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Thinking bigger: area-based and urban planning approaches to humanitarian crises

Policymakers and donors are calling for a paradigm shift in humanitarian response in urban areas: moving away from processes focused on individuals or households to approaches that intervene at a larger scale. We looked at two larger scale approaches: first reviewing the literature on ‘area-based approaches’ to urban crisis response (participatory approaches to providing multi-sectoral support in specific geographic areas); and then investigating UN-Habitat’s experience of supporting locally led urban planning at the neighbourhood, district and city scale. We found that area-based approaches may be appropriate if particular locations have a high concentration of needs, but to be effective they must be linked to city-wide or regional plans and policies. Our research suggests post-crisis urban planning can provide this policy and planning framework, while empowering communities and local government to identify their needs and priorities and manage their own recovery. However, significant support may be required to build local capacity.

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Urban areas are increasingly the sites of humanitarian crises, from natural disasters to conflict and displacement. Through a programme of research, documenting and learning from experience and development of tools and approaches, IIED is working to build the knowledge and capacity to respond of humanitarian actors working in urban areas, and of urban actors facing humanitarian crises.

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Urban Crises Learning Fund