4.12 Urban responses

Urban areas tend to have greater social diversity, higher levels of mobility and less social cohesion than rural areas. In cities the informal settlements populations can be composed of rural migrants, refugees and displaced people with different socio-cultural backgrounds. Chronic vulnerabilities of the poor urban residents may overlap with the on-going humanitarian needs of the internally displaced or refugee populations.

Neighbourhood, or area based, approaches have become increasingly recognised as a comprehensive modality for working in urban areas during or after a crisis. This seeks to offer a way of integrating different sector approaches at multiple levels in the community, involving a wide range of stakeholders, and strengthening sustainability of interventions by bringing closer together emergency, recovery, and longer term development support. CARE’s work in Lebanon on the Integrated Neighbourhood Approach (Captured in Guidelines and Reflection) is a detailed example of how this approach can be operationalised and contextualised for any given urban scenario.

In an urban context, area-based approaches typically share common characteristics: they target areas defined by socio-economic boundaries (rather than geographical limits), and they adopt a multi-sector and participatory approach. This should also be implemented on multiple levels –individual, household and community. For example, upgrades to housing are complemented by improvements of the neighbourhood infrastructure (water network, drainage and sewage systems, public lighting or electricity lines) and rehabilitation of communal areas and open spaces (footpaths, social gathering places, playgrounds, sport facilities…). The physical improvement of the built environment is just one aspect of the overall rehabilitation of the neighbourhood: livelihoods regeneration, GBV prevention, health and DRR are also addressed through vocational trainings and financial support to the small and medium enterprises, community engagement and awareness raising, capacity building of grassroots organisations and local authorities, participatory urban planning and legal support.

Although it is unrealistic to assume that a single organisation using a neighbourhood approach methodology can address all the infra-structure, social and economic needs in an area, interventions can still be multi-sector in addressing the most urgent needs (shelter, WASH and protection as a minimum). Coordination, partnerships with local and international NGOs, and public-private partnerships can go beyond individual assistance to include long-term activities that have a wider impact on the community and local institutions.

Key considerations for urban responses:

  • The scale and complexity of urban disasters increases the need for effective partnerships with local civil society, local and national authorities, and humanitarian actors.
  • Coordination is key in urban assessments, both with agencies and government authorities to ensure information sharing and a broader understanding of the context.
  • ‘Community’ and ‘neighbourhood’ are not always the same thing. Needs may be widely dispersed and communities may be defined in other ways than geographic proximity, for example by family, social networks or communities of interest (ALNAP, 2012).
  • Displaced populations and refugees are identified as some of the most vulnerable populations in urban centres due to lack of social networks, discrimination, stigmatization, exposure to harassment, threat of eviction, and, in the case of refugees, denial of right to work.
  • Implementation of Cash Transfer initiatives with cash- and voucher-based systems will help revitalising local economies, supporting existing shops, vendors and producers.
  • Housing land and property (HLP) rights are complex and may take longer than the project timeframe to be resolved.
  • Community infrastructure projects may provide income-generating opportunities (in construction, rehabilitation, management, maintenance etc.). For example, community waste management and recycling initiatives, management of water provision and chlorination, maintenance of drainage systems, etc.

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Key references: