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Area-based Approaches in Urban Settings Compendium of Case Studies May 2019 Edition




Affected communities do not perceive their recovery in sectoral terms, but from a holistic, multi-sectoral perspective. Whilst sectoral approaches and technical expertise remain important ingredients in humanitarian response and recovery, understanding the holistic needs of affected communities require improved sectoral and stakeholder collaboration. Applying an area based / settlement-based approach, which “advocates for assistance that considers the whole population affected by a crisis, living in a specific geographic area in need of multi-sectoral support by working with multiple stakeholders”, contributes to this achieving holistic understanding and program logic.

Area based / Settlement-based approaches define “an area, rather than a sector or target group, as a primary entry point”. This approach can be particularly appropriate if residents in an affected area face complex, inter-related and multisectoral needs. Whilst this approach is recognised as one of many, its strength is realised through building a deeper understanding of the affected populations’ holistic needs and complex contexts, and by building on existing community cohesion and capacity, governance structures, markets and service delivery mechanisms.

In recent years, this approach has gained traction among humanitarian actors seeking to provide more effective responses to crisis affected populations and pave the way for recovery. The increasing application of this approach builds on experiences of urban and regional planners working on community renewal through ‘area-based initiatives’ in poor and vulnerable locations since the 1960s and 1970s. This was reinforced by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s call in 2010 for a “paradigm shift in humanitarian assistance in urban areas, based on a community-based - rather than - an individual or household approach”. More recently, the Habitat III summit, the Global Alliance for Urban Crises, InterAction, and strategy papers by OFDA, ECHO, and UNHCR have acknowledged and promoted these approaches. However, whilst humanitarian and development agencies are increasingly applying this approach, it occurs in a rather sporadic nature and is yet to reach scale and be recognised as ‘a tool in the toolbox’ by the overall humanitarian system.

To support the adoption of this approach, the Urban Settlements Working Group (USWG) was established in May 2017. Co-chaired by Catholic Relief Services, Impact Initiatives and InterAction, under the auspices of the Global Shelter Cluster, a key objective of the USWG is to identify and promote best practice and lessons learnt from existing practices. With over 60 organisations engaged, the USWG provides a platform to bring together global clusters, implementing agencies, donors and academics to research, discuss and operationalize these approaches in humanitarian assistance. This publication represents a key output and important milestone of the USWG, consolidating current practices, identifying common challenges & constraints and providing operational guidance.

The USWG would like to thank the numerous agencies who have contributed to this compendium. We hope this publication will serve as a useful point of reference for organisations applying a settlement-based approach to response and recovery.

Overall, the approach requires further research, application and evaluation to create an informed evidence base to influence change across the traditional humanitarian response mechanisms. Looking ahead, the USWG will continue to champion this approach in global and regional discussions, develop accessible guidance and tools wherever it can add value and count on humanitarian and development communities’ continued support.

GSC Urban Settlement WG co-conveners
Catholic Relief Services, IMPACT Initiatives and InterAction