Urban Programming Capacity Statement

March 21, 2010

Urban Programming Goal

Mercy Corps strives to enhance the positive contributions urbanization offers while mitigating negative impacts on basic needs and livelihood, human rights and secure society.

Structuring a Response

From experience working with urban communities in over 20 countries, Mercy Corps has developed powerful approaches to catalyze change in urban environments. Mercy Corps helps city dwellers advocate for their needs, while building the capacity of — and partnerships between — government, community organizations and the private sector to respond to these needs and scale up responses. Urban poor environments are geographically, socially and economically dynamic. In response, Mercy Corps scales its urban programming at distinct levels to fit the needs and contexts of these diverse communities:

  • Integrated Urban Interventions: Integrated and multi-sector programming targets the nexus of urban issues by addressing short-term vulnerabilities and long-term viability of urban livelihoods.
  • Rural-Urban Migration: Urban poverty programming strategically designed to address the lack of employment opportunities in rural areas and provide positive economic linkages for communities with strong rural-urban connections.

Integrated Urban Interventions

The Approach: Urban environments are dynamic and multi-dimensional and therefore require an integrated and multi-sector approach to address the challenges faced by urban poor populations and governments. Migration to cities is increasing in every region of the world, putting stress on what is often antiquated infrastructure, inadequate public services and traditional urban planning policies that do not serve the needs of the most marginalized. In densely-populated urban environments, illness can quickly become epidemic, tension can spark violent conflict, and climatic stress can wreak catastrophe. While urban growth generates economic opportunities and advantages for some, it accentuates the vulnerabilities of others and magnifies challenges in these environments.

Mercy Corps has strategically designed integrated urban programs to address the multiple issues faced by urban communities and their need to access financial services, employment opportunities, basic needs, and political representation and voice. Mercy Corps recognizes that a multi-sector approach is best positioned to address the inter-related needs of urban populations. In order to achieve the goal of supporting secure, productive and just societies, integrated urban interventions focus on three main areas:

  1. Vulnerable Populations: In order to live in areas strategic to employment, the poorest urban residents more often rent — rather than own — shelter in quasi-legal settlements with poor urban services. These residents pay higher percentages of their household income for basic services like water, sanitation and solid waste removal, as well as for access to basic health care and education, and often do not have political representation. The urban poor, especially those caught in cyclical rural-urban migration patterns, remain vulnerable to both public and private sector intervention. Since the urban poor lack the protections of legal documentation and due process, many remain powerless against land disputes, unfair land settlements, biased land resolutions, sudden and forced evictions, and other challenges that hinder household stability and advancement. In addition, urban poor are vulnerable to malnutrition, food insecurity and limited, to no access to health care. The convergence of these conditions results in millions of people around the world struggling to support themselves in turbulent and unstable environments.
  2. Vulnerable Areas: As urban areas around the world rapidly accommodate population growth and migration, expanding populations stress what are often inadequate and old public infrastructure systems, leading to large system delivery failures for basic services such as water supply, sanitation, health care, transport, electricity and other services. In some areas of the world, population growth is so swift and uncoordinated that urban areas and governments confront rapidly-growing settlements in locations with limited or non-existent public services or infrastructure. These marginal areas are also often in environmentally sensitive areas — prone to flooding, drought or fire — or within close proximity of industrial toxins, waste, or water and air pollutant sources. These conditions further burden the social, economic and environmental systems of these vulnerable areas.
  3. Economic and Social Connections: The challenges faced by vulnerable urban populations and vulnerable urban areas often exist in tandem with inequitable economic development practices, both in the formal and informal sectors. Rapid and uncontrolled urban growth often outpaces economic development and opportunity, especially for the urban poor. Where Mercy Corps develops strategies that support the natural entrepreneurship of urban poor residents Mercy Corps supports those most in need through equitable economic development.

The Approach in Action: Indonesia

For Mercy Corps Indonesia, addressing urban poverty has been a program focus since our inception. The extreme hardships experienced in Jakarta’s slums during and following the 1998 economic crisis led Mercy Corps Indonesia to initiate development operations in 1999.

Our early work, from 1999-2005, was in the form of nutritional assistance and health education, coupled with livelihood support in Jakarta’s poorest communities. This was also a period for initiating long-term collaborative relationships with local communities, municipal and provincial governments, and private sector partners. In 2006, Mercy Corps Indonesia expanded its urban program. Nutrition and health programs grew while new initiatives began to address urban infrastructure and basic needs services.

Mercy Corps Indonesia introduced into its programming activities related to water supply, sanitation, solid waste, and disaster response and disaster risk reduction. In 2006-2007, Mercy Corps Indonesia began a significant evidence-based research phase with local partners to generate a nuanced understanding of the causes and conditions of urban poverty. Research into the economy of urban environmental services, land tenure, informal economy, land-use planning, and the spatial, social and economic dimensions of slum communities has informed existing urban programs and helped Mercy Corps develop new program initiatives and partnerships with diverse urban actors.

The Approach in Action: Zimbabwe

Since 2006, Mercy Corps has contributed to a unique, integrated response to the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe. The NGO Joint Initiative (JI) for Urban Zimbabwe is a coordinated humanitarian response to address the short and medium-term needs of highly vulnerable urban communities.

Mercy Corps has helped successfully deliver the JI’s overall goal to restore dignity and reduce suffering for thousands of the most vulnerable households in urban and peri- urban areas of Zimbabwe. While the need in Zimbabwe continues to increase, Mercy Corps helped JI beneficiaries attain hope, success and, in some cases, self-sufficiency in Phase I (May 2006-March 2008) through programs in livelihoods, food security, shelter, HIV/AIDS service delivery and child protection/education assistance.

By the end of the five-year program, the group aims to support up to 12,000 households. Mercy Corps is also working to improve urban health for up to 4,000 residents in densely populated Mutare by installing or renovating water points and latrines in the city's marketplace and suburbs.

The Approach in Action: Colombia

Mercy Corps Colombia has focused a significant part of its programmatic portfolio in urban areas in Colombia. The 45-year internal conflict has resulted in the displacement of nearly five million people over the past 20 years, with the majority of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) settling in the urban and peri-urban slums that ring Colombia’s mega-cities — Bogotá, Medellin, Cali, Cartagena, Barranquilla, Bucaramanga — to name a few.

Mercy Corps’ approach is to work with local partners — local NGOs and community-based organizations (CBOs) — to form alliances and networks, and pressure local governments to adopt public policies that promote the inclusion of IDPs and vulnerable populations into decision-making and urban planning. Mercy Corps provides the initial funds to catalyze and leverage public and private sector investment to tackle social, economic and environmental problems in poor, marginalized neighborhoods.

An integrated, multi-sectoral approach is utilized to tackle inter-related problems — where programs build upon one another and the social capital fostered by Mercy Corps and its partners. Mercy Corps integrates participatory planning, conflict management and resolution, food security, social justice, and environment and disaster risk reduction strategies into its Columbia urban programming.

Rural-Urban Migration

The Approach: Mercy Corps recognizes the dynamic relationship between urban and rural communities and is working to slow urban migration trends through supporting economic opportunities in rural communities. Mercy Corps' urban programming builds off strong connections that vulnerable urban populations often maintain with their rural home communities. This approach develops programs that enhance sustainable economic development networks between urban and rural communities.

As part of this strategy to support the critical social and economic linkages between urban and rural communities, Mercy Corps works in rural communities whose populations and economies experience the negative impacts of rural-urban migration.

The Approach in Action: China

The young people of the Yi minority community in the Liangshan autonomous prefecture of Sichuan Province face numerous challenges growing up, including an underdeveloped local education system and economy, and a rampant spread of drugs and the HIV/AIDS virus. The recent boom of out-migration, where community members move to urban areas in search of work and livelihood opportunities, exacerbates these risks for youth.

In order to help the young Yi people — especially girls — to better deal with these problems, Mercy Corps partnered with the Liangshan Yi for Empowerment (LYFE) Center to undertake a three-year program entitled GLOW (Giving Leadership Opportunities to Young Women). Mercy Corps and LYFE have framed this poverty relief and capacity building program as a preventative urban poverty strategy in an effort to stem the negative impacts of cyclical urban-rural migration.

Who We Work With

Mercy Corps’ drive to find linkages where others see gaps, and opportunities when others find challenges empowers us to encourage and believe in the entrepreneurial potential of the people we serve.

We bring about positive change by applying Mercy Corps’s vision for change that engages the public, private and civic sectors. Our urban programs work in partnership with:

  • Civil Society: Civic organizations that are comprised of, or work for, resource-poor citizens (formal and informal cooperatives, local CBOs/ NGOs)
  • Private Sector: Small businesses and entrepreneurs, because they are strategically positioned to fill the economic gaps within their communities and provide urban poor with linkages to upward economic mobility.
  • Public Sector: Governments and public agencies, because they are integral to enabling urban citizens the opportunities and rights needed to improve their livelihood.


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