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Humanitarian Aid on the move #8, special issue: Cities and crises

Managing crises in urban areas: food and nutritional security and urban-rural links
Florence Egal

For more than 10 years, the FAO has been working on urban issues and urban-rural links via the multi-disciplinary project, ‘Food for the Cities’. Crises have an impact on the food and nutritional security of urban populations, and it is essential to reinforce the resilience of cities in relation to crises, whether these are linked to natural disasters, armed conflicts or economic crises. What role does and can the FAO play in this regard? How can emergency response and rehabilitation be coordinated to re-establish and reinforce the livelihoods of urban communities? And lastly, why are inter-sector collaboration and urban-rural links so important?

Some may be surprised that the FAO is involved in managing crises in urban areas: public policy often forgets that urban communities need to feed themselves, that crises do not only affect housing and that rural communities flee to cities when rural areas are affected. FAO has been concerned with the impact of urbanization on food security and its relation to agricultural development since the end of the 1980s. The multi-disciplinary project “Food for the Cities” (see http://www.fao.org/fcit/fcit-home/en/) involves experts from several disciplines in connection with urban and peri-urban issues.

Cities can be directly or indirectly affected by a variety of crises: natural disasters, armed conflicts or economic crises (such as the volatility of agricultural prices and their increase). Crises often lead to the displacement of communities fleeing poverty and insecurity, and cities are often not in a position to cope with a massive influx of impoverished displaced people who are not familiar with the city. These arrivals increase the pressure on the local economy and infrastructures: they therefore affect the whole urban population. This situation is particularly critical in shanty towns where the precarious housing, the health conditions and the limited access to food and social services make humanitarian operations and aid for victims all the more difficult. The challenge of operations in crisis-affected cities is to provide households with sustainable livelihoods, both in terms of food and nutritional security and the sustainable management of natural resources.

The consequences of these crises, such as natural disasters, which are often recurring and predictable, are themselves the consequence of inappropriate or non-existent urban and rural development policies. To meet these challenges, the FAO provides support to promote a local and integrated resilient food systems approach. In particular, it contributes to the development of urban and peri-urban agriculture, which can provide families with better food security as well as a source of income.

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