Guidance note: Migration and urban resilience in fragile states

To coincide with the UN Climate Change Conference and the Planetary Security Conference, this is the first in our series of guidance notes exploring issues of climate and security.

The relationship between climate change, migration, cities and conflict needs to be understood if attempts to promote sustainable urban development are to build resilience to climate change and to conflict.

Emerging research indicates that we will see increased rural–urban population movement within countries, more labour migration, and more frequent or longer lasting circular migration patterns. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest assessment states that climate change will have profound impacts on a broad spectrum of city functions, infrastructure and services, and will interact with, and may exacerbate, many existing stresses.


The challenges


1. Climate change and migration

Climate change can affect migration directly or indirectly, but causality is never singular. Direct impacts such as quick-onset and slow-onset hazards, which can come with intensive and extensive risks, can lead to short-term or distress migration. While indirect impacts such as climatic shocks to markets (e.g. food, construction materials, etc.) and energy supplies will have knock-on implications on people’s decisions to move.

→ Read more about migration and complexity

2. The urban challenge

Some of the key challenges faced by cities relate to their informality. For example, some notable challenges exist around adequate policies to deal with migrants, how to balance the needs of urban and rural livelihood security through policy, access to capital by the poor, informal settlers, and ways to engage non-state actors in urban governance.

→ Read more about urban fragility

3. Cities and megacities

There is a growing literature exploring the political instability and complex security dynamics of urban areas, and how the design and operation of cities can breed instability – particularly cities with over 10 million inhabitants, known as ‘megacities’. The failure of service delivery, economic loss (especially unemployment) from disasters or resource security, and marginalisation of communities in urban areas, can all contribute to insecurity.

For example, in Kibera, the largest informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya, the environmental impacts that disasters such as floods have on urban populations presents not just an environmental resilience challenge, but a social risk. Yet, the same is true of the very interventions designed to address environmental risks.

→ Read more about the case of Kibera

4. Fragile cities

This is a new and underexplored concept, but one that is gaining traction within the foreign policy community. It refers to the relationship of exposure to urban conflict, disasters and poverty faced by certain cities – and not always ones situated within fragile states. The term is a useful reminder of the specific issues faced by cities, such as the challenge of strengthening state–citizen relations.

→ Read more about fragile cities


Finding solutions


So how can we improve humanitarian and development interventions in complex and fragile cities?

The relationship between climate change, migration, urban resilience and fragility is therefore a critical issue for further exploration and research, to ensure that the new urban agenda can promote sustainable development and peace.

Join the discussion @intalert using #urbanresilience

→ Next guidance note: Understanding and responding to compound risk in fragile and conflict-affected states

Further reading

Photo: © Andrew Pacutho/International Alert