Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Urban Shelter and the Limits of Humanitarian Action

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Urban Shelter and the Limits of Humanitarian Action

Article excerpt

Shelter requirements for people displaced into or affected within urban areas will pose major challenges for the humanitarian community. Decision-makers and practitioners calling for urban shelter guidelines have expressed concern about the role of humanitarian organisations.

Traditionally there has been a focus on the delivery of 'products' to meet the shelter needs of individual families, often in a rural setting. In an urban context, the focus needs to switch to people's limits and capacities, especially since there are likely to be:

* established markets, a cash economy and various layers of informal and formal financial institutions

* local authorities, planning bodies, housing strategies, legal institutions and building codes

* civil society organisations with various agendas, hierarchies and mechanisms of accountability

* private contractors and workers with 'urban skills'

* infrastructure and service providers

* households and neighbourhoods with urban coping strategies and livelihoods

* complex, multi-functional use of a variety of outdoor or public spaces. These are generally not envisaged in the concepts or vocabulary of rural-based shelter-response guidelines and need a 'settlements approach' - and ultimately an urban planning-based approach.

More and more humanitarian shelter organisations are focusing their responses on people's shelter needs in urban settings but specific guidelines and assistance methods are not yet available. The production of guidelines for humanitarian assistance in urban areas is a shelter Sector Project supported by Shelter Centre, funded by DfID and moderated by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) with specialist input from UNOCHA, Médecins Sans Frontières International, World Vision International, Practical Action, Swiss Resource Centre and Consultancies for Development (SKAT) and Habitat for Humanity. The project aims to:

* complement existing humanitarian response tools in different agencies and the sector as a whole such as the Sphere Project, UNHCR's Handbook for Emergencies, Shelter after disaster: strategies for transitional settlement and reconstruction (UN, forthcoming 201O1), the Camp Management Toolkit2 and the documentation around the Pinheiro Principles3;

* convey an urban livelihoods perspective which links profiling to a palette of assistance methods such as supervision and technical expertise, capacity building, delivering construction materials, supporting infrastructure and settlement planning

* provide tools for mapping institutions

* provide decision-making tools for selecting appropriate assistance methods

* tap into developmental research on urban and peri-urban vulnerability and environmental and resource impacts inside and beyond cities

* link to existing tools and handbooks on urban planning and housing.

The four themes identified by decision-makers and programme managers that are driving the format of forthcoming urban assistance guidelines are: agreement on the humanitarian objective of shelter and reconstruction; identification and livelihood profiling; housing, land and property issues; and the role of humanitarian organisations in shelter provision.

The humanitarian objective

Humanitarian assistance to meet shelter needs not only supports protection, privacy, dignity and household/community coping strategies but can also enable the recovery of sustainable livelihoods. There are also known links between adequate shelter and health, as well as multiplier effects in the local economy from investment in shelter. These other objectives do not need to be separately specified but emerge from the primary shelter objectives if these are properly designed and implemented.

Humanitarian assistance needs to address several sets of differences, for example in terms of the vulnerabilities and capacities of displaced people and the urban poor. …

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