The Urban ARK Programme hosted an international conference in Lilongwe, Malawi from 1st to 3rd February 2016. The conference was supported by DFID-ESRC and hosted by Mzuzu University an Urban ARK Partner. The conference brought together urban researchers and practitioners engaged in African disaster risk reduction and management. Global Network of Civil Society Organizations for Disaster Reduction (GNDR) was represented by Maynard Nyirenda, Executive Director of Sustainable Rural Growth and Development Initiative (SRGDI), and a member of GNDR in Southern Africa. The aim of the event was to help frame the Urban ARK research and capacity building programme. Urban ARK aims to generate data, understanding and support local capacity and international advocacy for urban DRR in Africa. In this blog I will focus on gaps and capacities needs of NGOs and opportunities for building stronger partnerships and collaborations between NGOs and Urban Ark Programme.
Gaps & Capacities Needs of NGOs:
The conference observed that most NGOs have limited data, understanding and risk management capacity for urban areas. This is because a majority of NGOs focus on rural communities than in urban communities. Majority of NGOs do not have technical capacity to conduct research. In most cases the research carried out by NGOs is shallow, tend to biased and conducted for the purposes of measuring impacts and ensuring accountability to donors.
The conference however recognized that unlike academic and research institutions whose core function is research, NGOs do not primarily exist to conduct research and generate knowledge. Most NGOs engage researchers as consultants to carry out research on their behalf. It was also observed that NGOs were not a homogenous group in terms of their capacities to conduct. Other NGOs, especially International NGOs have more capacities than smaller NGOs. There was therefore a strong recommendation for Urban Ark to help build capacities of NGOs to conduct research and establish Urban Ark-NGO research collaborations.
Partnerships and Collaborations between NGOs and Urban Ark Programme
Stephen Fomba from Save the Children underscored the need for Urban Ark to closely work with NGOs in countries where they are conducting research. According to him partnering with NGOs would ensure that Urban ARK research results and recommendations were implemented by NGOs and addressed current and future risks faced by urban populations in those countries. The partnership would also ensure sustainability of Urban Ark Programme activities even after the programme has faced up.
NGOs also indicated that strong partnerships with Urban Ark and NGOs would ensure that NGOs translate difficult technical research language into simplified language and actions that can be easily understood by vulnerable populations and also policy makers.
NGOs observed that Urban Ark research was crucial to generating evidence for purposes of supporting them in conducting evidence based advocacy and facilitating accountability in urban governance. For instance if researchers could provide data on risks of some major construction project that a city council is expected to undertake, then NGOs can use that data to inform city residents on consequences and conduct advocacy to stop such construction projects and avoid other injustices such as corruption.
The fact that NGOs work directly and on daily basis with communities makes NGOs a rich source of information and knowledge to inform Urban Ark on research focal areas and contextualizing urbanization and risks research.
There was a general call from NGOs, policy makers and other practitioners to Urban Ark Researchers to ensure that there research work has a human face and not only for purposes of generating knowledge and academic work. This call was strongly supported by leaders of the Urban Ark project.
There is great opportunity for partnership, collaboration and capacity building. Urban Ark has already started establishing partnerships with NGOs. In Niger, Urban Ark Progarmme worked on a joint research programme with Save the Children International (SCI) in collaboration with the Faculty of Agriculture (FA) of the University of Niamey. In Malawi, Urban Ark Programme through Mzuzu University has already started collaborating with GNDR through SRGDI. Mzuzu University and SRGDI have planned to work together to conduct Urban Research in major cities of Mzuzu, Lilongwe and Zomba using the Actions from Frontline (AFL) methodology. AFL aims to facilitate processes where local communities understand risks and root causes and strengthen their ability to address these through regular reflection and by working in partnership with others.
In conclusion I would like emphasize that there is still limited data, understanding and risk management capacity for urban areas among NGOs in sub-Saharan Africa. There is a need to build strong partnerships and collaborations between Urban Ark and NGOs. There is need to conduct capacity building for NGOs in Urban Risk Management. Urban Ark should have a human face and responsive to vulnerable population risks and day to day disasters in urban areas.