Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Local and international collaboration in urban humanitarian responses: Perspectives from the Philippines, Colombia and South Sudan

Tilly Alcayna, Furat Al-​Murani

International Institute for Environment and Development



Traditionally, the humanitarian sector has responded to emergencies in rural contexts; however, an increasing number of urban crises has necessitated a re-evaluation of standard procedures. The urban setting poses unique challenges, which are best met through close collaboration with local actors who understand the context. However, policy and practice of how to bridge local and international actors lack a systematic approach.

This study explores the urban-specific challenges to local and international collaboration. Recommendations to improve partnerships include giving directly to local agencies, rather than subcontracting them, and advocating a holistic approach, in line with local humanitarian or developmental agendas. These recommendations have emerged from case studies involving interviews with local stakeholders carried out in three distinct urban contexts, each with a different type of disaster experience: Tacloban, Ormoc and Palo in the Philippines, following natural disasters, in particular Typhoon Haiyan; Medellín in Colombia, following ongoing conflict and displacement; and Juba in South Sudan, following conflict, violence and civil war.


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A companion working paper analyses each of these case studies in more detail. It provides international actors with site-specific, actionable recommendations for improving collaboration in each setting. Available from:



A 4-page briefing summarizes the research. Available from:


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