angle on urban poverty
Cathryn Prince’s article on Asian cities
(Issue 1-1997) and the challenges they pose to Red Cross and
Crescent Societies quite rightly highlighted this growing
area where we should be active. But she also left many things
In doing some preliminary research for the Federation
on urban trends, I have been amazed at how organized and active
the urban-poor self-help groups are. In cities as diverse
as Calcutta, Kuala Lumpur and Karachi, urban squatter groups,
shanty town dwellers and even street children organize and
defend themselves, provide for their own water and health
services, because no one else is going to do it for them.
And often they are doing it quicker and more effectively than
the municipal alternatives.
They are organized internationally as well as
locally. Community-based groups and NGOs focusing on urban
poverty and rights are some of the most avid users of the
The lesson to my mind is that the urban poor
will not wait for the Red Cross and Red Crescent to identify
with them, to provide services for them. They will take the
lead, and we can either be a catalyst in that process, or
an occasional outside helping hand.
One thing is for sure, we cannot regard the
urban environment of tomorrow as a case of business as usual.
We will need new skills, and maybe new attitudes to fulfil
Director, Disasters and Refugee Policy
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies