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WEF and UN-Habitat Join Forces to Unlock Critical Investment in Cities through Public-Private Collaboration

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Public-Private Collaboration Will Define New Era for Cities
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BY CALEB DAVIES

While nature is good for the body and mind, nature-based solutions are being adopted into urban renewal projects to mitigate the effects of climate change and create healthier communities.

Long lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic offered us a reminder of the restorative power of nature for the body and mind. Yet, reconnecting people with nature, particularly in cities, has been the focus of several European research projects since well before the outbreak of COVID-19 almost three years ago.

These projects are using solutions from nature to tackle fundamental economic, environmental, health and social challenges in a bid to improve urban living conditions in general. They bring together European cities to chart paths toward a more sustainable socio-economic system and improve well-being.

Take Dortmund in Germany, Turin in Italy and Zagreb in Croatia. They are part of a project to add biodiversity-rich greenery to urban areas and to create economically beneficial environmental resources.

‘It’s not just planting a tree,’ said Dr Axel Timpe at RWTH Aachen University in Germany. ‘It’s building a living system that creates a productive output.’

He is coordinating the proGIreg project, which is tackling the challenge of post-industrial regeneration by creating living labs in urban areas.

Dortmund, in the Rhine-Ruhr industrial heartland of Germany, was once a steelmaking hub. Turin, in the shadow of the Alps, is home to the one-time world’s largest car factory at Lingotto, now largely disused. Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, used to have the world’s largest pig farm and a vast sausage-making factory – both now defunct.

While their appearances, geographies and histories differ, the three cities face some similar challenges. Lacking high quality green spaces, these areas suffer from social and economic disadvantages.

Urban cultivation

In that context, one of the project’s goals has been to turn a landfill in Dortmund into a park. This area is being cleaned up and planted with trees, while solar panels are used to generate energy and wildflower meadows are cultivated.

The project is also fostering urban farming with a particular emphasis on fish and plants – a food production system known as aquaponics. This combination of fish farming (aquaculture) and cultivating plants without soil (hydroponics) uses less land than traditional agriculture.

Nutrient rich aquaculture water is fed to the plants in an ancient form of food production that has found a new role to play in urban areas. Working with local citizens, the project’s aquaponics systems make local food production more economically viable.

Turin has given over land to volunteers to open an urban farm in a post-industrial neighbourhood, where a range of activities takes place, according to Dr Timpe.

The volunteers rent out plots for people to use as gardens and aquaponics are used to grow high-quality herbs for local restaurants. There’s a garden for people with special needs. Cooking and gardening classes are offered there too.

‘The whole thing is also a business,’ said Dr Timpe. ‘The volunteers who run this now make their living from it, and they have a small shop on site as well.’

Enlisting nature

The overall goal of such projects is to make our cities better places to live through “nature-based solutions” – or NBS (see box below). That means enlisting nature to tackle the biggest threats of our age – including threats to food, water, biodiversity, human health, the economy and the climate.

The classic example of using NBS is the planting of tropical trees known as mangroves along coasts in Papua New Guinea to defend them from erosion. Another example is, the installation in Malmö, Sweden of green roofs, which are used to cool buildings in summer and prevent heat loss in winter, and a system of open soil drainage, biodiversity-rich ponds and overflow areas, which helps to improve drainage mitigating the risk of flooding.

The researchers are looking beyond technical solutions, getting to grips with tricky questions such as the role of local communities in designing and implementing NBS and the best way to combine multiple nature-based solutions.

Along with Dortmund, Turin and Zagreb in their front-runner roles, proGIreg is working with several follower cities to build on lessons learned so far. These are Cascais in Portugal, Cluj-Napoca in Romania, Piraeus in Greece and Zenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Dr Timpe and his team are producing a catalogue of business models that can help local people keep the activities running sustainably.

Social focus

Another project developing nature-based solutions is called URBiNAT, which is working initially with three cities including Sofia (Bulgaria), Nantes (France) and Porto (Portugal).

URBiNAT has a particularly strong social focus. At a later stage, Brussels in Belgium, Siena in Italy, Høje-Taastrup in Denmark, Nova Gorica in Slovenia and other places are due to join. People living on the outskirts of these places frequently lack good jobs and feature high rates of school absenteeism.

‘Often, they also feel very disconnected from the city they live in,’ said Dr Gonçalo Canto Moniz at the Centre for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra in Portugal, speaking of community residents. He is coordinating URBiNAT with Isabel Ferreira, Nathalie Nunes and Beatriz Caitana.

‘There is no sense of belonging.’

Their project seeks to expand on the concept of NBS so that it also takes account of human nature. Concretely, this means the development of things like local markets, where the focus is not so much on growing trees and plants as on fostering a sense of community. They also find ways to blend the natural and the social, like a winter garden that also functions as an outdoor classroom.

URBiNAT creates NBS in concert with locals but it stands out for the way it clusters NBS in groups. The thinking here is that, by linking up NBS in a particular area, it magnifies the positive effects.

Health corridors

Dr Canto Moniz and his team took inspiration from the concept of “green corridors” which are areas of land given back to nature so that animals and insects can move around unhindered. They wanted to explore what they called a “healthy corridor” to connect disadvantaged neighbourhoods. So far, the project has set up a whole catalogue of wide-ranging NBS – from community gardens to green walls – in the front-runner cities.

Aerial technology is used to collect evidence of the results. Drones fitted with thermal imaging cameras will be deployed to determine how much newly planted trees and other greenery have reduced street-level temperatures. Surveys conducted with locals will compare their socio-economic wellbeing before and after the NBS are put in place.

The projects of Dr Canto Moniz and Dr Timpe both began in 2018 and will conclude next year although their NBS have no end dates.

‘They’re here to stay,’ said Dr Timpe.

The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.  

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7 Trends Reshaping a USD 3.9 Trillion Global Halal Industry

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The Global Halal Market (GHM) is not just growing, it’s exploding. Driven by a surging Muslim population, rising disposable incomes, and shifting consumer preferences, this behemoth is projected to reach a staggering USD 3.9 trillion by 2027. But what’s driving this explosive growth? Buckle up, because 2024 promises a thrilling ride fueled by cutting-edge technology, ethical consumerism, and personalized convenience. Here’s your deep dive into the 7 hottest trends reshaping the global halal landscape:

Halal Tech Revolution: Where Silicon Valley Meets Mecca

Forget clunky processes and opaque sourcing. The halal industry is getting a tech makeover, and it’s about time. Blockchain is ensuring ethical sourcing and transparent supply chains, from farm to fork. Imagine halal meat traced back to its free-range roots, with every step documented on a tamper-proof digital ledger. Artificial intelligence is optimizing slaughterhouses, automating processes, and ensuring humane treatment of animals. Halal e-commerce platforms are booming, bringing convenience and halal-certified products to Muslim consumers worldwide. Think Amazon, but with prayer apps, virtual tours of halal farms, and even halal-compliant fintech solutions – the future of halal is digital and delicious!

Ethical Halal: Beyond Compliance, Embracing Values

Muslim consumers are no longer satisfied with just a halal label. They crave sustainability, animal welfare, and organic goodness. Expect a surge in plant-based halal options, from juicy burgers to creamy milkshakes made with innovative pea protein and lentil blends. Ethically sourced meat, raised on antibiotic-free feed and roaming in spacious pastures, will be the new gold standard. And get ready for a beauty revolution: cruelty-free cosmetics and hygiene products that adhere to Islamic principles will pamper consumers with peace of mind.

Convenience is King: Busy Lives, Halal Solutions

In today’s fast-paced world, convenience reigns supreme. The halal industry is taking note, with solutions tailor-made for busy Muslim lives. Subscription meal kits will deliver pre-portioned, halal-certified ingredients straight to doorsteps, complete with recipe cards for stress-free meal prep. Halal food delivery apps will take the guesswork out of dining out, connecting users with a curated selection of restaurants and cafes offering delicious and compliant meals. And for those special occasions, on-demand halal catering will ensure stress-free gatherings, leaving hosts free to enjoy the festivities.

Beyond Food: The Halal Universe Expands

The halal industry is shedding its “food-only” label and branching out into exciting new frontiers. Halal travel is booming, with destinations vying for Muslim tourists by offering halal amenities, prayer spaces, and culturally sensitive experiences. Imagine exploring Marrakech’s vibrant souks or unwinding on a pristine Maldives beach, all while knowing your needs are catered to. Halal cosmetics are gaining traction, with innovative brands formulating products free of alcohol, animal derivatives, and harsh chemicals. And even the pharmaceutical industry is taking notice, developing halal-compliant medications and healthcare products that align with Islamic principles.

Science & Innovation: Reimagining Halal with Cutting-Edge Tech

Research labs are not just churning out papers; they’re cooking up a futuristic halal feast. Lab-grown halal meat is no longer science fiction, with companies like Eat Just and Aleph Farms creating meat indistinguishable from its conventional counterpart, but without the ethical and environmental concerns. Plant-based alternatives are evolving beyond bland tofu, with innovative textures and flavors mimicking everything from juicy steaks to succulent lamb shanks. Get ready for halal food reimagined with cutting-edge technology, offering delicious and sustainable options for the future.

Health & Wellness: Halal Goes Holistic

Muslim consumers are prioritizing their well-being like never before. Enter functional halal foods infused with ingredients like probiotics, antioxidants, and adaptogens, designed to nourish the body and mind. Sports nutrition is another burgeoning market, with protein powders and energy bars formulated specifically for Muslim athletes seeking halal-compliant performance boosters. And for those managing chronic conditions, dietary supplements tailored to diabetes management, weight loss, or heart health will offer halal solutions for holistic well-being.

Storytelling & Branding: Building Trust, Shaping Perceptions

In a crowded marketplace, differentiating your brand is key. The halal industry is catching on, embracing compelling narratives and values-driven branding. Showcase your commitment to ethical sourcing, sustainability, and community engagement. Share inspiring stories of the farmers who raise your halal meat, the scientists developing innovative food technologies, or the communities you empower through your business practices. By building trust and aligning with consumer values, halal brands can stand out.

Embrace the Halal Revolution:2024 is not just a year on the calendar; it’s the dawn of a new era for the halal industry. By harnessing the power of technology, embracing ethical values, and catering to evolving consumer needs, halal businesses can tap into a USD 3.9 trillion market brimming with potential. So, whether you’re a food producer, travel blogger, or tech whiz, join the halal revolution. Optimize your offerings, tell your story, and connect with Muslim consumers worldwide. The future of halal is bright, and the time to act is now.


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Beyond Andalusia: Exploring Spain’s Islamic Heritage through Halal Tourism

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Spain’s evolving landscape of Muslim-friendly tourism is a testament to its rich Islamic history and its commitment to embracing diverse cultural needs. As we head into 2023, projections indicate a staggering 85 million international visitors to Spain, a 16.4% increase from the previous year, highlighting the country’s growing appeal as a global tourist destination. A significant portion of these tourists are from Muslim-majority countries, drawn to Spain’s Islamic heritage and the burgeoning availability of Halal services and tailored cultural experiences.

The Rise of Halal Tourism in Spain

Spain’s shift towards accommodating Muslim tourists is evident in the increasing number of Halal-certified establishments and services. The Spanish Halal Institute has reported a surge in businesses seeking Halal certification, a rise from 100 in 2010 to over 500 in recent years. This growth is not only a response to the rising Muslim visitor numbers but also a strategic move by Spanish businesses to tap into the lucrative Muslim market.

Muslim-friendly Services Across Spain

Beyond the traditionally popular Andalucía, other regions in Spain are adapting to the needs of Muslim tourists. Cities like Barcelona, Toledo, and Madrid now offer a range of Halal dining options, prayer facilities, and culturally sensitive services. For instance, the Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona, a Halal-certified hotel, offers amenities tailored to Muslim guests, including prayer mats and Halal food options. Similarly, the Costa del Sol Hotel in Torremolinos has trained its staff in Muslim culture and traditions, enhancing the experience for its Muslim clientele.

Cultural and Historical Tourism

Spain’s Islamic history, particularly the legacy of Al-Andalus, is a major draw for Muslim visitors. Educational initiatives like walking tours in Toledo, led by Aicha Fernández, and Madrid’s Muslim and Arab heritage tours, organized by Rafael Martínez, provide insights into Spain’s rich Islamic past. These tours are not just tourist attractions but educational experiences, offering deep dives into the historical and cultural significance of Spain’s Islamic era.

Economic Impact and Market Potential

The economic potential of Muslim-friendly tourism in Spain is immense. According to a report by the State of the Islamic Economy (2022), the global Muslim population, a significant portion of which belongs to the rising middle class, is increasingly travel-savvy and demands tailored services. This presents a lucrative opportunity for Spanish businesses in the tourism sector.

Government Initiatives and Recognition

The Spanish government’s role in promoting Muslim-friendly tourism is pivotal. Efforts like the creation of Halal tourism guides by municipalities like Málaga, which won recognition at the Halal In Travel Global Summit in Singapore, underscore the national commitment to positioning Spain as a Muslim-friendly destination.

Challenges and Opportunities

Despite the progress, challenges remain. Celia Rodríguez, a Spanish revert, notes the scarcity of Halal options in some regions and the need for better-informed services for Muslim tourists. This gap presents an opportunity for businesses to further tailor their offerings and improve communication with Muslim clients.

Global Context and Future Prospects

Globally, the trend towards Muslim-friendly tourism is gaining momentum, with countries like South Korea and Japan also emerging as popular destinations. Spain’s strategic approach to embracing and catering to the needs of Muslim tourists not only enhances its competitive edge in the global tourism market but also promotes cultural understanding and inclusivity.


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TB Research Shows a Good Diet can cut Infections by Nearly 50%

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Tuberculosis is the single most deadly infectious killer of humankind. It claimed 1.6 million lives in 2021 alone. As the search for effective ways to fight the disease continues, the findings of new research offer hope: a good diet can cut infections by nearly 50%. Yogan Pillay and Madhukar Pai write that nutrition is a vaccine in all but name.

For centuries, we have known that tuberculosis is a social disease. It thrives on poverty and social factors such as malnutrition, poor housing, overcrowding, unsafe work environments and stigma. Globally in 2021 an estimated 2.2 million cases of TB were attributable to undernourishment, 0.86 million to HIV infection, 0.74 million to alcohol use disorders, 0.69 million to smoking and 0.37 million to diabetes.

But knowledge about social determinants alone does not always translate into tangible action and progress. A new trial in India, called RATIONS, aimed to determine the effect of nutritional supplementation on new cases of tuberculosis in households of adults with pulmonary TB. The research found that providing food baskets to people with TB and their households could go a long way to prevent and mitigate the disease.

No easy silver bullets

The TB community has typically looked for biomedical solutions, or “silver bullets”, for a social pathology, and we are struggling to make progress. Since the COVID pandemic, TB mortality and incidence have increased globally, putting TB back on top as the single most deadly infectious killer of humankind.  In 2021, 1.6 million people died of TB. In Africa, TB incidence is high (212 per 100,000 population) with a high case fatality rate because of the HIV epidemic.

Undernutrition is the most important cause of TB. This has been shown in studies in many countries, including South Africa, where researchers found poor levels of nutrition in patients admitted to a specialized TB hospital. Malnutrition refers to all forms of deficiencies in nutrition, including over-nutrition and obesity. Undernutrition refers more specifically to a deficiency of nutrients. While we know that many patients with TB have poor nutrition, the latest evidence is that undernutrition also plays a key role in TB within households.

The results of the Reducing Activation of Tuberculosis by Improvement of Nutritional Status (RATIONS) trial show that improved nutrition in family members of patients with lung TB reduced all forms of TB by nearly 40%, and infectious TB by nearly 50%.

This trial recruited 10,345 household members of 2,800 patients with lung TB.

  • All TB patients received a monthly 10kg food basket (rice, pulses, milk powder, oil) and multivitamins for six months.
  • In one group family members received 5kg rice and 1.5kg pulses per person per month, while the other group of family members did not get food baskets.

Food worked like a vaccine in this trial, cutting the risk of household members developing TB.  Nutrition could also protect against other conditions such as anaemia, diarrhoea and respiratory infections, but these were not not the main focus of the trial. An accompanying paper, based on the results of the RATIONS trial, showed that severe undernutrition was present in nearly half of all patients.

An early weight gain in the first two months was associated with 60% lower risk of TB mortality. The other benefits were higher treatment success and better weight gain. During the six-month follow-up period, a remarkable treatment success rate of 94% was achieved.

Getting food to patients

How expensive was the intervention? The cost of a food basket was US$13 per TB patient per month and US$4 per household member per month and could be delivered, even in rural areas, using field staff. Even before the RATIONS trial, the Indian government had recognised the need for nutrition support for people with TB, and in 2018 launched “Nikshay Poshan Yojana”, a direct benefit transfer scheme. Under this scheme, each TB patient receives a financial incentive of US$6 per month for the duration of the anti-TB treatment (typically, six months for people with drug-sensitive TB).

Emerging data suggests that while the scheme improves the treatment completion rates among patients with TB in India, they often receive their payments late. There is a need to improve the efficiency and provide timely payments.

The new RATIONS trial suggests that directly providing food baskets may be another effective strategy.

Many countries, including India, have other social security programmes, including public distribution systems  to provide food grains at subsidised prices. Using existing channels to provide extra food rations to people with TB, and expanding the menu to include proteins such as pulses and millets, is a strategy worth exploring. This could also have positive effects on other diseases such as diabetes.

Implications for South Africa

South Africa is one of the countries labelled by the World Health Organization as a “high TB burden country”.

What does this latest research mean for South Africa? Statistics South Africa reported that in 2021 2.6 million people had inadequate access to food and a further 1.1 million stated they had “severe” inadequate access to food. More than 683,000 children five years and younger experienced hunger.

This toxic mix requires prevention of TB by nutritional support, drugs to prevent TB infections and early diagnosis with molecular tests and treatment.

With high levels of food insecurity and undernutrition in South Africa, fuelled by the highest levels of inequality, it is critical that South Africa includes social benefits for people with TB and those in their households to reduce the prevalence of TB in the country and to meet the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

Regardless of how social benefits are distributed, action must be based on evidence. We need better tests, cures and vaccines for TB, but they alone cannot end the epidemic.  TB patients must be provided with the social benefits that they need and deserve, as a basic human right.

Courtesy: The Conversation


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