From Risk to Resilience through Urban Upgrading

PCI is committed to transforming at-risk, informal settlements into safe, healthy and more prosperous neighborhoods.


By 2050, the global urban population will almost double, adding the equivalent of more than 250 more New York Cities to the world in less than 40 years. Most of that growth is occurring in cities in developing countries. Unplanned and uncontrolled urban growth is resulting in significant hardship, hunger, and poor health for urban households.

Urban sprawl in the developing world is associated with a marked and unprecedented rise in hunger: more than 25% of children under 5 in cities in the developing world are stunted from malnutrition. Informal urban settlements are often highly prone to a wide array of disasters, such as floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes. Urban slums typically have inadequate and unsafe housing and limited access to basic services for water and sanitation, leaving households vulnerable to the elements and to the rapid spread of disease.

And, there are often high levels of exploitation, limited access to education, health services, and formal livelihood opportunities, and high rates of crime, gender based violence, and gang activity.

The global impacts of urbanization are already clear—the unprecedented pace of the spread of Ebola through West Africa due to its penetration of urban slums; the emergence of extremely high levels of violence and exploitation in urban areas of Central America; disasters that at one time would destroy the lives and livelihoods of thousands of households, now destroy those of hundreds of thousands of households. Perhaps no other event is more indicative of the vulnerability of the world’s cities than the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 in which over 300,000 people died in the span of minutes—a humanitarian crisis the world clearly did not have the capacity to avoid, and to which it had very inadequate capacity to respond.

Our Approach

In the wake of the Haiti earthquake in 2010, PCI made an organizational commitment to emerge as a global leader in urban programming—to develop unique capacity to prevent urban disasters and upgrade informal slums into safe, healthy, and more prosperous neighborhoods, and to be able to respond to urban disasters with highly trained staff that can provide humanitarian assistance in complex urban environments. In years since that commitment, PCI has developed the capacity to tackle a broad range of new challenges posed by urban informal settlements—including mobilizing governments, banks, and engineers to retrofit unsafe schools and homes and build community mitigation infrastructure in existing settlements; creating financial products that help the urban poor afford safer houses; designing urban water and sanitation systems; and using tailored strategies to reinforce the social and economic empowerment of women in informal settlements. PCI’s urban methodologies have been featured in the Washington Post, New York Times, on NPR and PBS, and have been adopted by USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), UN agencies, governments, and humanitarian agencies. 

urban updgrading

Katye: Rebuilding and Strengthening Haiti

Central to PCI’s urban upgrading work is its “Neighborhood Approach,” which was developed in collaboration with USAID/OFDA following the Haiti earthquake. In order to quickly start neighborhood reconstruction, minimize reliance on the use of camps, jump-start recovery, and address other longer-term issues, Global Communities and PCI, with funding and technical input from USAID/ OFDA, created the Katye Neighborhood Improvement Program. Katye utilized a “Neighborhood” or “Settlements Approach” that aimed to combine humanitarian assistance with immediate activities that would lay a foundation for recovery and longer-term development. It emphasized coordination of many activities including: integrated, multisector activities at the neighborhood level rather than only at the broader inter-cluster level; strong community participation, enlisting the community in helping to re-plan and build a safer and healthier neighborhood; reconfiguring and upgrading infrastructure with a broader city planning perspective; incorporating disaster risk reduction measures to mitigate common hazards; and programming to meet ongoing immediate needs in protection, WASH, and health (including addressing an outbreak of cholera).

How can you help?

Support PCI’s efforts to enhance health, end hunger and overcome hardship worldwide.


Barrio Mio: Urban Upgrading in Guatemala

Barrio Mio, which means “my neighborhood” in Spanish, is a partnership between PCI and USAID/OFDA that began in 2012 to develop scalable methodologies for upgrading high risk informal urban settlements into safer, heathier, and more resilient neighborhoods. The strategy, also based on the “Neighborhood Approach,” brings together a broad range of stakeholders—from women, men, children, youth, the elderly, and persons with disabilities in dangerous communities, to banks, municipalities, ministries, the privates sector, universities, and local organizations—to identify urban risks and resources and develop collaborative strategies to increase urban resilience and respond to urban crises.

Barrio Mio, which started in the municipality of Mixco, has now scaled to 7 municipalities and has the support of over 40 partners. The Ministry of Communications, Infrastructure and Housing in Guatemala has now signed an agreement to use the “Neighborhood Approach” as a basis for urban disaster response and as a national strategy for upgrading high risk informal settlements throughout Guatemala.

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 USAID/OFDA, CEMEX, the National Government of Guatemala and seven municipal governments in Guatemala. PCI is now signing agreements with government agencies in Mexico in advance of its upcoming launch of urban programming in Tijuana.

Recent News

View All

Keep in Touch

Subscribe today and stay current on our efforts to enhance health, end hunger, overcome hardship and advance women & girls worldwide!

Sign up to receive updates