Reducing Vulnerability Through Urban Programming

PCI is committed to improving the living conditions of vulnerable and marginalized communities living in high-risk settlements through strategic urban programming.


The global population is expected to double by 2050. The majority of this growth will occur in developing countries where unplanned and uncontrolled urban expansion is already resulting in significant hardship and poor health for households and communities.

Urban sprawl in the developing world is associated with an unprecedented rise in hunger. Also, informal urban settlements typically have unsafe housing and limited access to basic services, such as healthcare and water and sanitation, leaving households vulnerable to natural disasters, such as floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes, and the rapid spread of disease.

PCI’s Commitment to Urban Programming

After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, PCI made an organizational commitment to advance specialized capacity in urban programming. PCI’s Neighborhood Approach works to reduce the impact of disasters in urban communities by improving the conditions of informal settlements, transforming them into safe, healthy, and prosperous neighborhoods.

To address a broad range of new challenges posed by rapid urbanization, PCI works in partnership with communities, governments and local leaders to:

  • Mobilize governments, banks, and engineers to retrofit unsafe schools and homes and build community mitigation infrastructure in existing settlements
  • Create financial products to help poor households afford appropriate housing
  • Design urban water and sanitation systems
  • Support and reinforce the social and economic empowerment of women in informal settlements

PCI’s urban programming methodologies have been featured in the Washington Post, mentioned by the New York Times, NPR, and PBS, and have been adopted by governments, including the Government of Guatemala, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), UN agencies, and humanitarian agencies.

The Neighborhood Approach

Central to PCI’s urban programming work is its Neighborhood Approach, a framework PCI and partners developed in collaboration with OFDA following the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

The Neighborhood Approach centers the long-term needs of local communities in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. In response to the Haiti earthquake, PCI worked with the community of Ravine Pintade to jump-start recovery, begin neighborhood reconstruction, minimize reliance on the use of camps, and address significant barriers to recovery, including water and sanitation. This approach was proven to better support long-term recovery and resilience in vulnerable neighborhoods as compared to a more traditional humanitarian response.

The work in Haiti laid the foundation for PCI’s Neighborhood Approach, and included integrated, multi-sector activities, such as:

  • Strong community participation
  • Enlisting the community to help re-plan and build a safer and healthier neighborhood
  • Reconfiguring and upgrading infrastructure from a broader city planning perspective
  • Incorporating disaster risk reduction measures to mitigate common hazards
  • Programming to meet immediate and ongoing needs in protection, water and sanitation, and health

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Barrio Mio: Urban Upgrading in Guatemala

Barrio Mio, which means “my neighborhood” in Spanish, is a partnership between PCI and USAID/OFDA meant to transform high-risk informal urban areas into safer, healthier, more resilient neighborhoods.

The Barrio Mio program evolved from PCI’s Neighborhood Approach and connects a broad range of stakeholders to improve urban programming. People from vulnerable communities—women, men, children, youth, the elderly, and persons with disabilities—banks, municipalities, ministries, the private sector, universities, and local organizations work together to identify urban risks and develop collaborative strategies to increase resilience and respond to crises.

Barrio Mio, which started in the municipality of Mixco, now operates in seven municipalities with the support of over 40 partners. The Ministry of Communications, Infrastructure and Housing in Guatemala recently signed an agreement to use PCI’s Neighborhood Approach as a basis for urban disaster response and as a national strategy for upgrading high-risk informal settlements throughout Guatemala. Additionally, the Government of Guatemala, through the National Institute for Municipal Development, has agreed to finance cities across the country to work with PCI and use Neighborhood Approach strategies for urban upgrading.

Current Partners

PCI currently partners with over 50 institutions on its urban programs, including private companies, government ministries, municipalities, municipal associations, local and international organizations, and universities. Some of PCI’s primary partners include USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, the National Government of Guatemala and seven municipal governments in Guatemala, private partners Cementos Progreso and Construred hardware stores, MiCoope urban cooperative, and the Universidad Galileo, Universidad San Carlos, State University and Universidad Rafael Landivar.

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