Urban Launches Research to Strengthen Local Government Responses to Displacement in Africa

IDG Research, September 2014 - Through the end of August 2015, the Urban Institute will build on existing knowledge of displaced populations in three African urban centres to identify mechanisms for promoting more effective local government humanitarian responses, while minimizing the need for unsustainable parallel service delivery mechanisms. Our research will focus on adapting and piloting an assessment tool for both municipal officials and humanitarian organizations as they seek to serve displaced population coming to and living around Africa’s urban centers.

Our goal is to develop a practical assessment tool and narrative that informs urban and humanitarian agency leaders about shared priorities. Our methodology brings together the Urban Institute’s expertise on local government with previous research on local government responses to migration and displacement in Southern Africa.  With its specific focus on access to health care, housing, and livelihoods, the project will help humanitarian actors to identify:

  • What policies, agencies and bodies have formal and de facto responsibility for urban programming and humanitarian preparedness and emergency response?
  • How do municipal officials understand their responsibility for humanitarian response? What factors (e.g., training, performance management, budgeting, political imperatives) account for this understanding? Are there differences in municipal perspectives toward categories of refugees such as asylum seekers, registered refugees, migrants, or citizens?
  • How are data on urban populations (particularly mobile population’s and the displaced) collected, and used in budgeting and planning by local and central officials?
  • How does the general urban development/poverty reduction policy framework work for or against the needs of displaced populations?
  • How do urban planning processes work for or against responding to humanitarian crises and displaced populations’ vulnerabilities?
  • What are the roles of non-governmental actors (aid agencies, religious bodies, businesses) in interacting with urban officials to promote urban welfare for the poor and displaced populations?
  • Where are the opportunities for humanitarian organizations to positively and progressively influence local government action through direct support, training, or strategic partnerships?

This project responds to a growing awareness among the humanitarian community that almost half of the world’s refugees and displaced people live outside of camps, primarily in urban centers. The presence of displaced people in urban centers across the developing world has strong ethical, political, and financial implications for cities already struggling to address their existing populations’ needs. As humanitarian organizations become more explicitly engaged with municipal authorities and urban populations, it is critical that they understand the vulnerabilities, objectives, incentives and institutional capacities of these urban governments.

Our research will complement needs assessments and profiling exercises by exploring local governments’ capabilities and limitations in responding to displaced populations in ways that satisfy and advance international humanitarian standards as well as local political and economic demands.

Research is underway and will be completed by August 2015. Funding and support is provided by US Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM).

For more information about this work, contact Urban’s Center on International Development and Governance.

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