Humanitarian crises are increasingly affecting urban areas. This is happening both directly; through civil conflict, hazards such as flooding or earthquakes, urban violence or outbreaks of disease, and indirectly; through hosting those fleeing such threats. 75% of all displaced people now live in urban settings. Despite this, humanitarian agencies, used to working in rural contexts, have been slow to understand how the challenges and opportunities of working in urban spaces necessitate changes in how they operate. The dynamism of the city, with its reliance on markets, and the size, diversity and mobility of urban populations, can be daunting challenges.
The need to coordinate closely with often unfamiliar actors is another key challenge. Relief efforts in urban areas can fall short when humanitarians fail to recognise and work with municipal governments and service providers, local community groups and neighbourhood committees who are part of wider city ‘systems’ and usually the ‘first responders’.
Drawing on articles in the latest Humanitarian Exchange and their own research and experience, our panellists discuss what is different about providing humanitarian assistance in urban areas and which tools and approaches can help to make responding to crises in urban environments more effective.