Stronger Cities Initiative

Urban crises challenge the traditional ways of working for humanitarian organisations. The International Rescue Committee, Norwegian Refugee Council and World Vision worked together to develop a suite of tools and practical guidance notes to promote improved responses to urban crises.

Article, 31 May 2017
Urban crises and forced displacement
A programme of work bringing together diverse perspectives on humanitarian emergencies and forced displacement, to inform new directions in urban crisis response
A street in Beirut.

A street in Beirut. More than one million Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon. The country is tiny, with fewer than five million citizens. The UNHCR estimates that Lebanon's capital city, Beirut, is hosting approximately 280,000 Syrian refugees (Photo: Samer Saliba)

The Urban Crises Learning Fund built the capacity of local and international humanitarian actors to implement effective urban humanitarian responses.

This part of the project brought together three organisations in a learning partnership to document effective practice and develop new approaches, tools and guidance. The resources they developed are described below:

Understanding urban contexts and needs, and responding 

The following series of complementary tools and guidance notes address how to understand urban contexts, assess needs, and formulate a response that supports displaced and host communities, and strengthens local systems.

The tools focus on urban areas affected by protracted displacement but they may be adapted for a variety of responses to urban crises or disasters. 

Urban context analysis toolkit

This paper provides guidance on how to apply the urban context analysis toolkit. The toolkit is a set of practical tools (such as questionnaires, analysis tables, and report templates) tailored for humanitarian organisations to conduct an analysis in urban responses by understanding the political, social, economic, service delivery and spatial dynamics.

The toolkit was developed based on a series of pilots by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in five urban crises contexts with a focus on displacement crises.

Urban multi-sector vulnerability assessment tool (UMVAT)

This paper provides guidance on the urban multi-sector vulnerability assessment tool for displacement contexts (UMVAT) and accompanying resources (such as questionnaires, checklists, FGDs and KII outlines, training materials, etc). The UMVAT has been developed for humanitarian responses in urban environments affected by significant displacement of populations due to conflict and other causes.

Although developed for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), the UMVAT can be applied by other humanitarian organisations working in similar contexts.

Urban response analysis framework

This paper provides guidance on the identification of appropriate multi-sector responses for urban programmes. Following an introduction to response analysis and brief overview of cash programming in urban contexts, the framework takes the user through a series of six steps from the collection of multi-sector needs assessment data to the identification of responses for potential target groups using a needs severity score.

The six steps include key questions, expected outputs, and guidance and support on topics that require consideration and inclusion in response analysis discussions. Links to existing guidance and toolkits are provided to further assist the user.

Targeting in urban displacement contexts

This paper provides guidance on targeting in urban displacement contexts to ensure a coherent, consistent, practical and flexible approach. The paper is comprised of guiding principles; theoretical and practical guidance for selecting targeting criteria and mechanisms in urban displacement contexts, along with tools for decision making; more detailed practical guidance on the methodological processes to implement two targeting mechanisms (community-based targeting and use of scorecards); and case studies highlighting lessons learned.

Urban stakeholder engagement and coordination

This paper provides key principles and considerations for individual organisations to use when making decisions on how to engage and coordinate with local and international actors in an urban humanitarian response, to ensure effective implementation of the agency's response. It is intended to help improve the communication, collaboration, and coordination of humanitarian agencies with other stakeholders in urban contexts.

This series of publications was informed by two working papers: 

Integrated and innovative approaches 

The following series of guidance notes addresses key themes for improved responses: area-based and integrated approaches, tenure security, and cash programming. 

Urban area-based approaches (ABAs) in post-disaster contexts

This paper presents 10 principles for enacting post-disaster urban ABAs. The principles are organised according to the project management cycle (assessment and design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation) and are intended for use by humanitarian aid agencies.

They are drawn from humanitarian action, and also good practice from developmental approaches that address chronic urban poverty.

Integrating livelihoods and protection for displaced persons in urban humanitarian response

This paper presents 10 principles that practitioners can follow when aiming to integrate livelihoods and protection programming, with a focus on supporting economic outcomes for beneficiaries. Key actions in programme design, illustrative performance indicators, notes on sustainability, and brief case examples are included. 

While the guidance note is derived from experiences serving Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan, its principles were chosen from a global desk review of relief efforts in urban humanitarian settings to provide informed guidance that has universal applicability.

Security of tenure in urban areas

This paper provides an overview of nine key strategies for approaching tenure security in urban programming, primarily in shelter and legal assistance programmes. This is to assist humanitarians to consider ways to support security of tenure from the outset of a response – from the emergency phase through to situations of protracted displacement.

Enacting urban cash for work programmes in Lebanon in response to the Syrian refugee crisis

This paper provides nine principles on good practice in cash for work (CfW) programmes for better programming outcomes. The principles include issues such as addressing fear of movement within cities, prevention of child labour, guarding against corruption, the need to insure project participants, and the importance of linking CfW to municipal and ministry strategies.

The nine principles are preceded by a discussion on the context of Lebanon, with a focus on the effects of the Syrian crisis on the Lebanese labour market, the key sectors absorbing the Syrian workforce, the government of Lebanon's priorities within the response, and relevant laws and policies that impact humanitarian programming in Lebanon.



EU Humanitarian Aid


International Rescue Committee

Norwegian Refugee Council

​​​​​​​World Vision International


Andrew Meaux (, urban projects coordinator, International Rescue Committee (IRC)