Urban Response: Three Principles for Good Practice

David Sanderson

Forced Migration Review, Issue 63, February 2020



This article summarizes the findings of a ‘Good Practice Review’, undertaken for ODI and ALNAP, which identifies three principles for good practice in urban humanitarian responses:

  • Take the long-term view. Many short-term measures can have long-term impacts, e.g. decision about where to situate a ‘temporary’ camp that in time becomes permanent. In Jordan and Lebanon, several aid organizations are addressing shelter needs of Syrian refugees by working with landlords to upgrade properties. Area-based approaches also take a long-term view by engaging local actors (displaced and hosts) and employing coordinated, cross-sectoral approaches to neighborhood upgrading. However, area-based approaches are not without problems, e.g. a 2016-17 initiative in Bangui, CAR faced challenges around coordination, limited local capacities, and limited resources.
  • Engage with complexity. People-centered approaches (focused on skills, abilities and social networks) and systems-oriented approaches (to describe the interconnected nature of the elements of city life, such as markets, economies and infrastructure) are useful in urban contexts. Relevant tools include: (a) context analysis, e.g. the Emergency Market Mapping Analysis (EMMA) toolkit; (b) multi-sectoral assessments that cover displaced and hosts, geared towards identifying the most vulnerable; and (c) profiling.
  • Collaborate, with local actors and between humanitarian organizations. City authorities are often ignored by international agencies, and there is a lack of city-level multi-stakeholder coordination mechanisms, which contributes to a “divergence between international and local actors”. Urban humanitarian action must be undertaken in close collaboration with authorities if it is to be effective, e.g. by adhering to the structures and regulations of existing municipal planning, and not creating parallel structures.