Addressing urban disaster displacement at the IFRC Urban Collaboration Platform

From 7-9 June, the International Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies convened the Urban Collaboration Platform in Geneva, Switzerland. This three-day event brought together representatives from National Societies around the world, together with a number of UN agencies, city networks and academics to ‘jointly advance the knowledge on urban resilience and support practical action to build urban community resilience and improve urban response.’ The third day of the event focused on climate change impacts in urban contexts and included a session on “Displacement (with)in cities.” Matthew Scott, who chaired the panel, provided an overview of climate-related displacement into and within cities, highlighting the varieties of migration, displacement and planned relocation that fall under the umbrella term ‘human mobility’.

The framing also emphasized the importance of adopting a broad sustainable development approach to human mobility, which entails moving beyond emergency preparedness for response towards action to prevent harmful forms of human mobility, and to facilitate durable solutions for people facing the adverse impacts of climate change. Addressing the audience of primarily representatives from National Societies, the framing promoted reflection on the specific forms of adversity associated with having to leave home in the context of disasters and climate change, which might be distinctive compared to people adversely affected but not forced to leave home. Drawing on the International Law Commission’s Draft Articles on the Protection of Persons in the Event of Disasters, the audience was also encouraged to reflect on the potential added value of integrating a rights-based approach with the more overarching needs-based approach common to humanitarian action.

Nicholas Bishop, Disaster Risk Reduction Lead at the International Organization for Migration, highlighted challenges relating to data collection and disaggregation and also drew attention to the phenomenon of climate-related immobility, which reflects the situation of people who are unable to move from areas exposed to climate-related hazards. This presentation also pointed to the increasing risks associated with heatwaves and encouraged the audience to consider human mobility dynamics in this context.

Cansu Okman, Integrated Programmes Project Manager at the Turkish Red Crescent Society, described how community centres that were originally developed to assist refugees moving into urban areas were able to adapt their operations to address the immediate needs of people affected by the February 2023 earthquakes.

Christopher Johnson, Head of Programmes at the Liberian Red Cross Society, described a combination of conflict-related displacement into cities like Monrovia, along with displacement triggered by natural hazard events, particularly flooding. He emphasized the role of National Societies as auxiliaries to the government, the capacity to conduct training for a range of actors, and the importance of the legal and policy dimension, including sectoral policy at local government level.

Yusufu Camara, Head of Programmes at the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society (SLRC), and participant in the Climate Displacement in African Cities project, also drew attention to conflict, land disputes, as well as hazard events like floods and fires, as prominent drivers of displacement. Informed by an appreciation of the progression of vulnerability discussed on the course, Camara highlighted the location of informal settlements in exposed river basins and the

trade-offs that inhabitants have to make between disaster risk and livelihood opportunities that characterise these locations. Acknowledging the broader sustainable development context, the presentation focused on the immediate contribution of the SLRC in terms of search and rescue, evacuation, camp management and provision of temporary shelter for displaced persons, as among the primary contributions that the National Society makes in the context of disaster displacement in urban areas.

A reflection from the audience identified large scale movement of entire cities, such as Jakarta in Indonesia, away from exposed areas, inviting reflection on the scale of contemporary and anticipated future mobilities (and immobilities) in the context of disasters and climate change.

As urban populations continue to grow in tandem with the increasing frequency and intensity of natural hazard events in the context of climate change, the need for public sector professionals and auxiliaries like the National Societies to actively address displacement risk in urban areas is evident. This session at the Urban Collaboration Platform helped to bring the distinctive dimension of displacement into focus for humanitarian actors already expert in responding to the needs of all people affected by disasters.

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