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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations
© Jacob Russell/IRC
Humanitarian Action in Urban Crises

What is it?

Disasters can have dramatic consequences for cities and urban populations. As the world is urbanising rapidly, natural hazards and displacement crises increase in high-density urban settings. The war in Ukraine has illustrated the severe consequences of urban warfare on civilians.

Why is this important?

Some examples of humanitarian action in urban crises are:

  • conflict-induced damage and destruction in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and Yemen
  • natural hazard impacts such as the 2023 Syria-Türkiye earthquake or the recent Freddy cyclone in southeastern Africa
  • large-scale influxes of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to cities as most of the  displaced populations do not live in camps anymore, but in towns and cities across the globe (e.g., Afghanistan after the taking of the capital by the Taliban in August 2021, with Kabul and other Afghan cities sheltering 80% of the country’s IDPs by September).
Man in a rubber boat amidst a flooded street.
In the early hours of 6 June, an explosion destroyed a critical infrastructure in southern Ukraine – the Nova Kakhovka dam.
© People in Need, 2023 (Photographer: Alberto Lores)

Urban crises are a multi-hazard reality with higher risk of destruction, loss of assets, and human lives. Therefore, urban crisis response requires capacities from humanitarian actors, which go way beyond their traditional skills.

This includes effective coordination with local authorities, the initiation of recovery activities across the sectors and including and applying localised perspectives.

There is also a need to develop and pilot new tools and ways of working such as area-based approaches, that are more efficient when it comes to urban crisis contexts.

How are we helping?

To meet the complexity of needs in urban settings, the European Commission promotes a multi-sectoral and collaborative approach to assessments and programming in urban settings, advocating for greater attention to humanitarian needs in urban environments.

Scaling up of disaster preparedness and anticipatory action in urban settings is also important. The EU’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department has supported testing of such approaches through its capacity building programme.

We work closely with key partners to support the humanitarian community’s increasing attention to urban crises.

Aid worker conforting 2 women.
EU humanitarian expert meets with people affected by the 2023 earthquake in Syria.
© ICDA/Ange Hussein

Policy initiatives

In 2018, the European Commission published a report on Humanitarian Action in Urban Crises, “The Urban Amplifier: Adapting to Urban Specificities.

This report collects vast evidence and good practices of EU humanitarian interventions in urban environments, providing practical examples of the challenges faced when engaging in towns and cities. The Commission also puts urban resilience among focus areas in its work on disaster preparedness.

We also support the Global Alliance for Urban Crises, a platform set up at the World Humanitarian Summit, which works to address humanitarian and development needs in urban contexts.

The Commission has also taken part and promoted an multisectoral approach to urban responses in a number of multilateral processes, including the recent sessions of the World Urban Forum.

Last updated: 28/06/2023

Facts & figures

By 2050, 70% of the world population will be living in cities.

48% of the refugees and internally displaced people are seeking shelter in cities or peri-urban areas. (UNHCR, 2021)