Build Build Build is the Medicine for Emerging Markets

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Building houses will resuscitate our ailing economy. It's also the medicine we need to respond to Covid19 in emerging market economies

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Georgie Davis. July 2020

Today there is an affordable housing gap of 120 million in urban Africa and South Asia. Currently there are 1.2 billion people living without a decent, safe home. This represents a £14 trillion, untapped, uncrowded demand for homes that UK skills could help satisfy.

For families on low incomes in Africa and Asia, not only is this the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do. Housing is a doorway to answering 16 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Affordable housing can provide the catalytic investment required to rebuild economies, lift millions out of poverty and showcase Global Britain as a force for good.

For the UK this represents a huge opportunity for a financial return on investment and delivering strong social impact. Combining Britain’s diplomatic, commercial and development prowess in this way aligns with the positive rationale for a joined-up government response in the key markets of tomorrow.

If we are to make a success of the merger of the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the creation of a new global asset class that benefits people on low incomes is exactly the brand Global Britain needs to demonstrate.

The Foreign Secretary will be empowered to make decisions on aid spending in line with the UK’s priorities overseas, harnessing best of British skills, expertise and linking back to the UK’s supply chain for shared prosperity. The imminent arrival of a new more powerful Ministry, the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) will focus on economic development, markets, and asset creation – all of which affordable housing delivers on.

By 2030 it is anticipated that 300 million affordable homes will be required in Africa and Asia. Affordable housing is a no-regret infrastructure investment which will benefit the bottom billion. The United Nations estimates that housing construction in emerging markets can boost initial investment by up to 300%.

The UK plays a leading role in the development of innovative global approaches and is home to world-class expertise across both infrastructure services and financial services. It also opens opportunities to strengthen UK trade and investment globally.

It’s estimated the 90% of all urban growth over the next decade is set to occur in Africa and Asia. Mobilising investment to eliminate these huge housing deficits represents a massive economic opportunity to stimulating growth and job creation at scale.

This unparalleled demand for new homes in Africa and Asia is also an opportunity to improve public health. Housing is literally PPE for people in poor communities giving protection and resilience against future pandemics.

Housing markets are powerful engines of growth and historically the sector has played an important role in economic recovery from recession or depression, proving it is possible to be commercially minded, move beyond the aid agenda and reduce poverty.

Georgie Davis is head of external affairs at Reall, an organisation that promotes affordable housing for families on a low income in urban Africa and Asia.

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