Human Settlements Group ways of working

Article, 17 September 2014

IIED's expertise means we address urban environmental issues at all levels – with local grassroots partners, with colleagues in the international research community and globally, to influence the sustainable development agenda.

Informal settlements, Jakarta, Indonesia

IIED's Human Settlements Group has been working on urban environmental issues since the mid-1970s. Highlights from these 40 years of achievements can be found on our historical timeline

Our poverty focus informs everything we do: this focus is vital because people on very low incomes, living in slums or squatter settlements, tend to be the most vulnerable to environmental burdens or challenges. We understand these burdens, which are of three main types:

1. Environmental hazards in and around people's homes and workplaces, such as:

  • Inadequate household water and sanitation
  • Indoor air pollution
  • The build-up of neighbourhood waste, and
  • Pest infestation.

These account for a large share of ill-health, early deaths and hardship in urban Africa, Asia and Latin America, and contribute to persistent poverty

2. Environmental and ecological degradation in and around urban centres, such as:

  • Urban air pollution
  • Urban ground and surface water abstraction and pollution
  • Urban waste dumping, and
  • The expansion of built-up areas.

These are the most evidently 'urban' burdens, as they result from urban concentration of 'urban' activities, including industry and motorised transport.

3. Global environmental burdens

These are associated with urban consumption, especially in affluent urban settlements, and the best known example is climate change, resulting from greenhouse gas emissions. However, the global burden of urban activity is often measured through aggregate indicators as ecological footprints.

Our ways of working

As well as coordinating our work to address all three of these environmental challenges, we also make sure that our ways of working include activities that provide strong links to our partners in the Global South, are underpinned by our research, and which maximise our international influence. To achieve this, we balance our work across three types of activities:

  1. Working on city or multi-city projects, led locally by partners: it is this that grounds our work, and which maintains – and strengthens our links to grassroots activities with researchers and practitioners.
     
  2. Undertaking international research and communication: we write articles, reports and books, and we hold meetings and presentations, frequently including partners. In this way we maintain our links with Northern as well as Southern research and academic communities, and thus our research 'credibility'.
     
  3. Assisting international development agencies: we stay in touch with the international development assistance community and maintain our international influence through the preparation of reports, policy guidelines or meetings.
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