June 24, 2015, Barcelona, Spain. As part of the preparations for the World Humanitarian Summit, nearly 50 representatives of local governments, professional associations, academic and research institutes and humanitarian and development actors gathered recently in Barcelona to develop a common platform for advocacy and action to respond to the growing importance of urban humanitarian assistance. The meeting was hosted by the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) and UN-Habitat, with support from Global Communities, USAID and the Department for International Development/International Rescue Committee.
By 2050, an additional 3 billion people will be added to the world’s urban population, with many living in high-risk areas in cities that are already fragile – with weak governance, limited basic services and exposed to a range of natural and man-made hazards. Almost 80% of global GDP is generated in urban areas. At the same time, the majority of the world’s displaced people are seeking safety in urban areas. All these factors increase the stakes and require urgent action, which experts say will require a change in mind set from governments, development and humanitarian actors alike. With the world rapidly urbanizing, humanitarian crisis response must move away from solutions developed to serve a primarily rural populace.
Nigel Fisher, former UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis and advisor to the WHS Secretariat, stressed that accelerating global urbanization is one of the great defining challenges of our time and should logically provide a central framework for articulating the priorities and outcomes of the World Humanitarian Summit. Representatives of UCLG made a strong appeal to put local authorities at the center of crisis response, building on their local knowledge and bringing decision-making as close as possible to affected people. Fisher added that for these reasons, prevention, preparedness and response need to build on the assets of communities, urban governance mechanisms, local markets and economies and service delivery systems.
Throughout the consultations, lessons were drawn from local government representatives who are dealing with recent and ongoing urban crises in Senegal, Bangui (CAR), Banda Aceh (Indonesia) and Turkish cities where refugee influx has doubled the population without extra resources to ensure basic services. In addition, participants articulated key principles in a draft ‘charter’ as the basis for a Global Urban Partnership, pooling knowledge, capacity and resources to take this agenda forward. The consultation ended with a marketplace designed to connect key partners together to help shape these important initiatives.