Meeting the Urban Challenge: Adapting Humanitarian Efforts to an Urban World
Author: Ben Ramalingam and Paul Knox Clarke
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This document provides an overview of current thinking and emerging good practice related to humani¬tarian action in an urban environment. It is based on the discussions held at the 27th Meeting of the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP) and on a review of recent literature on humanitarian responses to urban crises. It considers how the nature of urban space and of urban populations influences disasters in cities; it outlines how the humanitarian community is adapting to address the challenges posed by urban areas; and it proposes some 'next steps'.
The experience of the humanitarian organisations represented at the ALNAP 27th Meeting suggests that there is a need for urgent and comprehensive action across the international humanitarian system in order to prepare for future urban disasters. Responding effectively to disasters in cities requires greater investments in preparedness and capacity building; massively increased engagement with civil society; a recalibration, in many contexts, of the de facto relationships between international actors and sovereign states; and radically improved coordination. The meeting also highlighted risks and opportunities that arise specifically from the urban environment itself.
The following next steps were initiated at the meeting and have been refined and developed in the subsequent work done by ALNAP.
- Step 1: Agencies, and potentially the system as a whole, should establish clear definitions of 'urban crisis'. They should consider the trigger events that would lead to engagement in an urban crisis, and identify in advance what would be their general objectives and exit strategy in any crisis.
- Step 2: Each agency, as well as multi-agency bodies, should consider the potential scale and urgency of the chal¬lenges posed by urban crises. They should determine whether current levels of resourcing (in terms of time and money invested, and the coordination architecture) are appropriate, or need scaling up. In parallel, national and municipal bodies should urgently identify potential risks and vulnerabilities to urban centres.
- Step 3: International, national and municipal organisations should 'stress-test' existing policies standards and Standard Operating Procedures to ensure that they are relevant and useful for urban disaster engagement. This should include more input from urban specialists, from planning, development, and other disciplines. In parallel, national and municipal bodies should ensure that contingency plans are in place, and identify gaps.
- Step 4: Where knowledge or skills gaps are identified as a part of these exercises, organisations should move to ensuring that these gaps can be filled by training, recruitment, strategic partnerships or stand-by agreements.
- Step 5: The humanitarian system and organisations within it should urgently develop better methods and tools for urban assessment and analysis. Humanitarian actors should also invest in improved preparedness through shared risk assessments.
- Step 6: The humanitarian system should establish a forum for sharing and dissemination of best practice and tools related to urban crises: those organisations with specific learning or expertise should ensure that their learning is disseminated through this forum. This learning should be centred on a common conceptual framework which includes DRR, preparedness, response and development, and is open to emerging issues such as 'missing' vulnerable groups; rural-urban linkages; land tenure issues and urban violence.
- Step 7: Humanitarian actors should trial new innovative approaches in 'small' urban crises, in preparation for larger crises in the future. Donors and decision-makers in organisations should encourage innovative approaches/technology to increase effectiveness. A particular issue is the development of new mechanisms for effective assessment, response and coordination, on the understanding that these may need to be adapted for each city.
Access full text: available online
Ramalingam B., and Clarke P.K. (2012) 'Meeting the Urban Challenge: Adapting Humanitarian Efforts to an Urban World', London: ALNAP/Overseas Development Institute