European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

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Humanitarian Action in Urban Crises

© Andrew McConnell/IRC/Panos Pictures

Why is this important?

Natural disasters can have dramatic consequences for cities and urban populations, the effects of which can be seen in the aftermath of the earthquake in Nepal (2015), hurricane Irma (Haiti, 2017), and the floods in Bangladesh (2017). Man-made crises have severely impacted urban environments leading to urgent humanitarian needs; recent conflicts in the Middle East directly hit urban populations and led to dramatic scenes of devastation in cities such as Homs, Raqqa, and Aleppo.

Cities are, and will continue to be, the heart of major forced displacements. By 2050, 70% of the world population will be living in cities. Today, already 60% of refugees and 80% of internally displaced people have sought refuge in cities. Humanitarian actors need to adapt to this new urban reality: humanitarian action has moved beyond the traditional boundaries of refugee camps and remote rural areas.

How are we helping?

In order to meet the complexity of needs in urban settings, the European Commission promotes a multi-sectoral and collaborative approach to assessments and programming in urban settings, and advocates for greater attention to humanitarian needs in urban environments.

In Central African Republic, multi-sectoral interventions supported by the Commission's Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations focus on durable shelter construction alongside peaceful inter-community co-existence coupled with community mediation and dialogues.

In Haiti, partnerships with the private sector in urban areas have included work with local water vendors to ensure delivery of chlorinated water in highly cholera-prone zones, and involvement of private companies in the development of risk-informed 'business-continuity' plans in the framework of urban disaster risk reduction (DRR) interventions.

The EU plays an active role in the Global Alliance for Urban Crises, a platform set up at the World Humanitarian Summit, which works to address humanitarian and development needs in urban contexts. Through its Enhanced Response Capacity (ERC) instrument, the European Commission supports the Global Alliance for Urban Crises, and other key collaborators including government, private sector, and development actors to address the scale and complexity of the immediate needs of crisis-affected populations in urban settings whilst fostering recovery and encouraging sustainable development.

Through the ERC instrument, the Commission also funds the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to develop 'Alternatives to Camps: Enhancing Evidence-Based Programming and Targeting in Outside of Camp Contexts' (including urban areas), and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to design, test and deliver guidance and tools to help humanitarian actors provide rapid and effective support to affected populations in urban crises.

The European Commission has recently published a report on Humanitarian Action in Urban Crises, "The Urban Amplifier: Adapting to Urban Specificities". This report collects vast evidences and good practices of EU humanitarian interventions in urban environments, providing practical examples of the challenges faced when engaging in towns and cities.

Urban settings are linked to other important initiatives such as the EU Urban Agenda and ongoing work on sustainable development, the follow-up to the Communication on Forced Displacement and Development, the Resilience and the Grand Bargain agendas, and the implementation of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

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