gFSC Guidance: Urban targeting in the context of COVID-19

Today, over 4 billion people around the world – more than half the global population – live in cities. Increasing urbanization leads to people living in closer proximity to one another, which heightens congestion and the risk of COVID-19 contagion. 

The challenges of high population density are only exacerbated in urban slums, in which almost 1 billion people currently live globally. WFP has projected that COVID-19 and its socio-economic impacts may drive up to 120 million more people into acute food insecurity in 2020, to reach a total of 270 million. Similarly, the World Bank estimates that some 49 million more people may fall into extreme poverty by the end of this year. 

The pandemic caused worldwide economic disruptions and slowdowns, emanating from sources such as reduced workforces, strict containment measures and panic behaviour. These in turn led to supply chain shocks from factory closures and cutbacks in service provisions, as well as a collapse in demand due to job losses and drastically reduced purchasing power. Informal labour is widespread in developing countries and households mostly rely on daily wages to make ends meet, with almost no access to social protection or safety nets. Those living in slums, refugee and IDP camps or in densely populated areas have limited access to basic services, particularly water, sanitation or health access and tend to rely on public transport. In crowded spaces, there is a high risk of the disease spreading as well as general vulnerability to economic containment measures. 

The humanitarian food security and livelihoods (FSL) sector traditionally operates in rural areas. Few interventions are carried out in this sector, so expertise in urban settings is rather poor. Moreover, these settings have entirely different social, economic and geographic dynamics and influencing factors. A working group addressing food security issues in urban contexts has been hosted for some years by the global Food Security Cluster (gFSC). The purpose of the gFSC Food Security and Livelihoods in Urban Settings Working Group was to promote better coordination and implementation of good practices in urban humanitarian food security responses. It operated from 2012 till 2018, producing a range of helpful documents and reports that were used to develop the guidance at hand. 

Targeting is one of the most – if not the most – difficult steps in humanitarian response (see Figure 1). This document was developed as per request from FSC teams in the field and a number of global partners. Members of this WG are FSC Coordinators, UN and INGO food security specialists, WASH and nutrition experts.


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