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

The challenges of reconstruction from the point of view of local authorities
Bertrand Gallet

Demographic and economic upheaval in the urban centres of developing countries in particular is bringing new dynamics to traditional relief and post-emergency action in response to major disasters. Decentralisation is leading to a new form of territorial governance in the world. This has consequences for prevention and reconstruction following a disaster. In addition, the cooperation which has been developing between local authorities from all over the world in the last thirty years has led to the development of a new form of emergency and rehabilitation aid.

Cités unies France is a group of committed local authorities involved in numerous global networks.

Cités Unies France has been setting up ‘Solidarity funds’ following disasters, whether natural disasters or linked to conflicts, at the request of its members, for more than ten years now. These funds are managed by the donor authorities.

For example: Hurricane Mitch, in Nicaragua in 1998, the earthquakes of Boumerdes and El Hoceima, the bombings of Gaza and Lebanon ; and more recently, the tsunami in Indonesia, drought in Niger, the earthquake in Haiti and the disasters in Japan. In all these cases funds were created and Cités Unies France was able to fund or co-fund operations due to the strong mobilization of its members. Generally speaking, these local authorities contribute both to the funds of Cités Unies France and to those of humanitarian NGOs.

These Solidarity funds are based on the idea that the legitimacy and effectiveness of local authorities need to be restored by ensuring that they are able to fulfil their public service role. This takes the form of reconstruction, training and the supply of equipment.

Emergency and post-emergency action traditionally took place in rural environments but the contexts of major disasters have now changed. The fact that the demographic and economic centre of gravity has shifted from rural to urban contexts has led to increased construction of poorly-built and illegal housing where hundreds of people are crowded together in very difficult conditions. This increases the vulnerability of these people to major crises and the number of victims when crises take place.

The local authorities of places where major disasters take place have a central role to play as it is the responsibility of the mayor and elected representatives in general to deal with the consequences. They are the first to take action when a crisis takes place due to their presence in the territory and their knowledge of the city and the urban environment. The legitimacy which comes with the role of a local elected representative gives mayors the competencies needed to deal with structural needs, urban management and the coordination of all the actors who are carrying out operations over the territory. It is also the responsibility of local authorities to respond to technical needs such as urban planning and development using a cross-sector approach in response to multi-sector needs in terms of social or economic issues, management, engineering or networks.

At Cités Unies France, we are convinced of the central role that local authorities should play in disaster contexts, whether this concerns prevention or reconstruction. We also feel that solidarity between the local authorities of the world can play a major role.

This is why we are in the process of carrying out a study to analyse what exists and considering ways of improving the impact of French local authorities in terms of prevention and resilience.

We are planning to create a pilot approach to these questions by making support for reconstruction an important activity linked to decentralized cooperation.


Bertrand Gallet – Director of Cités Unies France


Cités Unies France is an association of French local authorities involved in international action. For over thirty-five years, it has supported decentralized cooperation. Its activities include leading country-groups and thematic groups, organizing decentralized cooperation events and giving advice.