The Good Practice Review in Urban Humanitarian Response

By Steve Darvill, Director, Humanitarian Reform & Performance Section

Two of DFAT’s partners have released a Good Practice Review (GPR) – a practical reference guide on responding to humanitarian needs in urban contexts.

The GPR will be formally launched in Australia on World Humanitarian Day, 19 August 2019. The author of the GPR, UNSW’s Professor David Sanderson, will present at the UNSW Campus in Canberra.

DFAT welcomes this timely GPR, which was commissioned by two of our partners, the UK’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP).

Since 2007, over half the planet’s population has been living in cities. Today there are more than 4.2 billion city-dwellers, and some predict there will be six billion by 2045. Urbanisation concentrates the impact of naturally-triggered disasters, conflicts, violence, climate change and displacement.

Responding to crises in urban environments poses significant challenges for the humanitarian sector. The multifaceted complexity of cities, with large, mobile populations, is a stark contrast to responding to crises in the rural environments that agencies are well practiced at. Responses need to be joined up, sectors (such as health, shelter and education) need to work collaboratively, and not in isolation, and management tools (from assessment to management and eventual monitoring and evaluation) need to be flexible and iterative.

Cities provide opportunities to work more closely with local municipal authorities who often have a keen understanding of local dynamics that can be harnessed to deliver a more effective and demand-driven response. Many organisations have taken steps to adapt their approaches to urban contexts, piloting new approaches and documenting and applying lessons learned. However, most practitioners still lack practical guidance.

The Indo-Pacific region is a hub for urbanisation and the international community is increasingly likely to be called upon to support responses in these complex environments.

Celebrated every year on 19 August, World Humanitarian Day pays tribute to humanitarian workers who risk and have lost their lives in responding to crises around the world. It marks the day on which the then Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello and 21 of his fellow humanitarians were killed in the bombing of the Baghdad Headquarters of the UN. 

The GPR is available at:

Register for the launch of the GPR at UNSW Canberra

3 thoughts on “The Good Practice Review in Urban Humanitarian Response

  1. Dave Hodgkin

    One concept that is often overlooked is the difference in probable between naturally evolved and invented cities.

    As an example from Indonesia: Cities like Yogyakarta or Solo, have evolved, morphing location over time in response to risk. These cities have in the last been closer to the sea or closer to the mountains, but eruptions and tsunamis have driven them to expand into safer areas and contract away from more dangerous areas. In recent history alone, the 2006 earthquake in Bantul saw land prices to the south of yogya plummet as people left for the north, while the 2010 saw southern land prices rise again, as people moved south.
    Often at much higher risk are tge cities that were newly and recently created like Palu, Kuta or Padang. The location of these cities has not evolved over thousands of years, but rather was determined during the creation of political zones and revent tourism. All of these cities are in high risk locations…

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