Building Sustainable Cities in Bolivia

In December 2005, a new government headed by Evo Morales, was elected. With a strong mandate for a new approach to addressing the country’s long-standing social problems, the new government set poverty reduction as one of its priorities. Urban areas were targeted for investment because of (i) the fast pace of urbanization (the portion of the population living in urban areas increased from 56 percent in 1990 to 64 percent in 2005); (ii) the high (relative and absolute) levels of urban poverty; and (iii) urban areas’ vulnerability to natural disasters, limited access to quality basic services, and transport congestion disproportionately affecting poorer, more vulnerable groups, including women, the elderly, and indigenous populations.


The support provided by the World Bank under the project to the cities of La Paz, El Alto, and Santa Cruz built on decades of experience and lessons learned from other projects to upgrade low-income settlements, urban transport, and sanitation in Indonesia, Kenya, Argentina, and elsewhere. Using this knowledge, the Bolivia Urban Infrastructure Project focused on four key aspects: (i) adequate targeting of the poor; (ii) demand for services by the target communities; (iii) institutional capacity to cover newly constructed infrastructure operation and maintenance costs to ensure sustainability; and (iv) scalability.

The project promoted women’s participation in different community activities, and their involvement in organized groups such as the Social Management Committee, the Emergency Committee, and the Enterprises Group helped them assume leadership positions. Approximately 40,000 women in the targeted neighborhoods directly benefited from the project. In addition, to foster creation of microenterprises by women, technical assistance was offered in specific areas, including sewing, baking, and gastronomy. In El Alto, an estimated 102,478 women benefited directly from project interventions to improve mobility.

40,000 women

Approximately 40,000 women in the targeted neighborhoods directly benefited from the project.


The project’s direct and indirect benefits were widely felt in the target communities.

Project financing has supported urban upgrading activities in 45 neighborhoods between 2006 and 2017.

Since its launch, the Barrios de Verdad (PBCV) urban upgrading program in La Paz has benefited more than 12,500 families and more than 10,300 children living in low incomes areas of the city.

Average travel time to the nearest bus stop in beneficiary neighborhoods decreased from 19 to 7 minutes, and estimates carried out for the final project evaluation suggest that property values have doubled since the program’s interventions.

PBCV program participants have joined in knowledge exchanges with Guatemala and Quito, Ecuador, to share their successes in neighborhood improvement, urban management, and community involvement.

In El Alto, 13.44 kilometers of roads were constructed under the project, significantly reducing residents’ travel times. In addition, more than 18 kilometers of sidewalks were built.

In Santa Cruz, more than 34,000 people were connected to the sewerage network.

Bank Group Contribution

The World Bank, through the International Development Association (IDA), provided $54 million to the Bolivia Urban Infrastructure Project. The first phase of the program, approved in 2006, allocated US$30 million: US$10 million per municipality for each of La Paz, El Alto, and Santa Cruz. In 2012, additional financing of US$12 million supported expansion of urban upgrading efforts in La Paz, and additional financing of US$12 million strengthened urban transport in El Alto.


The Inter-American Development Bank provided financing for the Barrios de Verdad program in La Paz, supporting the municipality in efforts to widen the program to meet the needs of residents in additional low-income neighborhoods.


Gladys Humeres is a woman living in one of the upgraded neighborhoods. She has found employment working in the childcare groups in the community center. I am very happy to have found a place where my child can learn and grow and be safe while I am also working.

Moving Forward

Each of the cities involved in the project continues to maintain the urban upgrading, mobility, and sanitation improvements achieved. In addition, La Paz is scaling up the Barrios de Verdad program and has recently completed upgrading programs in a total of 100 neighborhoods.

Source: The World Bank