Strengthening Responses to Urban Crises

We live in a world that is increasingly beset by crises. They come in various forms and upend the lives of millions of people globally. As these crises become more commonplace, there are increasing efforts to try and ‘manage’ them or mitigate their worst effects. In our work, we focus on natural and conflict-induced crises and particularly as they materialise in urban areas. We note how humanitarian actors struggle to find effective means to respond in a timely and adequate manner that build on the existing systems in place. Recent experiences from a range of contexts, from the Haitian earthquake in 2010, the earthquake in Nepal in 2015, the cyclone in Mozambique in 2019, to the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Myanmar have brought to light recurrent shortcomings in responses.

Despite a growing body of research and knowledge products on urban crises response, there are still critical knowledge gaps on them. Learning brought forward by researchers and practitioners alike underpin the need for robust contextual analysis before designing programmes in urban response, acknowledging the complexities of cities, city systems and communities. At the centre is an understanding that local governments – often the first responders to disasters – need to be at the forefront in programme design and included in the humanitarian response planning. There is also a need to include market actors and civil society organisations as key players in crisis responses and consider how the three can work together to respond to exigencies in effective ways.

To address this gap, we are conducting a one-day conference on governing urban crises. In this, we are bringing together researchers, practitioners and local government officials active in knowledge building on urban crises response to advance the discussion on how Governance, across international, national and local scales, can contribute towards strengthening responses. Our specific focus is on Housing, Local Economic Development and Energy and the need to address these complex and fraught issues in today’s policy discussions. We bring a gender-sensitive lens to our conversations, centering for instance on the importance of recognising the effects of these issues on gender-based violence. The conference is transnational and multiscalar, allowing us to debate and discuss issues from a range of perspectives, recognise commonalities and connections and build robust dialogues that can get to the heart of structural inequalities and justice.

Conference Schedule


Panel 1: Local Economic Development


Humanitarian crises including large-scale displacement can overwhelm local economies. The response has traditionally focused on livelihoods-creation at a local level. This means that interventions have often been decoupled from existing markets, not considered the fluidity and dependency between areas of the city and beyond, and not given due consideration to the overarching crisis impact on the local economy. In a crisis setting, the local economy including the job market itself may be significantly impacted due to the large influx of people. This may contribute to the creation or expansion of markets, as demand for goods  and services and the labour pool increases. At the same time employment opportunities tend to be limited, informal and/or of a precarious nature, particularly for displaced persons and the urban poor. A quickly unravelling economy is associated with dramatically reduced productivity, human and productive capital, transportation, and hyperinflation. Many are therefore dependent on humanitarian assistance in lieu of income-generating opportunities to meet basic needs. Local governments play an important role in how displaced populations access employment and how they can contribute, together with local communities, to positive growth and development. In this panel, we will look at what a broader approach to livelihoods and economic opportunities may look like in such settings. We will draw on context-specific, innovative, and tested solutions for how existing markets, systems, and actors can be levelled in local economic development, and discuss the potential for scalability and replicability of such models.

11:10 - 12:40

Panel 1: Local Economic Development

Dyfed Aubrey, Annabella Skof, Salma Khatun, Jak Koseff, Hodan Ali & Discussant: Professor Andrés Rodriguez-Pose

In this panel, we bring together practitioners, local government representatives, and academics working in and on Nepal, South Africa, Kenya and Lebanon to discuss the challenges faced by local economies during urban crises. They will also discuss the role of local economic development to address their root causes and promote sustainable livelihoods. They will consider how local governments’ and humanitarian organizations can better link local interventions to markets, and how local economic activities may be incentivize through interventions and policy.

Watch VOD

12:40 - 13:40

Lunch Break

Panel 2: Energy


An estimated 1.2 billion people worldwide remain without access to electricity. Many are amongst the most vulnerable population groups, including refugees and migrants. While urban areas are often relatively better connected to energy markets compared to the more rural areas, the quality of energy provision is often poor, unreliable, inadequate, and from non-renewable sources. Yet, humanitarian and development efforts to support the deployment of clean energy solutions have largely been focused on rural areas. Access to publicly and privately supplied electricity is usually uneven across different areas of cities and worse in vulnerable and informal neighbourhoods. Local power structures linked to patronage, sectarianism, nationality, and ethnicity play a role in who has access to and the quality of services such as electricity. Private providers compliment or substitute poor public provision in urban areas but cater to those with disposable income to pay for the services. This panel will discuss these issues, noting that energy is both a cause and consequence of conflict, and how energy access as a key condition can help address a range of needs and composite challenges in urban crises situations.

13:40 - 14:55

Panel 2: Energy

Emmanuel G Michael Biririza, Ali Ahmad, Pierre T. El Khoury, Jørn C. Øwre & Discussant: Dr Neil Quilliam

In this panel, we bring together practitioners, academics and a government representative working on energy access and provision in Africa and the Middle East to discuss how to accelerate access to clean energy in a way that benefit also those most vulnerable. The panel will discuss how to work with existing systems and actors and through policy and technological solutions to address energy provision, and highlight key barriers and areas of opportunities for humanitarian responders to promote clean energy.

Watch VOD

14:55 - 15:10

Break

Panel 3: Housing and Shelter


In this panel we look at the evolution of housing and shelter provision for displaced populations. Access to safe, adequate and affordable housing is crucial not just for them, but also for the urban poor. Often the lack of such housing, particularly in countries and regions that are resource poor and that carry the overwhelming burden of hosting displaced people, can lead to conflicts between groups. In many places, local authorities are at the forefront of providing access to housing for displaced people, either in collaboration with NGOs or with the national government or private landlords. Numerous pilots for innovative accommodation models are being created. In this panel we discuss some of these, but with a specific focus on how market-led responses, such as government-subcontracted work to private companies to provide urban shelter, create new forms of accommodation. These practices raise questions around adequacy, accountability and rights. We examine the impact of urban shelter and accommodation programmes on housing markets in different contexts.

15:10 - 16:40

Panel 3: Housing and Shelter

Angela Franco, Dora Kokozidou, Panos Hatziprokopiou, Nikolaos Vrantsis, Khondaker Hasibul Kabir & Discussant: Dr Jonathan Darling

In this panel, we bring together practitioners, academics and a government representative working on energy access and provision in Africa and the Middle East to discuss how to accelerate access to clean energy in a way that benefit also those most vulnerable. The panel will discuss how to work with existing systems and actors and through policy and technological solutions to address energy provision, and highlight key barriers and areas of opportunities for humanitarian responders to promote clean energy.

Watch VOD

16:40 - 17:00

Closing Reflections

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