Global studies show that 60% of all urban residents in developing countries have been victims of crime at least once over the past five years, 70% of them in Latin America and Africa. Urbanization, particularly in the developing world, has been accompanied by increased levels of crime, violence, and lawlessness. The growing violence and feeling of insecurity that city dwellers are facing daily is one of the major challenges around the world. In some countries, crime and violence have been exacerbated by the proliferation of weapons, substance abuse, and youth unemployment. Crime and violence impact the on everyday life of city residents.

Women and children are often the most affected, especially when fear hinders their access to services. The impact of crime and insecurity restricts urban social and economic development, and often jeopardizes opportunities and pro-poor policies. Without a deliberate effort to address this issue, the prospects of future development and poverty reduction are limited.

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.

Reducing crime is everybody’s responsibility

Criminal justice systems, including police, courts, and prisons alone cannot cope with escalating urban crime. They play a key role in deterrence and repression, but alone they cannot offer sustainable solutions. Public safety must be considered a right for all, and all members of society must work with together with their municipalities and governments to improve it. Mayors and local authorities have a key role to play in community-wide crime prevention strategies. These strategies must address the rising public demand for crime reduction.

Success depends on partnerships between local governments and other stakeholders to plan and carry out strategies and activities that aim to eliminate violence, crime, and insecurity. Tackling crime and insecurity is a key part of good urban governance. Good urban governance values citizenship and inclusion by consulting and involving all citizens in their decision-making and planning – including those who are marginalized and living in poverty.

UN-Habitat’s approach to Safer Cities

The Safer Cities approach maintains that crime and violence do not happen spontaneously. Inadequate urban environments that exclude some members of society from the benefits of urbanization and participation in decision-making and development motivate crime. The lack of long term solutions to social, economic, and governance issues in the world’s cities, and the failure to promote inclusive policies targeting the most vulnerable groups, is at the root of increases in urban violence and crime. UN-Habitat’s Safer Cities approach is increasingly incorporated as an important solution to crime prevention. Safer Cities spearheads the urban crime prevention approach within the agency.

To realize its objectives, the main Safer Cities global initiatives from 2012-2016 include: UN Guidelines on Safer Cities; City to City Cooperation (learning and exchange between local authorities and communities); Global Award on Safer Cities; Global Safety Index for Cities; Global Safer Public Spaces Awareness Campaign; and the Global Social Media Portal on Safer Cities.


More than
local authorities implemented effective urban safety programmes incorporating crime prevention strategies that improve urban safety.
The Safer Cities for Girls Programme benefited
children, implemented in five cities (Cairo, in Egypt, Hanoi, in Vietnam, New Delhi in India, Kampala, in Uganda and Lima, in Peru).
The Streets for Walking & Cycling tool developed in
supports city leaders and other stakeholders to design cities for safety, accessibility and comfort.

News and Stories

Highlighted publications

Tools and Guidelines
Her City – A Guide for Cities to Sustainable and Inclusive Urban Planning and Design together with Girls
Global Urban Safety Indicators and Monitoring Tool
Tools and Guidelines
United Nations System-wide Guidelines on Safer Cities and Human Settlements
Technical Report
Review on SDG11 Synthesis Report for the 2018 HLPF - Tracking Progress Towards Inclusive, Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements
Tools and Guidelines
Building Urban Safety through Slum Upgrading
The Global Assessment on Women's Safety

"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

SDG 3 logo
SDG 5 logo
SDG 11 logo
SDG 16 logo
SDG 17 logo

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.