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hci publicationS.
HCI: Country Level Study

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HCI: City Level Study

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ABOUT the habitat commitment index.



The Habitat Commitment Index (HCI) is a product of the Global Urban Futures Project (GUFP), a learning network of scholars and activists who are changing the conversation about urban policy in response to the need for evaluation of the fulfilment of commitments made by governments at the 1996 Habitat II Conference. The Habitat II Conference was the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements. Held in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1996, the objective was to adopt a general statement of principles and commitments and formulate a related global plan of action capable of guiding national and international efforts through the next two decades. An assessment of the fulfilment of the Habitat II commitments is particularly important given the unfounded assertion in the Zero Draft of the New Urban Agenda that prior commitments were met and that substantial progress has occurred.  Since the 1996 conference six new issues and challenges have emerged in cities:

  1. Cities now represent more than half of the world’s population.

  2. Urban expansion in many developing countries has often been characterized by informality and unauthorized settlements. However, the core of this problem is lack of protection of the public space and availability of accessible buildable plots.

  3. While high population growth remains a concern in the least developed countries, countries in many other parts of the world are grappling with slower or declining population growth, with developing regions and countries  experiencing a significant increase in the proportion of young people in their populations.

  4. Inequality has become a universal concern. Differences in access to opportunity, income, consumption, location, information and technology are now the norm, not the exception. Developing countries also face the issue of slums, which continue to reinforce the aforementioned inequalities.


Given the economic growth of the past two decades, how well have countries used their resources to meet the commitments of the Habitat II agenda?

To answer this question, the Global Urban Futures Project has developed the Habitat Commitment Index (HCI)—a way of measuring country performance on a set of indicators taking per capita income levels into account to gauge progress over time. The HCI seeks to analyze the progress made on the commitments, goals, and principles of the 1996 Habitat Agenda by dividing them into six broad categories, referred to as dimensions throughout the study. The six dimensions of the HCI are: Infrastructure, Poverty, Employment, Sustainability, Institutional Capacity, and Gender. While socioeconomic indicators, such as measures of poverty, access to basic services, and education, can provide a meaningful representation of the well-being of individuals, the goal of the HCI is to look not only at well-being, but at levels of commitment on the part of national governments to meeting the goals and objectives set forth at Habitat II. After testing 116 data sets, only 15 were found to satisfy HCI requirements. The table below shows the final 15 indicators chosen, across the six HCI dimensions:

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At the time of Habitat II, countries were at different points in terms of urban development with vastly different levels of resources available to them. In the time period between Habitat II to present, some countries have experienced rapid economic growth, while others have suffered from slow growth or economic stagnation. The HCI creates an index that measures progress on socioeconomic indicators in light of the resources, as measured by per capita GDP, that have been available to countries during this period. The two maps below show the change in the HCI score from Habitat II to the present .

As UN member states prepare to meet in Quito in October to agree on a New Urban Agenda (NUA) at Habitat III, it is important to scrutinize the previous urban agenda and assess how effective it has been. Unfortunately, there has been little effort so far to thoroughly gauge the progress made toward meeting the objectives agreed upon in the previous agenda from the 1996 Habitat II conference in Istanbul. By assessing progress made toward the Habitat II commitments, the Habitat Commitment Index aims not only to inform the Habitat III process, but to highlight the limitations of relying on economic growth alone in meeting urban development goals and better identify opportunities where policy interventions may be needed.

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key findings from 1996 to present



Even after adjusting for resource differences, outcomes were highly varied. North America, Europe, and Australia scored very highly, Latin America had scores in the 60s and 70s, and Sub-Saharan Africa showed a wide range of scores, from one of the lowest—Mali—to two of the highest—Kenya and Zimbabwe. The average HCI score at the time of Habitat II was 69.68, meaning the world was, on average, performing at around 70% of what could have been possible given the level of resources available. Among the areas of best performance were Poverty, with a global average score of 85.5, and Infrastructure, with a global average score of 76.11. The Sustainability category was the weakest globally, with an average score of only 46.7. At the time of Habitat II and the Istanbul Declaration, the threat of climate change and the dangers of increasing carbon emissions were still largely unknown and not yet widely accepted. Nevertheless, the Istanbul Declaration made several mentions of broad notions of sustainability, environmental responsibility, and preventing environmental degradation. Reflecting current conceptions and priorities of environmental responsibility, half of the HCI sustainability measure is based on renewable energy production. Given that this is a more recent environmental priority, the global average of only 46.7 in 1996 may not be surprising. 

In the period between Habitat II and the present, there has been considerable economic growth, driven largely by the Asian economies—China, in particular. However, as the 2016 World Cities Report1 has emphasized, despite becoming engines of economic growth in a globalized world, the challenges cities are facing have grown—migration, both economic and conflict-related, has increased; climate change has emerged as a major global threat, and cities in both the North and South have become centers of growing intra-urban and intra-national inequality, putting them at the center of political unrest—as was evident in the recent “Brexit” vote in the United Kingdom, which the director of the London School of Economics called “a vote against London.” In the period between 1996 and the present, cities also endured numerous shocks—from the global recession of 2008, which increased income inequality in two-thirds of American metropolitan areas, to increasingly frequent terrorist attacks targeting urban areas. 


During this period of economic growth as well as increasing challenges to cities, how well have government kept to the commitments made at Habitat II in Istanbul?

Overall, there has been extremely little progress, with the average HCI score increasing only 1.49 points, from a global average of 69.68 in 1996 to a current average score of 71.17. The Americas continued to be medium-to-high performers, with Argentina and Brazil both increasing. In Western Europe, some of the few countries to lag behind the rest of the continent in the 1996 HCI scores—Spain, Portugal, and Ireland—were able to catch up, although economic decline as a result of the global recession would have influenced their scores. Globally change has varied. While Latin America and Southeast Asia, with a few exceptions, increased their HCI scores, Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa showed extremes in both directions, with both large increases and decreases in HCI scores. Also troubling was the finding that the two most populous countries either made no progress, as was the case in India, or actually had a significant decline in the HCI score, as was the case in China. 

Among the drivers of the changes (or lack thereof) in the HCI scores, the greatest change was in the Gender dimension (full article here). The average gender HCI score increased by 8.62 points in the period between Habitat II and the present, rising to a global average of 76.82—one of the highest amongthe HCI categories. This rise was due in part to phenomenal increase in the Female Tertiary Enrollment indicator, which rose by an HCI score of 22.13 points, by far the largest positive change among the indicators. 

Minimal progress was made in the Infrastructure dimension (+1.78), while Poverty (+5.69) and Sustainability (+3.63) improved modestly. Only two dimensions saw declines in average HCI scores—Employment and Institutional Capacity. While decline in the Employment dimension was negligible (-0.56), Institutional Capacity had the most extreme change among the dimensions, with the global average HCI score for Institutional Capacity falling by 11.26 points, from 74.8 in 1996 to 63.5, and accounting in large part for the overall lack of HCI progress, since the decline was large enough to offset gains made across the other categories. The two components of the Institutional Capacity dimension, the International Country Risk Guide’s Quality of Government index and and the World Bank’s Government Effectiveness index, declined by 18.09 and 6.52, respectively. However, the two Institutional Capacity measurements do not take into account levels of participation, democracy, or freedom, but rather are based on surveys sent to firms and NGOs to assess perceptions of governments’ abilities to provide public services.

Qualitative Summaries

The Global Urban Futures Project recognizes that the Habitat Commitment Index, or any quantitative assessment, cannot alone fully capture the nuances and complexity of the political and social environment in which the changes of the past two decades have occurred.   Rather than reducing the experiences of uncountable urban lives to numeric indicators, the GUFP intends for the HCI assessment to be understood in conjunction with the richness and depth of qualitative analysis. The following are summaries of six qualitative assessments of Latin American countries coordinated by the Observatory on Latin America (OLA) at The New School.  

These summaries are only brief overviews of much more extensive research.  Find the full papers along with citations here or please visit the website:



Methodology & Resources
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Recognizing the problem of comparing outcomes between countries with vastly different resources available to them, the Global Urban Futures Project (GUFP) team sought to create an index that would judge country performance not by absolute achievement level, but against the maximum level achieved historically by countries with similar income levels. Using the Social and Economic Rights Fulfillment (SERF) method developed by Fukuda-Parr et al.1, the HCI established predicted performance levels by income for six categories: Infrastructure, Employment, Poverty, Sustainability, Gender, and Institutional Capacity. 

The HCI’s rescaled scores based on predicted performance offer a new perspective on urban development. For example, in 1996 only 37% of Burundi’s urban population had access to electricity, while in Belize over 96% had access to electricity. However, Belize’s per capita GDP at that time was almost ten times that of Burundi. Using the HCI’s scoring based on historical data, Burundi was actually performing at around 96% of what was possible. While the raw numbers put Belize and Burundi at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of urban electricity provision in 1996, their HCI scores are nearly equivalent—meaning that based on their resources, Burundi was performing about as well as could have been expected in terms of urban electricity access. Likewise, the level of access to improved urban sanitation was roughly the same for Peru and Vietnam in 1996, at 73.3% and 72% respectively. However, at that time Vietnam had a per capita GDP (PPP, 2011 International Dollars) of $2,197, while Peru was significantly higher at $6,240. Based on the HCI’s analysis using the achievement possibility frontier derived from historical data, Vietnam received a score of 92.6 out of 100 in terms of its achievement for access to improved urban sanitation relative to its capacity. Meanwhile, Peru’s capacity-adjusted achievement on the indicator was more modest, at 80.6 out of 100. 

How Did We Select Our Indicators?

Based on a detailed review of the Istanbul Declaration and related documents from Habitat II, the Global Urban Futures Project identified seven commitment categories and several goals that had been agreed upon and which would form the basis for the HCI evaluation, them being: 

1.  Adequate shelter for all

       We reaffirm our commitment to the full and progressive realization of the right to adequate housing, as provided for

       in international instruments.

2.  Sustainable human settlements

       We commit ourselves to the goal of sustainable human settlements in an urbanizing world by developing societies

       that will make efficient use of resources within the carrying capacity of ecosystems.


3.  Enablement and participation   

       We commit ourselves to the strategy of enabling all key actors in the public, private and community sectors to play

       an effective role - at the national, state/provincial, metropolitan and local levels - in human settlements and shelter


4.  Gender equality

       We commit ourselves to the goal of gender equality in human settlements development.

5.   Financing shelter and human settlements

       (...) we commit ourselves to strengthening existing financial mechanisms and, where appropriate, developing

       innovative approaches for financing the implementation of the Habitat Agenda (…)

6.   International cooperation

        We commit ourselves - in the interests of international peace, security, justice and stability - to enhancing         

        international cooperation and partnerships that will assist in the implementation of national plans of action and the

        global plan of action and in the attainment of the goals of the Habitat Agenda.

7.   Assessing progress

       We commit ourselves to observing and implementing the Habitat Agenda as a guide for action within our countries

       and will monitor progress towards that goal.

Choosing Indicators: Challenges to Collecting Data

Moving from identifying the commitments of Habitat II to creating a list of usable indicators for the HCI presented several challenges. The first, and greatest, challenge was the lack of urban data at the national level. For many of the indicators we looked at, access to adequate housing, for example, data have simply not been collected in a rigorous manner across countries. For other indicators, data are available at the national level, but are not disaggregated between urban and rural. For example, since Habitat II, no European country collected data on poverty at the urban level. While recognizing that using combined urban and rural data is not ideal, the importance of including some indicators, such as Exposure to Environmental Risk, in the assessment outweighed the problems of using aggregated national-level data.For other indicators, data have not been collected consistently in the period between Habitat II and the present. The initial HCI analysis focuses on assessing progress on individual indicators during the period between 1996 and 2014, plus or minus one year depending on data availability. The SERF methodology, used to calculate the HCI, posed constraints in choosing indicators. The SERF methodology relies on an underlying assumption of a positive correlation between an indicator and economic growth. For many of the data sets, this was not the case, and therefore they could not be used. For example, measurements of inequality using World Bank data showed no correlation with income, despite research suggesting otherwise, such as the Kuznet’s Curve hypothesis. Gender-related indicators, which will be discussed in depth in a later section, also frequently showed no correlation with income. Some environmental measurements, such as reduced per capita carbon emissions, showed the reverse—as wealth increased, carbon emissions also increased.

For more details on the methodology used click here.​
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Experts on urban planning in Latin America prepared a qualitative assessment of the performance of six Latin American national governments with respect to the Habitat II commitments defined in Istanbul in 1996. These experts, through a critical perspective of the urban processes in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico; traced the impact of such commitments on each country’s national urban policies in the period between Habitat II and Habitat III. The analyzes summarized in this section will be presented as part of the preparatory sessions for Habitat III to be held in Surabaya, Indonesia, in July 2016.


View the Qualitative Studies portion of the HCI Booklet here.

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policy briefs.



One of the many things to come out of the first edition of the Habitat Commitment Index were nine regional and country level briefs. These policy briefs include Gender Equality; Residential Infrastructure; East Asia and the Pacific; Latin America; Rwanda and Burundi; and India and China. Each brief gives a more in-depth look at many of the statistical outcome of the HCI.


View all our policy briefs here.

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