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

Responding to crises in cities by strengthening local governance and capacity
Pierre Schapira

Urbanization is everywhere and is accelerating over a large part of the planet. In recent decades, an increasing number of people have moved to cities. Global demographic growth and the globalization of the economy have contributed greatly to these trends. Within a very short space of time, by around 2030, almost 60% of the world’s population will live in cities in developing countries. This urban pressure brings numerous challenges, some of which are new and many of which are complex. All these challenges call for local governance and capacity to be strengthened.

Urban expansion and uncontrolled urbanization have revealed how fragile cities are, particularly in situations where there have been repeated crises. For several years now, these phenomena have brought a large number of challenges, some of them well known: housing, transport, the fight against pollution, economic and social cohesion, the place of different generations in the city, urban renewal, poverty, biodiversity…

Over and above these challenges, which are both global and structural, cities can be confronted with various risks and can find themselves faced with different types of crises. Recent events have shown the nature of some of these risks, which are emerging all over the planet.

The economic and financial crisis of 2007 affected numerous cities all over the world. It was responsible for a city like Detroit going bankrupt and being deserted so that it resembled a ghost town. More recently, events in Ivory Coast reminded us that cities can be affected by serious political crises, as was the case in Abidjan. And the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan once again highlighted the fragility of urban areas to natural disasters.

Though every city must confront these same challenges today, they do not all have the same administrative, state and financial resources at their disposal. Cities in developing countries do not always have the resources or skills to provide public services, particularly in post-disaster or post-conflict contexts. Crises often reveal the fragility of their administrations and their local governance.

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