Public Service Delivery in Contexts of Urban Displacement: A Discussion Paper on the Importance of Strengthening Public Service Delivery in Urban Humanitarian Contexts

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Executive Summary

Traditionally, humanitarian actors seeking to support affected communities in times of crisis have provided essential services like education, healthcare, social protection, shelter, water, infrastructure, and waste management directly to clients. This narrative, while effective in refugee and displacement camps, is complicated by the growing share of the globally displaced living in urban areas. Today, more than half of the world’s refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) live in cities. The crisis-based models of “direct service delivery” familiar to humanitarians are often inadequate in complex urban ecosystems; catering to these communities presents a host of complications for aid organisations and local service providers alike.

When displaced persons move to urban areas, they often settle in more marginalised and underserved neighbourhoods. Public service providers1 in these areas are often already struggling to adequately meet the host population’s pre-crisis demand for services, and an influx of refugees and IDPs into these neighbourhoods can strain existing service delivery infrastructure.
Humanitarian actors, operating within their traditional methods of direct engagement, often respond by establishing parallel structures for service delivery, which may ultimately compromise indigenous mechanisms for service provision. Concurrently, efforts focused exclusively on displaced persons may ultimately create new tensions between displaced and host communities.
The traditional “direct service delivery” approach to a humanitarian response is often insufficient or even problematic in urban contexts, necessitating a change in tactic.