Man standing amid rubble in Haiti

Man standing amid rubble in Haiti
© Claudia Janke/BRC

Every day, more than 100,000 people move to urban slums in the developing world – the equivalent of one person every second. They live in challenging conditions and face multiple threats to their lives.

On 19 April, the British Red Cross launches its study on humanitarian action in urban areas at an Overseas Development Institute event.

Samuel Carpenter, Red Cross humanitarian policy adviser, says: “The face of human vulnerability is changing globally with over 50 per cent of the world’s seven billion people living in urban areas. This includes nearly 1.5 billion people living in informal settlements without adequate access to health care, clean water and sanitation.”

Massive risks to urban poor

Although cities may offer sanctuary to people fleeing conflict and insecurity in rural areas, some cities have a growing potential for violence, relating both to criminality and political conflict. Traditionally humanitarian action has focused on rural areas, but there is an increasing need to support the urban poor who are vulnerable to natural disasters and epidemics, as well as crime, fires and industrial accidents.

The Red Cross’ Learning from the City study is the first step for the organisation and its partners in systematically addressing the challenges posed by humanitarian action in urban areas.

Samuel says: “While significant research has been done on urban risk and vulnerability, humanitarian agencies have been slower to understand what this means for their operations. Our study looks at how we can approach work in urban areas more strategically and ultimately provide more effective help to people facing crises.”

Learning from experience

In Learning from the City the Red Cross draws on its work in Port-au-Prince, Kathmandu, Kampala, Djibouti-ville and Ulaanbaatar and highlights the following priorities for improving humanitarian response in urban areas:

  • sharpening context assessments and analysis
  • understanding cash and markets better
  • engaging and communicating with complex communities
  • adapting to the challenges of land and the built environment
  • engaging with urban systems and partnering with local groups and institutions.

Read Learning from the City for further information.

Find out about our work in Haiti