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Urban webinar #1: Responding to urban disasters: Learning from previous relief and recovery operations

Thursday 7 February 2013

The audio of this webinar is also available below.

To download this file, click on the soundcloud logo above and then on the arrow under the track.

This webinar launched ALNAP's lessons paper on responding to urban disasters. Topics covered included an overview of urban disasters, key lessons learned from relief and recovery operations, and a Q&A session.

9 Key Lessons:

• Urban programmes must have clear boundaries, but flexibility within these boundaries. For example, knowing when to leave, having a focused scope, but maintaining operational flexibility.
• Always working and coordinating in partnership with local authorities and communities is critical to ensure ownership and sustainable recovery.
• The degree of urban complexity requires appropriate assessment and targeting approaches and co-ordinating methodologies.
• Cash is key: in urban areas cash transfers can meet household needs when markets work.
• Working with local markets and the private sector is important to ensure 'aid as investment'.
• Camps, shelter and housing initiatives must be adapted to the urban context. Avoid relocation camps and transitional shelters where possible.
• Similarly, 'urbanise' sectoral interventions: such as rubble, debris and solid waste clearance, WASH, food, health, and protection.
• Use new and existing media to improve communication, information gathering and accountability, through mobile phones, crowd sourcing and mapping.
• Relief and recovery actions need to build future urban resilience to avoid wasted investments. Relief and recovery expenditures should be in line with government plans, and contribute to long-term resilience building. 

Q&A Snapshot:

Do we have any situations when your rebuilding preference would not apply?
With dynamic or vulnerable environments, for example with sea level rise or steep slopes, then relocation may be essential.

Does working with local authorities in the immediate response stage slow response? What if there is a lack of authority?
It is admittedly difficult to locate such authorities, although the first 72 hours of response are usually dominated by local actors rather than international organisations. The question is how to respond with these local actors and support them. Not following government protocols can lead to overlapping, chaotic responses with a dangerous lack of continuity for medical patients. Instead we must engage with any mechanisms that already exist, especially with regard to technical standards, which do not tend to contravene humanitarian principles.

How do we coordinate with such a large number of NGOs, entities, governments, civil society organisations? How do the clusters work with local structures?
We need to get better at involving local operations, even with apparently straightforward issues such as including local languages at briefings. With regard to clusters, information sharing within them is now very good but coordination broadly needs improvement.

Should there be one actor leading each sector?
Yes, and that actor should really be the government department.


David Sanderson



Paul Knox Clarke

Head of Research and Communications


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