Improvements in Basic City Infrastructure Key to Fighting Urban Violence

April 20, 2011

WASHINGTON, April 20, 2011 – Municipal policymakers need to see urban communities as part of the solution and work with them to prioritize interventions targeting urban violence, says a new World Bank report. The study also notes that simple upgrades to basic urban infrastructure such as better street lighting or functioning parks and other public spaces can help reduce and prevent urban violence.
“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 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.”
Violence in the City: Understanding and Supporting Community Responses to Urban Violence, says that inadequate infrastructure 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, exacerbate a sense of exclusion, and create vulnerabilities as residents try to meet basic needs such as fetching water or visiting public toilets. Lack of community organizations mean that citizens are not well connected to organizations that deliver services, the justice system and law enforcement structure. All of these factors impose high costs on cities, which are now home to more than half of the world’s population.
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.
Specifically the report recommends:

  • Changing the style of policing toward a more community-based approach in order to build trust in police forces and improve security;
  • Increasing the focus on building trust and social cohesion by supporting neighborhood associations and community groups and their involvement in management of public spaces in own neighborhoods;
  • Improving transportation and mobility options available for urban populations;
  • Improving data collection to provide police, providers of services and communities with accurate, on time information on violent incidents, to enable better targeting of prevention activities and law enforcement
  • Engaging urban youth productively in social and environmental initiatives and giving them a voice in local decision making.
  • Helping municipal government to coordinate actions between various municipal services and to effectively collaborate with regional and state organizations.

The study, prepared in parallel to the World Development Report on Conflict, Security and Development, 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.”

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