World Habitat Awards recognize projects from Finland, Philippines

A Liter of Light "night light" project in a Philippines town affected by Typhoon Yolanda (also known as Haiyan) in 2013. The initiative uses water-filled bottles and small solar panels to create low-cost lighting solutions. (Liter of Light)

Inventive and replicable projects on homelessness in Finland and lighting in the Philippines will receive international acclaim later this month at a global meeting in Nairobi.

The projects are winners of the 2014-15 World Habitat Awards, announced in mid-March by the Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF), the British-based research organization. Each initiative is being awarded GBP 10,000, with the prizes to be presented at the UN-Habitat Governing Council, which meets 17-23 April.

Chosen from hundreds of entries, the two programmes were picked for their local impact and potential for replicability.

In Finland, the Y-Foundation, a social enterprise, has been central to public policy efforts in the country by employing a “housing first” model. The non-profit, which operates in 52 cities across Finland, invests in affordable rental housing and uses the resulting income to maintain financial sustainability.

Since the Y-Foundation began its work, the Finnish homeless population has dropped from 20,000 in the mid-1980s to 7,500 this decade. The national government’s aim goes still further, with a target of ending long-term homelessness by the end of this year. If successful, it would be the first country to achieve such a goal.

In the Philippines, meanwhile, an initiative called Liter of Light @ Night has lit over 160,000 homes across the country, using a technology developed in Brazil. The project, which also operates in other countries, uses an inexpensive lighting system that involves inserting LED bulbs into recycled plastic bottles filled with water and bleach. The kits are then powered with small rooftop solar panels.

The systems come in 1-watt and 2-watt models, costing just USD 10-15 and last for some 70,000 hours. Women’s cooperatives manufacture the apparatuses and are then able to sell them for a small profit. An even cheaper alternative promoted by the project involves simply inserting the water-filled bottles through a hole cut into a structure’s roof.

BSHF established the World Habitat Awards in 1985 as part of a global movement to acknowledge housing issues in advance of the U. N. International Year of Shelter for the Homeless, in 1987. The U. N. effort was a follow-up to the landmark Habitat I conference, which had been held the previous decade and established a strong global focus on housing issues.

The awards, first given in 1986, highlight groundbreaking and effective solutions to housing needs and are presented in partnership with UN-Habitat. Winners are encouraged to share the ingredients of their success in the hopes that their ideas will catch on globally.

With their emphasis on good practices that can be transferred from one context to another, the awards are considered a pioneer of “best practices”, now a standard goal for innovations in urban planning and governance. BSHF facilitates the sharing of this knowledge by arranging international study visits to award winners. For instance, the Hebron Old City Rehabilitation Programme, a 2013 winner from Palestine, will be the site of such a visit in May.

Last year, BSHF began giving the awards either at the World Urban Forum (on even years) or at UN-Habitat Governing Council meeting (on odd years). In 2016, the awards will like be made at the Habitat III conference in Quito.

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