The challenge

  • Empirical studies show that it is not the size of urban agglomerations that create criminal surroundings but rather the poor planning, design and management of urbanization.
  • Studies have shown that a large percentage of urban dwellers in developing and transitional countries have been victims of crime over a five-year period, with victimisation rates reaching 70% in parts of Latin America and the Caribbean and Africa (UN-Habitat, 2007).
  • Research points to inequalities (UN-Habitat, 2015), lack of institutional and social control and social exclusion (not poverty 1) as underlying causes of crime and violence in urban areas.


Before Safer Cities Interventions: A culture of apathy among the citizenry in community safety
After Safer Cities Interventions: Increased participation of the citizenry through the adaptation of the Safer Cities tools by the private sector and civil society.
Before Safer Cities Interventions: Urban poor perceived as holding the greatest responsibility of crime and violence.
After Safer Cities Interventions: The perception of the urban poor as the major offenders of crime changed when the crime victim survey results were disclosed which showed the main victims of crime and violence were the poor.
Before Safer Cities Interventions: Youth perceived as a problem and the youth crime problem addressed through the criminal justice system.
After Safer Cities Interventions: Youth increasingly incorporated as part of the solution and as resources to the community safety and cohesion through Safer Cities art and sport programmes.

News and Stories

"I have lived most of my life in the Eastlands slum in Nairobi working as a garbage collector. For several years, I engaged in crime including carjacking and murder and was severally arrested by the police and kept in custody. But my life changed one day when I encountered UNHABITAT Safer Cities Programme that was holding a concert in my hood called “Looking to the East – a Safer City”. Involved in its activities, I begun changing my perception in the way I saw the society. My self-esteem increased and I started working closely with the City County of Nairobi on its Safer Nairobi Initiative to which I was introduced by UN-HABITAT. I am now seen as a role model to my community… many young people could not believe it was me whom they had seen as a gangster- leave alone the police who were very surprised but kept encouraging me. Formerly a gang member; self-confessed but now reformed, I have now dedicated my time to mobilizing youth, through positive action and community projects. I have now established a car garage, thanks to the Safer Cities approach that has given me a second chance in life."

Bernard Ongeso, 34, Ex-gang member, Nairobi

Related Sustainable Development Goals

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SDG 5 logo
SDG 11 logo
SDG 16 logo
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Leaving no one and no place behind

Hover over or click the icons to learn about UN-Habitat's work on social inclusion here.

Safety is a Human Rights issue. Urban safety and security strategies should be human rights based, respecting the rule of law and actively promoting a culture of lawfulness. They should actively address cultures of violence, intolerance and corruption with the aim to ensure all people, institutions and governments in the city to take care and protect inhabitants’everyday life, free from fear, crime and violence; promote civic responsibility, social cohesion and solidarity.

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Inclusion of all inhabitants is an underlying principle in decision-making, implementation and follow-up of urban safety and security strategies. Discrimination, lack of economic opportunities and livelihoods, weak governance, harmful social norms, inequality and inadequate access to, and control of, resources create different forms of exclusion and vulnerabilities for women, girls, boys and men. Urban safety and security strategies should at all times include measures that contribute to gender equality and inclusion. This means that investments and actions need to acknowledge and address the specific interests and needs of women and girls, children and youth, and persons in vulnerable situations including migrants in order to leave no one behind when addressing social and gender norms surrounding safety and security.

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Urban safety and security strategies must recognize children and youth as agents of change. They play a key role in the development, implementation and co-production of safety and security in cities and human settlements. Governments should work with and for them in all phases from the assessment, planning, and implementation, to monitoring of public policies at the local level.

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Sustainable urban development can only be achieved if persons with disabilities are included meaningfully in decision-making and are able to access their rights. UN-Habitat partners with representative groups and individual rights holders, as well as national and local governments, relevant UN bodies and civil society to maximize impact and to meaningfully ensure that the rights including accessibility and universal design of persons with disabilities are promoted, respected and protected. 

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Donors and partners

The success of UN-Habitat’s work on safety is dependent on successful partnerships, particularly with local authorities. Working on safety, UN-Habitat identifies and mobilises diverse local partners who can contribute to reducing insecurity. By creating local safety coalitions, UN-Habitat engages communities to take action towards security in their local area.

Our Experts

Specialist, Safer Cities, Human Rights and Social Inclusion Unit
Urban Practices Branch, Global Solutions Division