The scope and limits of humanitarian action in urban areas of the global South.

Author:Obi, Cyril

Our rapidly globalizing and urbanizing world presents a host of complex challenges for humanity and the living environment. These developments pose threats to, as well as opportunities for, ongoing and future humanitarian action. Rather than be limited by unprecedented changes in the global South, for example, where cities are growing at record rates, humanitarian action should, in the future, be at the forefront of new approaches to reimagining and redesigning just and sustainable human settlements.

As we approach the first World Humanitarian Summit, to be held in Istanbul in May 2016, the world urgently seeks an agenda for humanitarian action that will address the various vulnerabilities associated with urbanization. Nearly 50 per cent of the world's population, or an estimated 3.5 billion people, already live in urban areas, with projections suggesting an increase to 70 per cent by 2050. With the majority of the fastest-growing cities located in the global South, the future of urban areas in an increasingly globalized economy and networked society assumes greater significance when we take into account the scale of vulnerabilities associated with natural phenomena and human-induced processes.

The future demands solutions to urban crises of unprecedented scale and impact, which are likely to pose formidable challenges for humanitarian organizations and developing communities, as well as urban planners and dwellers. How can we best address growing vulnerabilities within the continuum of disaster prevention and response based on current urban institutional, governance and structural mechanisms? What actions are likely to prevent the reoccurrence of urban disasters? Through which kinds of creative solutions, new social movements and political coalitions can we best confront and address emerging problems?

How can we apply lessons learned from dealing with recent natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, climate change-related flooding and droughts, which have contributed to worsening living conditions for large swaths of humanity in coastal cities across Africa, Asia, Oceania and South America?

While urbanization is one of the results of accelerated human mobility and the search for better opportunities, life in cities may be under threat from the effects of climate change, as well as poor governance and violence, which often arise following large-scale conflict. Since the end of the cold war, the world has experienced new forms of...

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