of Honour Awards, announced yesterday by the UN agency tasked with promoting environmentally and socially sustainable cities and towns (UN-HABITAT), were given to individuals or institutions from Namibia, Malaysia, Cuba, Australia, Russia and the United States. Three other entities were commended for their good practices.

The winners include Edith Mbanga of the Shack Dwellers Federation for Namibia, for what the UN agency described as “her outstanding efforts to improve land access and housing for the poor,” with particular benefit for women living in poverty, UN News Service reports.

Since the early 1990s Ms. Mbanga has helped set up a network of savings and support groups for the poor so they can secure land. As a result more than 4,000 households have been able to buy land and at least 2,000 have built new homes.

In Malaysia, the National Security Council was honoured for its Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel (SMART) in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, which is often beset by traffic jams or flash floods.

The 9.7-kilometre tunnel is the longest multi-purpose tunnel in the world: during periods of heavy rains, it is closed to traffic and serves as a storm water diversion tunnel, while at other times it is a motorway tunnel used by as many as 30,000 vehicles a day.

Cuba’s Centro de Investigacion y Desarrollo de Estructuras y Materiales (CIDEM), which is attached to the Universidad Central de Las Villas’ faculty of construction, promotes the setting up of small community workshops where ordinary people can learn a trade and produce their own building materials cheaply.

The research and development institute, created in 1992, has set up more than 50 workshops within Cuba and another 16 around the world, and has led to the construction of tens of thousands of environmentally friendly homes.

For the first time an Australian project has been rewarded with the Scroll of Honour. Wintringham, a non-profit organization in the inner Melbourne suburb of Flemington, provides accommodation every night for about 1,000 elderly people who would otherwise be homeless.

UN-HABITAT noted that Wintringham has also helped influence Government policy to include housing for homeless elderly citizens.

Russia’s Yakutsk city administration is another winner, recognised for implementing a cold climate urban development in 2009 and 2010 that has given the city in eastern Siberia better roads, a new drainage system, a landscaped environment, new apartments for 5,000 families and retrofitted buildings to make the more energy-efficient.

Yakutsk city administration is continuing to “winterize” its urban infrastructure to save energy and to deal with the city’s extremely cold winters.

In the United States, the Austin Energy Green Building – an organization founded in the Texas state capital of the same name in 1991 – provides savings in electricity, fuel water and construction and ensures buildings are more energy-efficient.

UN-HABITAT commended the organization for “being the first in the United States to lead the way in sustainable building practices and commercial construction”

The good practices rewarded by the UN agency were: the Centre Africain pour l’Eau Potable et l’Assainissement (Burkina Faso), the Estrategia de Movilidad en Bicicleta de la Ciudad de México (Mexico City) and the Chiang Rai municipality (Thailand).