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Centre Stage for Urban Crises at WUF11

Updated: Jul 13, 2022

The Urban Crises Track at this year's World Urban Forum elevated the urban crises response agenda, which has been spearheaded by the Global Alliance for Urban Crises and its members. Over the five days of the conference, high level discussions were followed by granular exchanges on urban crises response, with commitments to advance collective, area-based efforts.

To start at the end, UN-Habitat’s Executive Director Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif closed the World Urban Forum (WUF) by listing four main take-aways. Two of these four points were on urban crises, covering urban crises response and urban recovery frameworks. This reflected a week with a strong focus on crises in cities, and the need to find ways to respond more efficient, cost-effective, and with the greatest possible impacts in the short, medium and longer term for affected populations.

The Global Alliance for Urban Crises at WUF11

The Global Alliance for Urban Crises and its members played an important role in organising and contributing to a range of events under the Urban Crises Track at WUF. This included two network events organised by the Alliance: Urban Profiling and Recovery in Ukraine Across the Hum-Dev-Peace Nexus and Enhancing the Role of Local Governments Across the Humanitarian, Development, Peace and Security Nexus.

The panels of the two networking events organised by the Global Alliance for Urban Crises. Left: the Urban Profiling and Recovery in Ukraine event panel, from left: Ross Mc Donald (Urban-A), Ellen Hamilton (World Bank), Wilhelmina Welsch (JIPS), Jeremy Wetterwald (Impact Initiatives), Alexander Shevchenko (ReStart Ukraine) and Ieva Kalnina (SKL). Right: the Enhancing the Role of Local Governments event panel, from left: Louise Thaller, Impact Initiatives, Filiep Decorte, UN-Habitat, Patience Kitonga, Red Cross Kenya, Synne Bergby, Urban-A, and Maggie Stephenson.

The discussions presented an opportunity to identify concrete ways for the Alliance and its members to contribute to the three strategic goals of the Global Alliance for Urban Crises' 2021-2024 strategy, including:

  1. Local governments are empowered to prepare, prevent and respond to humanitarian crises

  2. Holistic responses to urban crises it promoted through enhanced accessibility of updated and relevant knowledge, tools and lessons learned

  3. Advance the Urban Crises Charter for systemic change through evidence-based external advocacy

In the Urban Profiling and Recovery in Ukraine Across the Hum-Dev-Peace Nexus networking event, the discussion centred on how available tools and approaches can be strengthened to better inform coordinated humanitarian and recovery action in urban contexts, and how to anchor this in local capacities and practices. With a special focus on Ukraine, concrete ways that profiling can contribute to strengthen the role of local governments in the Ukrainian response, was discussed.

Impact Initiatives, JIPS and Urban-A discussed the evolution of profiling, which has moved from a reliance on remote sensing and rapid assessments with broad-based data collection, to household surveying and engagement of communities for an in-depth, granular, and temporal understanding. The World Bank further emphasised the importance of supporting displaced and people in highly affected places with a long-term horizon, working backward from the end-goal and focusing upon people in the places rather than places with some people.

Presentation slides from Impact Initiatives and JIPS on Informing Urban Response. Left: the changes in service supply and demand in Kurakhove and Donetsk prior to the conflict. Right: displacement patterns during the conflict and the implications this has on demand for services across Ukraine.

“Our best chance to know what people want is to ask them” Wilhelmina Welsch, JIPS.

All panelists spoke to the importance of supporting local governments through access to and capacities to make use of relevant, up-to-date data and analysis. ReStart Ukraine and SKL explained local governance structure and the coordination of urban response actors in Ukraine, and the opportunity to link governance levels horizontally and vertically to promote innovation, knowledge transfer, and cost-effectiveness, placing local governance at the center.

"There is now a joint understanding that a joint understanding is needed. Ukraine is an opportunity to do things differently – to operationalise the discussions of the Alliance, to walk the walk" Dan Stelder, VNG International (comment from the floor)

Filiep Decorte, the Global Alliance for Urban Crises steering

committee chair, moderating the profiling event.

In the Enhancing the Role of Local Governments Across the Humanitarian, Development, Peace and Security nexus networking event, the focus was on how to support better partnerships between local governments, humanitarian/development actors and communities using area-based approaches.

Echoing the profiling session, the panelists emphasised the importance of data driven decision making. Impact Initiatives highlighted the need to align data with existing planning and management systems, and to integrate climate chance adaption into all research. UN-Habitat pointed to the need to curate knowledge and learning to improve accessibility and a shared understanding, while Stephenson pointed out that availability does not mean that products are accessed or used. She also pointed to the “tyranny of best practice”, and the need for mechanisms to investigate failures and to warn new partners to not repeat the same mistakes. Kenya Red Cross reminded us of the importance of involving youth, and intergenerational discussions.

“You have to look at pathology of failure to learn from it, in addition to talking about successes.” Maggie Stephenson

UCLG mentioned the protocol of Engagement, developed by the Global Alliance for Urban Crises, as a good starting point for practical guidance for how local governments to work with humanitarian actors. However, further work is necessary to operationalise it, and to ensure it supports systemic change.

"Humanitarians and local governments speak different languages. How do we have that conversation in a meaningful way?" Filiep Decorte, UN-Habitat

It was suggested that the crisis in Ukraine may serve as an opportunity for the Global Alliance for Urban Crises to build a horizontal consortium with local authorities. This would built on a trend of changing practice as more consortiums of actions are established.

Elevating the Urban Crises agenda

The two high-level events early in the week, the Extraordinary Dialogue on Urban Crisis Response and Recovery and the Special Session on Urban Recovery Frameworks served to inform the more detailed discussions in the networking events.

Left: Maimunah Mohd Sharif (UN-Habitat) at the Extraordinary Dialogue on Urban Crisis Response and Recovery. Right: the Special Session on Urban Recovery Frameworks, moderated by Nigel Fisher, with Fatma Sahin, (Mayor Gazientep), Manuel de Araujo (Mayor of Quelimane), Lars Gronvald (EU INTPA) and Leva Kalnina (SKL) on stage.

The Extraordinary Dialogue on Urban Crisis Response and Recovery articulated the diversity of crises that affect cities today, and how these crises (climate change, pandemics, conflict, natural disasters, etc.) intersect and converge. The discussion stressed the importance that should be given to local governments, acknowledging local governments as both first responders and visionaries, and taking pragmatic action to move their societies into new directions. In particular, local governments know the specific context, and can build resilience of communities based on local knowledge, culture and existing systems.

The Greek origin of the word ‘crisis’, meaning ‘time for decision making’ and ‘turning point’, highlights the need to use the crises response to take communities in new directions, shifting the way of life and working. This is essential to accelerate towards the SDGs, Climate Action and the Global Compact on Refugees and Migration in line with the urgency and scale of the crises facing cities.

The discussion highlighted the need for collective efforts to change the narrative of how to address crises and to strengthen resilience. For this, youth and local governments should not only be heard but also have a seat at the decision-making table. Moreover, an inclusion lens and focus on social justice must be integrated at all levels of urban crises response. Organisations need to thoughtfully and intentionally integrate Internally Displaced Persons, migrants and refugees into their strategic goals. The panel also discussed the potential of tapping into the creative and imaginative capacity of young people to overcome trauma of crises, take positive action now, and shape a different future.

In the Special Session on Urban Recovery Frameworks, the conversation not only recognised the need for context-specific and tailored approach to urban crises targeting different phases of crises – which is already well established - but attempted to further the discussion on exactly how to do so. Centring on key components of a framework for urban recovery, the discussion covered multi-level governance mechanisms, migration and displacement, financing instruments and local culture.

The urban recovery approaches (URF, CURE, people-centred approaches to displacement) discussed have a strong common core also indicating the important progress made in this area and a clear narrative on the foundational elements. Urban recovery frameworks are an important tool to help drive bottom-up urban recovery, led by local governments, as a complement to nationally conceived reconstruction plans. National governments are well placed to leverage local capacities and potential. They can do so by putting in place the necessary institutional mechanisms and multi-level governance arrangements, address policy gaps, ensure coordination and support financing instruments that can support local governments.

A critical gap to realise urban recovery is financing. There is a need for better financial mechanisms, mobilising private sector funding, ensuring more transparent national – local fiscal transfers, expanded local tax base etc. Furthermore, urban recovery requires a strong focus on rebuilding the social contract and ensuring social inclusion. Integrated urban response must support both places damaged by conflict but also those places under stress as they host large numbers of displaced communities.

Building on the momentum from the discussions at WUF, the Alliance will be working to support and facilitate efforts of its members aligned with the strategic objectives of the 2021-2024 strategy.

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