Lack of knowledge and inadequate capacity is frequently a key obstacle in achieving sustainable urban development practices. This can lead to actions that fail to consider the local characteristics of a problem, the needs of communities, and the complex inter-sectoral dynamics of cities. A better understanding of urban processes and the roots of issues is needed for national and local governments to develop appropriate policies and improve their performance to serve the best interests of urban residents.

Data and urban analysis enable cities to make correct decisions on policy, identify and prioritize interventions and systematically monitor the economic, social and environmental performance of cities. At the same time, severe crisis in the region affects urban areas in various ways, hence collecting data in these areas is crucial to plan interventions. UN-Habitat seeks to increase dissemination and awareness of knowledge on sustainable urban development through a number of innovative tools.

The State of Arab Cities Report 2012 presents a comprehensive picture of urban conditions and trends in each of the four Arab regions and provides a discussion of the similarities, differences and linkages between these countries.  The City Prosperity Initiative is a new initiative that that enables city authorities, as well as local and national stakeholders to identify opportunities and potential areas of intervention for their cities to become more prosperous.

It is now implemented in Saudi Arabia and Egypt and UN-Habitat intends to expand across all the Arab region in collaboration with its partners in the Arab states. It will serve as a monitoring tool for the implementation of the LAS Strategy for Housing and Sustainable Urban Development.

Syria: Rapid City Profiles and Shelter Support and Needs Assessment

Five Rapid City Profiles, funded by the Swiss Development Cooperation, were developed during 2014 for Homs, Aleppo, Dara'a Latakia and Deir-ez-Zour analysing the impacts of the crisis on each city. Rapid City Profiles provide a comprehensive analysis of displacement trends, housing, water supply, sanitation, road networks, electricity, health, education, food security, mobility. Rapid City Profiles highlight "hotspots" where the population vulnerability is acute.

By overlaying information on population, damage, and sectoral issues, the profiles provide useful insights into how people in different neighbourhoods are coping with the crisis. This in turn helps humanitarian and recovery actors to prioritise their response. Based on the findings of the City Profiles, a more in-depth neighbourhood level shelter needs assessment was conducted in Al Tal, Ma'raba and Ashrafyat Sahnaya in rural Damascus as well as in Salah Ad-Deen neighbourhood of Aleppo.

The neighbourhood profiles were used to develop prioritized area-based action plans for recovery and stabilization through a multi-stakeholder approach, which were then implemented by UN-Habitat and other UN agencies together with local partners. Now with additional funding from the EU UN-Habitat is undertaking city and neighbourhood profiles in 22 Syrian cities.