Cities at the Forefront of Conflict and Climate Migration
International Rescue Committee
Mitigating the risks of conflict over urban land and water in fragile contexts
Forced migration and displacement are re-shaping cities and countries across the globe. More people are displaced by conflict and natural disaster today than at any point in history, and the percentage of people who are displaced globally is increasing. Climate change is widely recognized as a contributing and exacerbating factor in migration and in conflict. When people flee, in most instances it is not across borders, but rather to the closest cities. Cities are the most common destinations of migration inflows. Cities experiencing conflict can have particularly fast growth as urban expansion processes are often accelerated by armed conflict near urban centers.
While much climate change research is focused on the push-factors for displacement, less is known about locations of resettlement and about the solutions to mitigate negative impacts and harness positive impacts of migration. Cities are at the forefront of climate migration response, yet many are ill-prepared and under-researched to manage growing urban populations. This study aimed to increase knowledge of how displacement affects the governance of natural resources in these areas and of promising approaches in addressing problems that may arise. The study was guided by the following research questions:
How does forced displacement affect access to and competition over natural resources in urban and peri-urban areas located in fragile and conflict-affected settings (FCAS)?
What factors and conditions exacerbate or mitigate the risk of violent conflict over access to, and distribution of, natural resources in these areas?
What formal or informal governance structures emerge in these areas to manage natural resources and mitigate conflict?
What are the promising governance and natural resource management (NRM) approaches that enhance resilience and mitigate risk of violent conflict in these areas?
The study employed an area-based, ‘two-case’ exploratory case study approach conducting primary research in two neighborhoods affected by climate migration in Maiduguri, Nigeria and Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The study complemented primary research with a literature review. The case study cities were selected based on: their situation within a region where climate change-affected urbanization patterns, direct or indirect experience with fragility and conflict, status as a secondary city experiencing rapid growth, and status as a location where IRC had capacity and local stakeholder relationships to conduct the research. Neighborhood selection within each city sought a balance of an urban neighborhood (consolidated informal settlement, central location, higher density) and one peri-urban (semi-consolidated settlement, expanding into rural areas, lower density). Finally, a research advisory board composed of local experts on governance and urban natural resource management, including government officials, academics and community representatives, was engaged throughout the process to advise on research design, review and validate findings and support local research findings dissemination.
Based on a synthesis of the comparative case study findings across the two cities studies and situated against relevant aspects of the literature review, the following three overarching conclusions emerged.
Displacement to urban areas contributed to by conflict and climate change may decrease the accessibility and affordability of land and water, but these effects do not necessarily lead to violent conflict.
As expected, the increase in population in Bukavu and Maiduguri put significant strain on resources in the researched urban and peri-urban neighborhoods. Both migrant and longtime residents are affected by outdated urban planning that is inadequate for managing urban growth. Vulnerable urban residents face challenges when engaging with stakeholders they depend on for accessing natural resources at multiple levels – from the ‘street- level’, as is the case with preferential behavior of water managers in Bukavu or the arbitrary price hikes by water vendors in a context of limited alternatives in Maiduguri, to government officials in Bukavu, where respondents alleged to corruption in land administration. Women and children in underserved urban areas are particularly vulnerable, disproportionally bearing the costs of water scarcity and limited infrastructure and experiencing ‘everyday insecurity’.
Tensions around natural resources were reported in both contexts. However, despite the presence of multiple factors that were identified in the literature on migration as conducive to conflict – increased competition for scarce resources in host cities with underdeveloped property rights, migrants being of a different ethnicity than their urban neighbors, and the existence of socioeconomic fault lines which increased competition for jobs or land - no violent intergroup conflict between displaced and host communities was observed in the researched areas. In Maiduguri, the presence of an effective, vertically integrated traditional system that communities can access at the neighborhood level and the establishment of relationships between host communities members and new arrivals were found to be helpful in the researched areas. The research findings also indicate displaced persons and migrants in both contexts face exclusions and differential treatment, and they are marginalized and weak, thus less likely to cause social unrest.
Over the long-term, urban governance, rather than displacement and migration, might have a larger effect on exacerbating vulnerabilities and risk of violent conflict.
While tensions around urban land and water did not escalate to intergroup or identity-based conflict in the researched neighborhoods in Bukavu and Maiduguri, exploitative, speculative, arbitrary, preferential and other non-transparent practices in the management of urban resources may cause situations that can lead to interpersonal violence. In the researched areas, while some of the exclusions in access to resources are identity-based and to some extent horizontal (between communities), a divide was observed between government authorities and communities, as non-government respondents (residents, NGO workers, scholars) expressed concern about the impacts government actions might have on vulnerable urban residents. Investments in responsive and inclusive urban planning are critical to improving access, availability and quality of urban natural resources and decreasing the likelihood of conflict. NGOs and private sector actors fill a critical gap in contexts where urban management and urban planning have not kept pace with population pressures, but limited coordination of non- government actors with city governments, coupled with the lack of enforcement of government regulation and quality control, results in suboptimal and unsustainable outcomes. While NGO interventions help, alignment and coordination with the government are needed as structural inequalities cannot be addressed through fragmented, timebound, and uncoordinated interventions. In some urban contexts, public-private partnerships (PPPs) are providing encouraging results, as appeared to be the case in Bukavu.
Community-level structures are key to managing conflict and play a role in access to natural resources, particularly water, and their effectiveness can be further improved by promoting inclusiveness.
In the researched urban areas, conflict was largely mitigated and managed at the community level. Much like in rural areas, informal governance structures, elders, and trusted community and traditional leaders play a key role in managing conflict in urban and peri-urban areas. The effectiveness of these leaders – the Bulama in Maiduguri, the avenue and district chiefs in Bukavu, is key to mitigating conflicts. The closeness of the community leaders with the communities they represent is in contrast with the observed gap between the communities and the government officials.
There are, however, limitations as traditional authorities may not be sufficiently responsive to the needs of women and minorities and neighborhood level governance structures may also not be representative of all residents. In addition, the feasibility of solving land and water challenges vary considerably. Land scarcity appears to be a more intractable problem constrained by the realm of politics and speculation, whereas access to water is primarily constricted by technology, finance, and environmental limitations. Management of water might be an easier entry-point for conflict prevention and mitigation at the neighborhood level.
The findings of this study should be interpreted with limitations in mind. First, while similarities were found between the two case studies, especially the important role played by local leaders and structures in managing conflict, it is important to note there are limitations to generalizability of case study findings. Second, the study also does not attempt to make causal inferences, but rather aims to contribute to an understanding of dynamics around displacement and natural resource management in destination areas. Finally, the study focused on the lived experiences of the host and displaced residents in selected urban and peri-urban areas and did not explore local politics or assess organizational capacities.
Reinforce and/or establish effective and inclusive community engagement mechanisms and feedback and complaints mechanisms to understand how residents are experiencing access to water and land.
Establish inclusive coordination and problem-solving forums at the city and community-levels with representation of government, civil society, and communities to problem-solve and develop solutions to natural resource management challenges.
Establish or strengthen participatory urban planning processes, with an emphasis on long-term water and land management.
Strengthen existing water and/or land management departments to engage in disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation planning
Explore public-private partnerships to enhance the availability and affordability of water.
Strengthen inclusion of women, displaced people and marginalized groups in community leadership structures and decision-making to represent all residents of the community.
Strengthen leadership skills in inclusive and accountable management of water and land disputes.
Establish advocacy mechanisms to government and civil society organizations to channel feedback of residents and capacity strengthening and support in water and land management.
Invest in strengthening long-term urban planning from the start of a displacement shock as an anticipatory measure for the situation becoming protracted.
Invest in destination cities as part of climate strategies.
Invest in strengthening existing informal governance structures to help with preventing the escalation of tensions and mitigates the risk of violence in fragile and conflict affected contexts.
Establish systems to monitor for any negative impacts or unintended consequences of aid on conflict in urban areas.
Conduct thorough context analysis informed by tools such as Political Economy Analysis, Conflict Analysis, Gender and Social Inclusion Analysis, and Urban Context Analysis to identify entry-points for programming.
Proactively engage formal and informal governance actors in the planning and design of activities going beyond securing approvals to establishing equal partnerships on areas of shared interest in a principled way.
Align interventions in land and water natural resource management to long-term plans of the city. If no plans exist, then prioritize development of joint plans at city and/or community-levels.
Strengthen creation of inclusive coordination and problem- solving forums at the city and community-levels with representation of government, civil society, and communities to problem-solve and develop solutions to natural resource management challenges.
Partner with women-led and migrant-led organizations in the design and implementation of projects.
Facilitate participatory disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation planning in urban areas to enhance urban resilience, especially to risk of flooding and heatwaves.
Explore public-private partnerships in water resource management to enhance the availability and affordability of and sustainable access to water.
Prioritize land use planning interventions in partnership with national/local government as both a humanitarian and development approach. Focus on participatory and community-level land registration procedures, to assure long term sustainability and to diminishing the barriers women, displaced persons, and ethnic minority groups have in accessing land.
Increase understanding of contextual and organizational constraints of city-level state and non-state actors in fragile contexts
Research should be conducted to better understand the contextual and organizational challenges faced by state and non-state actors and structures at the city and community level to inclusively manage natural resources in urban areas affected by displacement in fragile and conflict-affected settings, along with the identification of strategies to address these.
Innovation and learning in inclusive city planning in fragile contexts
Explore, design and test partnership modalities between non-governmental humanitarian, development and peacebuilding actors, including CBOs, with state and municipal authorities for inclusive land management. Specifically, this could focus on participatory, community- level land registration procedures that bridge customary and state institutions in urban areas affected by conflict and displacement and in disaster-prone areas.
Explore, design and test partnership modalities between private sector, non-governmental humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding actors, including CBOs, with state and municipal authorities for conflict-sensitive, inclusive and sustainable management of water resources. Specifically, this could focus on identifying strategies to leverage local private sector actors to improve availability and quality of water in a sustainable and affordable way, including technologically innovative ways.
Role of NGOs in promoting more inclusive and equitable societies and potential pitfalls in hybrid urban governance contexts
The role of NGOs in contexts of hybrid urban governance in FCAS, particularly their impact on local power dynamics and potential pitfalls, including exacerbation and/or mitigation of identity-based exclusion and vulnerabilities. This could focus on the identification of approaches that can be employed to improve inclusiveness and responsiveness of indigenous structures to the needs of marginalized groups, particularly women and LGBTQI individuals, without diluting their effectiveness in managing conflict.
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