Since 2016, the Global Alliance for Urban Crises has been working to improve responses to urban crises, whether caused by sudden onset disasters or protracted conflict situations, in order to effectively meet the needs of affected populations including those who have been forcibly displaced.
For us at JIPS, building capacity for understanding displacement in urban contexts and developing an evidence-base to inform joint responses is a strategic priority. It is critical for this process to happen not just at the national level, but also at the local and city levels, as many activities to support durable solutions rely on the collaborative efforts of local authorities, service providers, NGOs, civil society, and the affected communities themselves.
As JIPS, we are working within the Global Alliance to raise awareness on the importance of understanding urban displacement and to develop tools and guidance tailored to urban actors. The Global Alliance serves as a key forum for bringing different constituencies together from development, academia, urban planning, humanitarian, built environment, and government at local levels in order to improve urban responses and bridge the humanitarian-development divide.
To better equip cities to respond to humanitarian crises, the Global Alliance calls for a mind shift towards a better understanding of how cities work, and how actors with different expertise can collaborate in all phases of a crisis.
At the end of May, our colleague Melissa Weihmayer participated in the annual Global Alliance for Urban Crises meeting at the EU Parliament building in Strasbourg, France. With over 40 members of the Global Alliance in attendance, this strong showing generated positive dialogue and new ideas.
The strong presence of local government representatives distinguished this all-members meeting from past events: the event was hosted by the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), a network of local governments looking to create sustainable change in their cities, while the mayor of Strasbourg provided welcome remarks emphasising the importance of local government voice in the efforts to create more cohesive communities.
Significantly, the two-day meeting featured panel discussions with mayors and local government representatives from Bangui (Central African Republic), Jeremie (Haiti), Kampala (Uganda), and Saida (Lebanon), all cities that have faced displacement crises in the past decade. All members of UCLG’s Taskforce on the Prevention and Management of Crises, their insights and discussion of not only challenges but also solutions created a key opportunity for meaningful dialogue about what local governments need from humanitarian actors when facing a crisis, and vice versa.
These exchanges set the scene for future collaboration between the Global Alliance and this Taskforce, and the planning of joint activities such as a protocol for humanitarian actors to engage with local authorities in situations of crisis. Global Alliance member IMPACT Initiatives helped to facilitate their participation at the event through their work in coordination in urban areas under their new AGORA program.
The panellists acknowledged the importance of coming together at such events, since one of the major challenges is ensuring that local governments and international actors simply learn to speak the same language.
If a common language is the starting point, the evidence is the mechanism for more effective and sustained collaboration. Evidence that can capture holistically the needs of urban populations helps to bring actors together to make decisions on how to collectively respond. It is this collaboration that helps ensure that the various problems that crises create can all be addressed simultaneously. Executive Director of Kampala Capital City Authority, Ms. Jennifer Musisi, painted the picture of massive and expensive infrastructure projects being funded without regard for the basic needs of the surrounding populations, such as malaria and poor sanitation. If projects proposed by development actors focus on infrastructure, and humanitarian actors target people without thinking about the roads needed to get to them, what remains is a major gap that local authorities struggle to fill.
This is the gap that JIPS is now looking to resolve by creating a methodology for gathering evidence in a city that takes both the population needs and the urban systems into account through its work with the Urban Analysis Network – Syria.
In response to these comments, JIPS offered two experiences supporting urban profiling exercises to suggest that collaboration in creating a holistic evidence-base to inform urban responses is in fact possible when supporting local leadership and creating opportunities for capacity-building. Working directly with local statistical offices in the Erbil Governorate, Iraq, under the joint leadership of the Erbil Refugee Council and UNHCR, created local ownership of both the process and the results. Similarly, the leadership of the Mayor’s office for an ongoing profiling exercise in Thessaloniki, Greece and a collaborative process bringing together the local authorities with international actors has enabled consensus on objectives, methodology, and shared interests in the next steps.
The challenges facing urban actors are vast, but so are the opportunities for efficient and improved practice. Through these meetings, the Global Alliance is moving beyond discussions on its strategic objectives towards concrete activities to foster change on the ground. Its working groups have put forth proposals for projects that all explore and strengthen the linkages between the different constituencies involved in the process.
In order to support a stronger evidence-base on the specific situation of displaced populations in protracted urban crises, JIPS will continue to contribute with its experience in supporting collaborative profiling exercises that bring together local stakeholders including statistics offices and actors working on displacement with a vast array of humanitarian and development partners.
Specifically, JIPS will collaborate with Global Alliance members on two activities:
JIPS looks forward to these concrete discussions, enriched by the diverse expertise of the Global Alliance membership.