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Urban Planners Have a Role to Play in Humanitarian Crises

"Humanitarians are conditioned to think about people, urban planners are conditioned to think about how the place affects people."
December 3, 2015, 10am PST | Emily Calhoun
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Istvan Csak

Increasingly, humanitarian crises are found in dense urban areas. Urban planner and International Rescue Committee worker Samer Saliba offers key urban planning insights to improve preparedness and response.

"Often, the most vulnerable people are moving to the most at-risk areas of cities-a problem exacerbated by climate change and the increasing risk of natural disasters. Similarly, the majority of forced migrants (refugees and internally displace) today are in urban non-camp settings."

Humanitarians must consider the importance of non-traditional actors, including civic and political agencies.

"To properly respond to urban crises, humanitarians must acknowledge political influences and appropriately work with political partners in order to achieve feasible solutions with greater reach. This does not mean abandoning humanitarian principles. It just means recognizing others as well… Ensuring the most vulnerable access the services they need in a way that improves those systems for all brings together urban planner and humanitarian objectives."

Saliba cites the Big U proposal to build a storm wall around lower Manhattan as well as the outdoor escalators of Medellin as examples of infrastructural projects that can improve the lives of a city’s most vulnerable populations. 

Many planning principles are already embedded in humanitarian best practices. "Each seeks a higher quality of life for those they serve and each tries to improve on how it's done."

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Published on Friday, November 13, 2015 in International Rescue Committee
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