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Urban Disasters

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With over half of the world’s population living in urban areas, most of which are coastal, the frequency and severity of urban disasters is expected to increase.

Advantages and Challenges

Humanitarian agencies have to respond to urban disasters in a manner which considers the unique advantages and challenges of an urban setting.

The benefits of urban settings include the following:

  • More developed communication and transportation networks
  • Simpler logistics for a concentrated population
  • Availability of services and human resources
  • Concentration of media and political power

Humanitarian organizations can also face certain challenges when responding to urban disasters which include:

  • Diversity of needs
  • Difficulty in identifying recipients among a large population
  • Legal issues related to shelter and housing
  • Uncertain boundary between humanitarian and development actionUrban Disasters

It is crucial that humanitarian organizations identify specific areas where needs are high and ensure that socially marginalized people (e.g. internally displaced people, minority ethnic groups) are not excluded. Urban populations often require different goods or services, such as fuel and transport that distinguish them from more rural communities.


Effective Response

In order to ensure an appropriate and effective response, humanitarian agencies should understand the features of the city and coordinate with government agencies, community groups and international organizations. They should also have expertise in:

  • Property law
  • Electro-mechanical engineering
  • Urban planning
  • Disposal of hazardous waste

Humanitarian agencies should also work within existing infrastructure and government recovery plans. Wherever possible, goods and services should be sourced from local markets to minimize the impact of the crisis on the economy.

An urban approach to shelter and housing should focus on temporary relocation as close to the original neighbourhood as possible. Due to the complexity of property law, humanitarian agencies have to contemplate multiple housing options and consider the rights of renters and squatters.

The importance of Water, Sanitiatian and Hygiene (WASH) cannot be overstated; a direct focus on ensuring the availability of hygienic facilities is vital to reducing the spread of disease.


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