Area-based Approaches: An Alternative in Contexts of Urban Displacement

James Schell, Mohamed Hilmi and Seki Hirano

Forced Migration Review, Issue 63, February 2020


This article discusses the use of area-based approaches, complementary to the current humanitarian architecture, to address urban displacement. Area-based approaches typically involve: (a) the targeting of geographic areas with high levels of need, delineated by physical, social or administrative boundaries; (b) a multi-sectoral approach that takes into account the needs, capacities and access to services across all sectors; (c) an inclusive approach that considers all population groups in that location (host, displaced, returnees, poor and those with specific vulnerabilities); and (d) participatory modalities, involving all actors present or operating in that location (local authorities, local civil society and service providers, international organizations etc.). The Urban Settlements Working Group (USWG) has compiled and analyzed over 30 case studies, more than a third of which explicitly address the impacts of displacement in cities and towns.

Key recommendations include:

Creating platforms for a common approach. Such platforms would convene actors operating in different sectors, including national/international humanitarian and development actors and local authorities. Area-based or multi-sectoral urban working groups are not necessarily bound by decisions to activate or deactivate individual clusters/sectors, and so can play an important role in the long-term transition to recovery and stabilization. They can also support existing city governance structures. However, since they are not part of the established humanitarian coordination architecture, it may be difficult to secure the financial and human resources needed to support them. Platforms do not necessarily operate in isolation from the current humanitarian coordination architecture, and there are examples of the sector/cluster-led system being adapted to reflect this approach, e.g. tri-cluster system (initially shelter, WASH and health, later expanded to education and protection) in Mogadishu to improve settlement planning and the provision of integrated services from multiple sectors.

Improving social cohesion. Area-based approaches have been used to try to reduce tensions and inequalities and to improve social cohesion, e.g. an area-based program implemented by CARE International Lebanon in Tripoli, and an area-based program implemented by UN-HABITAT in Afghanistan.