Red Cross Red Crescent colleagues at the IFRC exhibition stand for the 9th World Urban Forum with the Malaysian Red Crescent Secretary General, Dato’ Sayed A. Rahman bin Sayed Mohd, and a ‘Volunteers on Wheels’ bike – a donation of the Red Cross Society of China last year as part of a global Federation initiative to equip a million volunteers with bicycles to increase their reach and impact. Pedal bikes are symbols of urban sustainability worldwide, and Kuala Lumpur was equipped with several kilometres of new dedicated cycle-only routes in time for WUF9. (Photo: Jill Clements via Twitter)


The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement calls for ‘humanized recovery’ from disasters

The ninth session of the World Urban Forum (WUF9) on 11 February 2018 heard a call from the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement for greater accountability after disasters that may leave survivors bereaved and struggling to find shelter, food and water.

International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement specialists believe disasters, climate change and conflicts are felt most acutely in cities that are often growing rapidly without proper planning, and are calling for increased investment in disaster risk reduction (DRR).

“Building back better without accountability to the people we serve harms human dignity,” Xavier Castellanos, Regional Director of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Asia-Pacific, told a special session of WUF9 in Kuala Lumpur (photo, at far right). Better policy-making and planning are needed to humanise recovery, he said, along with more investment in DRR, climate adaptation and greater engagement with communities affected by disaster.

Innovation is about promoting climate-sensitive buildings when building back better. In the Philippines, the IFRC builds back better with a smaller carbon footprint, providing solar panels through a community integrated approach, said Heather Fehr, Disaster Risk Reduction Adviser for British Red Cross during the second special session the IFRC was invited to on finding innovative approaches to settlements for displaced populations.

When talking about displacement in cities affected by conflict, Isabelle Barras, Head of Regional Delegation for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Malaysia, said it is necessary to go beyond emergency relief and to include long-term perspectives to address the needs of displaced people. She said in cities, structural, area-based interventions must be combined and balanced with tailor made solutions. Examples include complementarity and partnerships, including with local actors to better address the variety of needs.

This was echoed by ICRC’s Regional Water and Habitat Coordinator, Jean Marc Zbinden, who said an adequate response to internal displacement in urban settings must take into account the impact of displacement on host communities and the city as a whole.

During the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement side-event “New frontiers for Humanitarians in Cities”, Ela Serdaroglu, leading the IFRC Shelter team, stressed the importance of coordination after a crisis, with a wide range of partners, to foster sustainable recovery – from  addressing people’s land issues, to inclusive neighbourhoods and safe spaces.


Xavier Castellanos said trying to rebuild without access to critical information about disaster risks is as irresponsible as causing new risk.

Good information, however, would  mitigate risks, increase disaster preparedness and improve response capacity in the most exposed and vulnerable areas, he told a session called restoring hope: building back cities and communities together after a disaster.

The IFRC – jointly leading the global shelter cluster with the UN refugee agency – is also calling for better preparedness and response to epidemics for which cities can act as multipliers, especially through early warning and rapid response in high-risk communities.

The World Urban Forum is the world’s premier conference on urban issues; the meeting in Kuala Lumpur is the first to focus on implementing the New Urban Agenda adopted at the 2016 Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador.

As part of the shaping of that agenda, the IFRC and ICRC together emphasized the impacts of disasters and crises on the most vulnerable urban communities, while
National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have also engaged in relevant global initiatives – including the Partnership on Urban Disaster Risk Reduction and Management and the Global Alliance for Urban Crises.

Building back better without accountability harms human dignity’

The IFRC’s engagement at WUF9 included an exhibition profiling the work of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in urban recovery, and with the Philippine Red Cross and other partners it led training or network events on the development of the Participatory Approach for Safe Shelter and Settlements Awareness (PASSA) tool and its adaptation to include youth.

Other Movement components taking part in WUF9 networking or training events include the Malaysian Red Crescent and the Climate Centre – a member of the Partners for Resilience (PfR) alliance with the Netherlands Red Cross, Cordaid, CARE Netherlands and Wetlands International and more than 50 local partners worldwide.

The view that building resilience in urban areas plays a significant role in minimizing risks is the central message in a new PfR policy document issued to coincide with WUF9, which ends on 13 February.

Strong, well-organized communities can manage the risks they face, reduce the impact of disasters, and sustain development, said the PfR brief.

WUF9’s theme is Cities 2030, Cities for All: Implementing the New Urban Agenda.