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The Impact Initiative has closed. This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.

Urban Africa: Risk and Capacity (Urban ARC)

Research Partners:

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Principal Investigator: Mark Pelling. Lead Organisation: Kings College London.
Co-Investigator: Bruce D Malamud (Kings College London); Blessing Meru (frican Population and Health Research Center, APHRC); Adriana Elizabeth Allen;  (University College Lonodon); Cassidy Anne Johnson (University College London): Susan Marion Parnell (University of Bristol); Mtafu A.Z. Manda (Mzuzu University); James David Millington (King's College London); David Dodman (International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED); Caren Levy (University College London); Ibidun Adelekan (University of Ibadan); David Satterthwaite (International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)
Researchers: Donald Brown (University College London and Rita Consuelo Lambert (University College London)

Urban Africa: Risk and Capacity (Urban ARC) is a three year programme of research and capacity building that aims to reduce disaster risk in urban sub-Saharan Africa by breaking cycles of risk accumulation. The programme aims to do this by building a community of practice including sub-Saharan, African and international researchers and practitioners that can provide a structured assessment of risk accumulation and reduction dynamics. This will require a detailed understanding of risk to women, men and children in a diverse range of urban contexts in low-income countries in Africa, and of how the nature and scale of these risks are changing in the context of urban growth and change, poverty and climate change. The consortium will work: Dakar (Senegal), Ibadan (Nigeria), Karonga (Malawi), Mombasa (Kenya), Nairobi (Kenya) and Niamey (Niger). The cities offer broad regional coverage (three in West Africa, three in East Africa), a range of city population sizes and in-land and coastal locations. ARUP, UN-HABITAT, Save the Children and International Alert are also consortium members providing access to the cutting edge of practitioner science and for this to be shaped through the research process. 

Urban ARC's research questions are: (1) What is the nature, scale and distribution of risk across the whole spectrum of hazards in urban centres, and what are their inter-linkages? (2) What are the underlying factors driving risk accumulation in the context of urban growth and change, poverty and climate change? (3) What institutional arrangements and good practices in local governance and in urban planning and management are capable of reducing risk and building resilience in this context? 

These questions respond to what we know about disaster risk in urban sub-Saharan Africa: that vulnerability and loss is under-reported because of a lack of baseline systematic data collection, but that it is growing as urban populations and assets increase and local environments become more hazardous, and that risk and loss is unevenly distributed. In the dynamic and data poor contexts of cities in much of sub-Saharan Africa it is important to demonstrate a range of potential methodologies to open new possibilities for monitoring risk that can cover everyday, public health through to small and rare, catastrophic events. At the same time the varied decision-making cultures in this region make it important to uncover the historical pathways and decision-points that have determined city form and function, local and city wide capacity and ultimately generated trajectories for risk accumulation or reduction. 

Urban ARCs work programmes (WP) provide a structured way through these challenges: WP1 develops four distinct vulnerability, capacity and loss assessment tools with additional work focusing on interactions between violence and conflict with disaster risk in the city to stimulate critical comparative analysis of risk monitoring and assessment tools that are appropriate for the capacities and needs of urban sub-Saharan Africa. WP2 brings physical science and its modelling skills to examine multi-hazard and climate change impacts on urban planning, and to work with urban planners to improve science policy communication. WP3 takes a broad view of urban governance, focusing on historical trajectories in urban development and disaster risk management to uncover underlying root causes that need to be discussed and considered before contemporary development paths can avoid reproducing new risk. WP4 brings this learning together with an action research agenda to work with key actors to better understand and help inform contemporary decision-making and planning for the future. Future planning is core to our mission with two dedicated PhD students, training workshops and visiting fellows as well as an Open Science conference to foster early career researchers in this rapidly growing policy area.

Stakeholders are integrated into the research process helping shape questions, provide and collect data, offer interpretations of findings and act as champions for impact going forward. This anticipated close collaboration is only possible because of preceding work, with the same user groups or similar groups in other cities demonstrating an interest and willingness to collaborate. Four groups of beneficiaries can be distinguished: (1) local populations exposed to urban risk, (2) local government, urban planners and others responsible for urban development and risk management, (3) the international community including private sector, civil society actors and the UN system, (4) bilateral and multilateral development donors such as DFID or the World Bank.

Local populations will benefit from the voice academic research will give, this is particularly so for marginalised groups such as women and children and conflict migrants. For those involved in participatory video or mapping or visiting Urban Resource Hubs and other local workshop activities access to new information and critical thinking on development is hoped to improve scope for local collective and individual adaptation. Local populations will also benefit indirectly from the impacts of research on other actors when this contributes to improved urban development or disaster management performance. 

Local agencies responsible for urban planning, critical infrastructure planning, environmental and disaster risk management are likely to be the clearest potential beneficiaries. Research provides data and analysis of direct relevance to this group of actors to help inform planning decisions and decision-making practice. Historical work will highlight the ways in which in administrative processes and institutions of urban governance have shaped disaster risk opening scope for revision.

International humanitarian NGOs are eager to expand rural conflict and disaster risk management activities into urban contexts where they perceive an unmet and growing demand. By partnering with two NGOs and one UN agency and through the activities of the Advisory Board this community will be able to shape research to inform policy development, and in turn provide a number of potential vehicles for post-programme legacy. UN-HABITATS CRPP programme, and Save the Children's Household Economy Assessment tool are examples. Urban places are increasingly being designed and built by international consultancy forms and the inclusion of ARUP in the consortium similarly allows access and influence through a champion in this sector.

Bilateral and multilateral development actors, and others who set the broad international policy discourse, including UN-ISDR and the World Bank will benefit from the strategic insights to be derived from Urban ARC. Consortium members are well connected in advisory boards amongst this community and are regularly active in drafting policy reports, for example in writing urban chapters for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or the ISDR Global Assessment Report. This provides a direct line of benefit from research to policy impact.

Two training sessions for early career professional staff in the final year of the programme provide an additional stream of beneficiaries, it is anticipated that UN-HABITAT will accredit this training module. Following from two years of intensive research participants may already have gained research experience through the programme and will be well placed to work in what looks set to become an increasingly high priority area of policy and practice. Through this relationship and influence outputs from Urban ARC will spread widely, well beyond the case study cities and partner institutions involved.

Primary theme: 
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Research Grant
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Fund Start Date: 
January 1st, 2015
Fund End Date: 
January 1st, 2019
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development studies
human geography
regional and extreme weather
urban geogrpahy