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Making cities safer

In Barcelona, on 15 and 16 May, AOAV participated in a meeting on a new initiative by UN Habitat. Called “Urban Safety Monitor” the initiative is designed to help cities to better understand crime and violence, and inform municipal actions to address those problems.

It is of very topical concern. In 2012, 52% of people worldwide were reported to be living in urban areas. This percentage increases to almost 80% in Latin America, compared to just under 40% in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In this growth of urban areas, cultural differences and growing inequalities have been identified as a tangible source of tensions and growing insecurity. The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) reports that 60% of all urban residents in developing countries have been the victims of crime at least once over the past five years, 70% of them in Latin America.

During the meeting, much information was shared on good practices when it comes to urban safety and combating armed violence in urban settings. It emerged that cities such as Barcelona, Rotterdam and Copenhagen had a wealth of experience and lessons learned in tackling crime and insecurity. They also have violent crime rates far below the world average.

It also showed that places like Port Moresby, Beirut and Peshawar are another story entirely. Rates of violence here are far higher than global norms, and the means to address these problems limited. Here, different types of violence interconnect and intertwine, making it very difficult to apply good practices that have been proven effective in areas that are less prone to violence. The presence of militia groups and private security agencies often better trained and armed than local police do not help the situation either.

These different realities need to be better understood. What type of indicators are needed in order to measure insecurity and safety? What information is useful to build effective responses? And who should be involved in informing action?

Much of this still remains to be explored. There is definite agreement that the aim of the Urban Monitor needs to be to record the incidence of violence. It was also highlighted that it should go further and capture perceptions of violence as well. If people are afraid of crime and how much they trust the authorities in charge of providing security and safety are essential elements to be considered in determining how to fight chronic armed violence.

What makes a city more or less resilient to crime also needs to be part of the equation. Efforts undertaken in Medellin and other cities to reduce crime, for instance, should be identified and then promoted elsewhere.

But replicating without acknowledging the local realities is a recipe for failure.

Initial discussions on potential indicators for the Monitor reflected those concerns. They divided indicators into sets to be applied specifically to a certain city, and sets of general indicators to be used globally.

AOAV presented the national reports initiative, which considers the incidence and responses to armed violence and insecurity at national level. Possible indicators to be replicated in the Urban Safety Monitor as well as lessons learned were shared with the group of participants.

The success of this initiative will depend on its capacity to develop indicators that can be used in areas where there is very limited access to data. Experience shows that there is often a big gap between the capacity to record information and the ability to use it properly to inform policies and practices.

Much remains to be done, but it is a very important initiative that AOAV will continue to follow closely.


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