Violence and humanitarian action in urban areas. New challenges, new approaches

A number of states are faced with the challenge of ensuring the harmonious development of rapidly expanding cities and of offering a growing population public services worthy of the name in the fields of security, health, and education. That challenge is even more difficult and more pressing because violence may erupt (hunger riots, clashes between territorial gangs or ethnic communities, acts of xenophobic violence directed against migrants, and so on) – violence that does not generally escalate to the point of becoming an armed conflict but that is murderous nevertheless.

On the basis of the experience of the International Committee of the Red Cross and of its partners, as well as reports by academic specialists, this article describes the vulnerability of the poorest and of migrants in urban areas. It presents the difficulties with which humanitarian organizations, which are often accustomed to working in rural areas, have to contend. Lastly, it describes innovative responses, from which much can be learned: income-generating micro-projects, aid in the form of cash or vouchers, urban agriculture, and the establishment of violence-prevention or health-promotion programmes to protect those affected by armed violence in disadvantaged areas.

About the author

Marion Harroff-Tavel
Political Adviser to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC))

Marion Harroff-Tavel holds a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Massachusetts. She has 34 years of experience in the humanitarian sphere with the International Committee of the Red Cross, where she held both management and research positions. Her operational work centred on conflicts in the Caucasus and Central Asia; for a time she was Deputy General Delegate for this region in the Department of Operations. During her career at the ICRC she also served as Head of the Division for the Promotion of International Humanitarian Law and Deputy Director of the Department of International Law and Cooperation within the Movement, which oversaw the work of promoting international humanitarian law. She spent the last seven years of her career at the ICRC analyzing global trends in armed violence with the aid of a network of contacts in universities and strategic research centres. As political adviser responsible for analysing future trends in armed violence, she drew the attention of the ICRC’s upper management and Assembly to emerging challenges.