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Year in Review: Making cities more livable under Strategy 2030

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December 2018

As 2018 comes to a close, the Urban Sector Group steps into the New Year on strong footing – its vision of livable cities has become part of the seven key operational priorities under Strategy 2030, the long-term corporate framework that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) launched in July.  

Under this operational priority, ADB will provide integrated solutions to help build livable cities that are green, competitive, resilient, and inclusive. ADB will also help cities explore new and expand existing sources of funding; enhance inclusive and participatory urban planning; and, integrate urban health and gender equality, climate resilience, and disaster risk management considerations into urban planning processes.

In addition to this, the Urban Sector Group also has other noteworthy changes, actions, and achievements that emphasize sustainable urban development, such as new leadership in the group, rollout of the online geospatial tool Spatial Data Analysis Explorer (SPADE), and completion of the excavation of the longest tunnel in Kathmandu, Nepal. Here are the 10 moments that have ushered in livability in Asian and Pacific cities.


Release of the working paper on waste-to-energy


Just as the year wrapped up, the Urban Sector Group published a working paper entitled, Creating an Enabling Environment for Public–Private Partnerships in Waste-to-Energy Projects. This working paper conducted a review of the enabling environment for waste-to-energy (WTE) in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), as well as in Bangladesh, India, and the Philippines. It examined the MSW management chain, institutional and regulatory policies involved, and potential public–private partnerships, of which the PRC is an active proponent of and can therefore provide lessons to the three other countries as well as those in the region seeking to invest or explore WTE as a means to better manage waste and provide added energy security.


Strengthening ties with the European Space Agency


Part of driving the goal of livable cities forward is increasing the use of next-level technologies to improve project design and implementation, and ultimately, infrastructure and services for the people. In 2018, one of the key technologies employed was GIS and satellite remote sensing, particularly through the support of the European Space Agency (ESA). A secondee from the institution has been working with the Urban Sector Group to scale up usage and this has also consisted of a number of knowledge sharing sessions and two capacity building activities, such as a training in July for ADB staff and key staff from the Government of the Philippines and a one-day seminar during the Asia Water Forum 2018 on Earth Observation for Water Resources Management.


Skills enriched with the Continuous Learning Development Program

Members of the Urban Sector Group, as well as some representatives from developing member countries (DMCs), benefitted from an interesting set of five training sessions under the Continuous Learning Development Program. A total of 58 ADB staff from headquarters and the resident missions participated in these trainings. The first training, held in April at the University of Tokyo in Japan, focused on geospatial information system (GIS) applications for climate-resilient urban planning. Second was the Water Utility Operations Training (Levels 1 and 2) in May, organized with the Maynilad Water Academy. A highlight of the training was an actual visit to a repair of a leaking pipe, where a demonstration on the use of leak detection devices was conducted.

The third training, Urban Development Policy and Practice: Learning from the (Republic of) Korea Experience, had seven ADB staff and 12 DMC participants (Bangladesh, Cambodia, Georgia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, and Sri Lanka) travel to Seoul in May to learn about the city’s over 50 years of progressive development and the importance of having sound governance policies to support urban initiatives such as smart city technologies for enhancing public services.

The fourth training, held at Rotterdam in October and co-organized with the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS), centered on climate change tools for urban development. Fifth and last for the year was a second Water Utility Operations Training, also in October and with the Maynilad Water Academy.

Representing ADB in global conferences


Some key international forums occurred this year, such as the Ninth Session of the World Urban Forum (WUF9) in Malaysia and the World Cities Summit (WCS) in Singapore, and ADB was actively present in each through the Urban Sector Group. At WUF9, ADB hosted and participated in 12 events ranging from high-level dialogues to side events and training sessions. The delegation, which included representatives from operational departments, and Youth for Asia, showcased ADB’s latest urban projects and discussed how resilience, smart finance, and participatory approaches can be incorporated into infrastructure planning and implementation in Asia and the Pacific. A highlight of ADB's events at WUF9 was the joint networking event with seven other multilateral development banks on initiatives toward implementing the New Urban Agenda.


In July, Vice President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development Bambang Susantono headed the delegation to Singapore’s Urban Sustainability Week, which consists of CleanEnviro Summit Singapore, Singapore International Water Week, and WCS. At WCS, the VP was part of the panel of speakers for the plenary session, “Is Collaboration the Panacea for Livable and Sustainable Cities of the Future?” He likewise represented ADB and discussed urban operations in relation to Strategy 2030 at the 12th Asian Pacific City Summit in Fukuoka City, Japan, in August.


Also in Japan in November was the Business Forum for Sustainable City Creation, part of the bigger 7th Asia Smart City Conference. This time, Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department Director General Woochong Um spoke about supporting sustainable urban development in line with the Sustainable Development Goals and ADB’s cooperation and partnership with Japan. Around the same period, VP Sustanono again promoted the Urban Sector Group’s work at the 1st CSID AUN-SCUD International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure and Urban Development in Jakarta, where he talked about financing urban infrastructure and the importance of making projects bankable.


The end of Future Cities


The technical assistance, Establishing the Future Cities Program in the Asia and Pacific Region, which deeply imbibed a One ADB approach to identify and broaden pathways toward livable cities, was completed in March. The Future Cities Program (FCP) worked with other technical assistance projects, such as the Promoting Smart Systems and Future Cities Future Women Initiative, across six cities in varying scope and capacity. These included Bandung (Indonesia), Greater Suva Area (Fiji), Makassar (Indonesia), Mandalay (Myanmar), Tbilisi (Georgia), and Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia).


As a result of this technical assistance, city governments and centers of excellence like Singapore-ETH Center and the Austrian Institute of Technology were engaged, integrated urban assessments were prepared and integrated projects were conceptualized, and best practices and lessons from the implementing the Future Citiesapproach were encapsulated in a publication called Engaging with Cities of the Future: A Perspective. The upcoming regional technical assistance, Revitalization of Informal Settlements and their Environments using a Water-Sensitive Approach (RISE), was born out of the Future Cities Program.


Launch and rollout of SPADE


After months of developing and pilot testing, the Urban Sector Group held a soft launch and demonstration of the Spatial Analysis Data Explorer (SPADE) platform in May. SPADE is a web-based platform on a centralized cloud-based server that contains various geospatial data which can be utilized for consultation, project preparation, production of maps, and analysis of climate change impacts. The demonstration showed how the tool was initially used to inform proposed investments in Bangladesh and Viet Nam, specifically to properly locate and identify subprojects based on climate risk scenarios. SDCC Deputy Director General and Chief Thematic Officer Chiara Bronchi and SDSC Chief Sector Officer Robert Guild graced the event (see photos).


SPADE was developed with the support of the Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund and in collaboration with Royal HaskoningDHV. The platform has since been rolled out and continues to undergo refinement.


ADB’s first urban project in Tajikistan

ADB will finally have its very first urban investment in Tajikistan, since partnering with the country in 1998. Approved in September, the Dushanbe Water Supply and Sanitation Project – backed by a grant of $41.18 million – will rehabilitate and expand climate-resilient water supply and sanitation infrastructure to improve the delivery of urban services in the southeast area of the capital.


Currently, water is only available for 4 to 8 hours per day in some parts of the city and water pressure is low. About 60% of the city’s water supply is also lost through leaks or theft, and water wastage and consumption is high due to low tariffs. Meanwhile, the main sewerage facility overflows into surrounding land causing contamination and consequently, waterborne diseases. The project is expected to develop a sustainable model for water supply and sanitation that can be potentially replicated across the city.


Excavation of longest tunnel in Nepal finally complete

Happy faces were seen all around in Kathmandu as the excavation of the much-awaited 26-kilomter tunnel, part of the Melamchi Water Supply Project, was finished in April. Once operational, it will carry water from the Melamchi River to the Kathmandu Valley for supply by the Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited. This will benefit an estimated 1.3 million urban inhabitants—or 158,549 households—with more reliable water supply and higher quality water.


At the breakthrough ceremony, South Asia Regional Department (SARD) Director General Hun Kim noted the strong commitment of the government that has enabled the project to overcome countless challenges, including the 2015 earthquake and the subsequent shortage of materials. He said, “The completion of the excavation marks a very important milestone in the project's history and is indeed a giant leap forward for the project, one that will soon help alleviate the water stress experienced by the inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley.”


Urban Sector Group welcomes a new chief

In February, Manoj Sharma joined as the latest Chief of the Urban Sector Group. Previously a principal urban development specialist in SARD, he succeeds Vijay Padmanabhan, currently Director for Southeast Asia Urban Development and Water Division (SEUW).


Mr. Sharma, a national of India, has 25 years of professional experience, including seven years at ADB. He joined the Bank in 2010 as an urban development specialist in SARD and later progressed to senior and principal levels. He has led a multidisciplinary team of experts for the Visakhapatnam-Chennai Industrial Corridor Development Program, successfully revived the Delhi Water Supply Improvement Investment Program, and promoted interventions on efficient and sustainable municipal service provision system. He was also part of the Rajasthan Urban Sector Development Program, one in a series of ADB interventions that have helped the state become a leader in sanitation reforms


In addition, he led the lauded turnaround of the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority – with a corresponding insightful publication on 

lessons learned.


Upon becoming the new Chief, he immediately joined and headed the ADB delegation to the WUF9 in Malaysia. Since then, he continues to strengthen support to operations.   


Total Urban Sector Group loan approvals

ADB has approved a total of $2.16 billion of loans for urban projects to date. This includes urban components of five projects not categorized under the Urban Sector Group, such as two from East Asia Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Division (EAER). This surpasses the 2017 loan approvals, which amounted to more than $2.1 billion and included funding for integrated solutions like the Heilongjiang Green Urban and Economic Revitalization Project in the People’s Republic of China and additional financing for the first major desalination plant in Sri Lanka, the Jaffna and Kilinochchi Water Supply.


For the 2018 urban investments, loans approved consist of the $240 million West Bengal Drinking Water Sector Improvement Project, the $169 million Tamil Nadu Urban Flagship Investment Program (Tranche 1), and the $150 million Hunan Xiangjiang River Watershed Existing Solid Waste Comprehensive Treatment, among others. The increase in loan approvals signals higher levels of assistance to developing member countries.  


Among the regional departments, the SARD had the largest amount of investments approved at about $888 million, followed by East Asia Regional Department with $595 million.




According to ADB President Nakao, there will be an expected increase in overall financing investments as Asia and the Pacific strives to achieve global commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement on climate change, the related Financing for Development agenda, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

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