Urban Crises Learning Fund

Urban areas are increasingly the sites of humanitarian crises, from natural disasters to conflict and displacement. Through a programme of research, documenting and learning from experience and development of tools and approaches, IIED is working to build the knowledge and capacity to respond of humanitarian actors working in urban areas, and of urban actors facing humanitarian crises.

November 2014 - December 2017

Makeshift camps for internally displaced people sprang up in Kathmandu after the severe earthquake in Nepal in April 2015. Relief workers are struggling to help displaced people find durable shelter as the country braces for the monsoon season (Photo: SIM Central and South East Asia, Creative Commons via Flickr)

How do cities cope with influxes of displaced persons fleeing a conflict or disaster, particularly if these cities are already struggling to provide services and infrastructure to residents? How can humanitarian agencies better collaborate with urban managers and work with existing structures in responding to crises in urban contexts? 

The three-year Urban Crises Learning Fund project seeks to address these, and other questions, by reflecting on past humanitarian responses, filling evidence gaps through primary research, and learning from experiences in other fields.

By engaging humanitarian agencies in the process of research and learning, alongside urban stakeholders from municipal officials to civil society, the learning fund seeks to contribute to a more in-depth understanding of how the humanitarian sector can most effectively operate in urban contexts and work with urban actors.

This is imperative in an increasingly urban world facing both slow- and fast-onset crises, from food shortages to conflict and natural disasters.

What IIED is doing

IIED is leading a three-year programme of research, documentation of past experiences, development of tools and guidelines, and shared learning across humanitarian actors and other urban stakeholders. There will be three main strands of work:

  • Two learning partnerships, running for two years, will learn from and document the effective principles and practices that are already being used by international humanitarian actors, local government, civil society, donors and other stakeholders. They will also develop new approaches and toolkits to do this more effectively. The two learning partnerships are led by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Habitat for Humanity respectively
  • Research grants will be used to support innovative thematic and regional research on key issues shaping humanitarian responses in urban areas, and
  • Events and workshops will disseminate best practices and advocacy messages, discuss policy changes, disseminate and analyse learning from urban programming in humanitarian contexts, and build the capacity of key actors. 


Aid in context: the importance of market-based approaches to aid delivery in northern Syria, Deborah Cummins, Sarah Moharram (2017) IIED briefing

Tackling violence against women and girls in urban humanitarian crises: the case of Gaza, Catherine Müller, Jean-​Pierre Tranchant (2017) IIED briefing

Refugees in urban Egypt: it’s time to reassess UNHCR’s 2009 Policy on refugee protection and solutions in urban areas, Lina Lotayef, Nourhan Abdel Aziz (2017) IIED briefing

Protecting civilians in urban sieges: how to best support ‘first responders’, Chas Morrison (2017) IIED briefing

A review of context analysis tools for urban humanitarian response, Andrew Meaux, Wale Osofisan (2016), IIED Working Paper

A review of needs assessment tools, response analysis frameworks, and targeting guidance for urban humanitarian response, Lili Mohiddin, Gabrielle Smith (2016), IIED Working Paper

Humanitarian responses by local actors: Lessons learned from managing the transit of migrants and refugees through Croatia, Maren Larsen, Elma Demir, Maja Horvat (2016), IIED Report

Responding to the Syrian crisis in Lebanon: collaboration between aid agencies and local governance structures
by Marwa Boustani, Estella Carpi, Hayat Gebara, and Yara Mourad

Making cash work for cities and towns affected by humanitarian crises, Gabrielle Smith, Lili Mohiddin, Diane Archer (2016), IIED Briefing paper

A review of evidence of humanitarian cash transfer programming in urban areas, Gabrielle Smith, Lili Mohiddin (2015), IIED Report

Humanitarian response to urban crises: a review of area-based approaches, Elizabeth Parker and Victoria Maynard (2015), IIED Human Settlements Group Working paper

Setting a new research agenda for urban crisis and humanitarian response, Donald Brown and Cassidy Johnson (2015), IIED Briefing paper

Understanding the nature and scale of urban risk in low- and middle-income countries and its implications for humanitarian preparedness, planning and response, David Dodman, Donald Brown, Katie Francis, Jorgelina Hardoy, Cassidy Johnson and David Satterthwaite (2013), IIED Human Settlements Group Working paper


Department for International Development (DFID)


International Rescue Committee (IRC)


David Dodman (david.dodman@iied.org), director, Human Settlements; team leader, cities and climate change

Diane Archer (diane.archer@iied.org), researcher, Human Settlements