Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

A review of context analysis tools for urban humanitarian response

Andrew Meaux, Wale Osofisan

International Institute for Environment and Development



The magnitude of urban disasters in areas with high population densities – combined with complex social, political, economic and institutional environments – has challenged the manner in which humanitarian agencies are used to working. Humanitarian agencies are now grappling with how to change their approaches to this reality.

This desk review aims to provide an audit and analysis of existing context analysis tools along the themes of governance and power analysis; vulnerability, social and conflict analysis; and urban systems analysis. The lack of contextual understanding by urban humanitarian response has often been cited. This review finds that there are strong context analysis methodologies, but the application and existence of tools specifically designed for urban humanitarian response remains limited. The tools that are available often require substantial time to conduct data collection and analysis. They are also frequently narrow in analytical focus, fail to address the multi-scalar nature of a city, and lack specificity in tool selection and methodology.

The review suggests that the advancement of an urban context analysis tool for humanitarian response is needed, and should aim to build from the strengths of existing tools and learning from new tools that are under development.


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