The Bank published its first global study of urban violence: "Violence in the City: Understanding and Supporting Community Responses to Urban Violence.” The report was prepared in parallel to the World Development Report on conflict security and development and many of the findings of the report have informed the WDR analysis of the evolving situation of violence in the world and the possible responses.
Inadequate infrastructure, says the report, means there often is no safe space to hold community meetings or gather in public places. Narrow alley-ways or lack of street lighting, create opportunities for violent assaults. Limited infrastructure and services add to daily frustrations that can escalate violence and exacerbate a sense of exclusion. They also create vulnerabilities as residents try to meet basic needs (fetching water, visiting public toilets). Lack of community involvement and solid community organizations mean that the population cannot effectively interact and put pressure on service providers, the justice system and law enforcement.
"For millions of people around the world violence, or the fear of violence, is a constant reality", said Inger Andersen, World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development. “Urban violence is a serious impediment to development and to poverty reduction. This report shows that simple actions can play a crucial role in reducing violence in cities, and that community development should be seen as a central element of any intervention targeting urban violence.”
While violence in cities is prevalent, argues the report, it is not inevitable, as demonstrated by the lack of correlation between population size and crime level in large cities like Dhaka, Cairo, and Mumbai.
Further, the report also shows that combining prevention approaches with multi-sectoral interventions that target diverse aspects of people's living conditions can bring down homicide rates dramatically, as the cases of Bogotá and Cali in Colombia, or São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, demonstrate.
Drawing on case studies from urban communities in Brazil (Fortaleza), Haiti (Port-au-Prince), Kenya (Nairobi), South Africa (Johannesburg), and Timor-Leste (Dili), the report makes a number of specific recommendations that can be used in urban settings. The recommendations focus on creating the basic conditions urban communities need to be able to come together to collectively address violence.
The study also argues that the international community can play a stronger role in supporting governments in their efforts to improve coordination within their national frameworks on violence prevention. Initially, donors could support governments in mapping the needs and specific interventions regarding crime and violence, and developing national plans. Then, governments can help coordinate efforts across different agencies, sectors, and levels of government.
Alexandre Marc, the report's lead author and head of the Conflict, Crime, and Violence team in World Bank's Social Development Department, points out that "Our clients realize more and more that violence prevention is an important component of urban development and, increasingly, we are being asked for support in these areas. The report offers valuable analysis and recommendations on how communities can be involved through development work in violence prevention. It will be a useful tool for governments, and development agencies as they support governments, in efforts to bring down urban violence.”
Key Recommendations from Report
- Improvements in infrastructure such as street lighting, roads, parks and other public spaces are needed to reduce opportunities for crime and violence and allow residents the mobility they need for collective action.
- Changes in the style of policing are needed toward a more community-oriented approach, based on trust and coordination with the community. This change could help address the trend toward reliance on extra-legal security solutions such as vigilante or militia groups.
- Governments also need support for improvements in data collection and mechanisms to provide communities with accurate information on violence. This can better focus law enforcement efforts on areas where violence is most intense. When communities are involved in the collecting and sharing the data, this information can support their efforts to reduce violence in their neighborhoods.
- Within a more secure environment, the study recommends an increased focus on building trust and social cohesion. This means, first and foremost, harnessing the energies of the community toward non-violent ways of resolving conflicts. In particular, residents stressed the need for ways to incorporate youth productively into activities that benefit the community, for example by mobilizing youth as leaders in community or government decision-making. It also means supporting community-driven forms of collective action. Such collective action can strengthen the social fabric, and help change social norms that tolerate or even promote the use of violence.
- Finally, the international community can play a stronger role in supporting greater coordination within a national framework on violence prevention. This role will undoubtedly look different in high-capacity versus lower- capacity contexts. Initially, donors could support governments in mapping needs and interventions regarding crime and violence, and developing national plans. Then, governments can be supported in coordinating efforts across different agencies, sectors and levels of government. This could be an important role for the World Bank to consider pursuing in future.