Knowledge Matters: Lessons from the city: experiences in addressing urban poverty

In 2014, 54 percent of the total population lived in urban centres1 – the highest proportion in history – and this trend is growing, with the figure set to hit 66 percent by 2050. Urbanisation is the result of population growth as well as increasing rural to urban migration, with cities seen as centres of economic activity and prosperity.

However, rapid urbanisation places pressures on existing infrastructure and many cities face problems of overcrowding and strain on utilities and basic service provision. It can also have an impact on labour and consumption markets, and social cohesion. In 2012, 46 percent of the urban population in developing regions were living in slums (UN-HABITAT, 2012), heavily populated informal urban settlements usually characterised by substandard housing and lack of access to reliable infrastructure (housing, sanitation, clean water), and face considerable social-economic constraints.

Despite cities being seen to offer economic opportunities, UN-Habitat frequently highlights that cities do not offer equal conditions and opportunities to all residents; referring to the urban divide between the “haves” and the “haves not” (UN-HABITAT, 2008). Urban populations are also exposed to different risk and vulnerability based on the characteristics of urban settings and heterogeneity of the population.

In the event of a disaster (natural or man-made), the shock experienced by cities can have a multiplied effect which World Vision refers to as the ‘double impact’ of disasters (World Vision, 2013) due to cities often being the hub of economic activity within the country. On the other hand, disasters experienced elsewhere in the country or neighbouring countries can also have a huge impact on cities, i.e. where a disaster leads to a rapid increase in rural to urban migration. The conflict in Syria is one such example, where an influx of refugees is having a huge impact on the urban centres in neighbouring countries including Lebanon, Turkey and even Greece.

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