Bringing the local perspective to the World Humanitarian Summit: a new global urban crisis partnership

(24 June 2015 – Barcelona, Spain) As part of the preparations for the World Humanitarian Summit, nearly 50 representatives of local governments, professional associations, academic and research institutions and humanitarian and development actors gathered recently in Barcelona to develop a common platform for advocacy and action to respond to the growing importance of the urban aspects of humanitarian assistance.

UCLG has been approached to contribute to developing the “urban track” of the summit by including local leaders in the reflections on humanitarian strategies. The UCLG World Secretariat is following the preparations for this summit, in close collaboration with their Taskforce on Local Government Disaster Response.

The meeting in Barcelona was co-hosted by UCLG, UN-Habitat and UN OCHA, with support from Global CommunitiesUSAID and the UK’s Department for International Development/International Rescue Committee.

The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) that will be held in Istanbul in May 2016 is an initiative by the UN Secretary-General that aims to set a vision, recommendations, and commitments on how to meet the humanitarian challenges of the future. The goal of this summit is to find new ways to tackle humanitarian needs in our fast-changing world.

By 2050, an additional 3 billion people will be added to the world’s urban population, with many living in high-risk areas in cities that are already fragile – with weak governance, limited basic services and exposed to a range of natural and man-made hazards. Almost 80% of global GDP is generated in urban areas. At the same time, the majority of the world’s displaced people are seeking safety in urban areas. All these factors increase the stakes and require urgent action, which experts say will require a change in mind set from governments, development and humanitarian actors alike. With the world rapidly urbanizing, humanitarian crisis response must move away from solutions developed to serve a primarily rural populace.

During the meeting in Barcelona, Nigel Fisher, former UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis and Advisor to the WHS Secretariat, stressed that accelerating global urbanization is one of the great defining challenges of our time and should logically provide a central framework for articulating the priorities and outcomes of the World Humanitarian Summit. Representatives of UCLG made a strong appeal to put local authorities at the centre of crisis response, building on their local knowledge and bringing decision-making as close as possible to affected people. Fisher added that for these reasons, prevention, preparedness and response need to build on the assets of communities, urban governance mechanisms, local markets and economies and service delivery systems.

Throughout the consultations, lessons were drawn from local government representatives who are dealing with recent and ongoing urban crises in Senegal, Bangui (Central African Republic), Banda Aceh (Indonesia) and Turkish cities where refugee influx has doubled the population without the provision of extra resources to ensure basic services. In addition, participants articulated key principles in a draft ‘charter’ as the basis for a Global Urban Partnership, pooling knowledge, capacity and resources to take this agenda forward.  The consultation ended with a marketplace designed to connect key partners to help shape these important initiatives.