Cities Forum


.Author: Ronika Postaria (Associate Consultant, Cities Forum);

Research Support: Swati Sisoudiya (2022 Intern, Cities Forum)

Human rights are a vital part of urban planning. Human rights issues arise from humanitarian emergencies, including pandemics, natural disasters, and armed wars. UNICEF defines a humanitarian crisis as any circumstance where humanitarian needs are sufficiently large and complex to require significant external assistance and resources and where a multi-sectoral response is needed, with the engagement of a wide range of international humanitarian actors (IASC). As humanity saw in the past decade with COVID-19, wars, climate change, disasters, and natural catastrophes are increasing. In recent years, there has been an exponential rise in the number of impacted people, the length, scale, complexity of crises, and estimates of impending calamities.

Protecting human rights is an overarching and essential aspect of urban planning during a humanitarian intervention. However, it is also crucial to build resilience and support long-lasting solutions. We must maintain stability and peace both before and after a crisis. Without proper attention and correction, the effect on the affected people can spiral into suffering, injustice, and atrocities that increase vulnerabilities and humanitarian needs and lessen the likelihood of a quick recovery.


It is essential to understand that war is only one of the various issues associated with a humanitarian crisis. Pandemics, disasters, and other emergencies can also cause a humanitarian crisis under different circumstances. Humanitarian crises at the core are also a result of urban crises. Here, we look at the victims of war and the consequent role of urban practitioners. Though urban practitioners are involved at multiple levels and in various ways, the infrequent and unexpected nature of the crises demands that governments act promptly. Leaders can only rely on pre-stocked resources and resilience strategies. Both of these must be considered under urban planning to better prepare for such scenarios. Two prime objectives can be understood as:

  1. Leaders maintain peace and stability for crises victims and those who remain
  2. Governments provide safe and long-term refuge to those who fled the war zones/affected territories
Understanding the trends through the Ukraine-Russia example

Photo Credits: AP

Although, as per the United Nations, military conflicts today tend to be less lethal, their effects are still severe. Homes, schools, workplaces, and places of worship that are necessary to sustain livelihoods are destroyed in a matter of seconds. Citizens flee their homes, food and water become scarce, economies fall apart, and refugees emerge.

According to the United Nations, since Russia began a full-scale military invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, over three thousand civilian deaths and more than seven million internal displacements occurred. Ten million people, or approximately a quarter of Ukraine’s population, have reportedly been displaced. Bordering nations like France, Germany, Italy and Moldova have welcomed the Ukrainian refugees with open arms. According to Global Citizen Organisation, Poland welcomed 1.8 million refugees, the most of any neighbouring country. A vast volunteer army mobilised to meet refugees at the border. The arriving refugees were greeted with placards, food, blankets, and health care supplies. Germany, too, welcomed around 100,000 refugees. It immediately gave arrivals the right to work and children access to education. The country was also one of the first to offer free trains from Poland.

Furthermore, COVID-19 transmission is still widespread in the nation, and just 36% of Ukrainians have received their complete COVID-19 vaccination. Accessing treatment will become more and more challenging because the nation’s health services are already overburdened.

Impact of the War on Children and Elderly

The Ukraine war has wrecked everyone’s lives regardless of who they are. As this war continues to rage, millions of senior citizens are isolated and alone. One-third of those in need of aid after the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014 were over 60, and the majority had no intention of leaving their country, according to a report by Relief Web. Mobility issues prevent many people from leaving. Some lack family support; even worse, many cannot even get to the nearby shelters, making them easy targets.

This conflict, like other wars, is also a catastrophe for children’s rights and protection. Massive artillery, airstrikes, other explosive weapons, and military activities have targeted schools across Ukraine. The UN confirmed nearly 100 child deaths caused by conflict, while the actual number is probably much higher. Many more have suffered serious abuses, been hurt, or relocated.

Humanitarian Organisations Worldwide

Several organisations worldwide aim to reduce or eliminate human suffering during violent wars. They typically engage in activities like looking for, gathering, and transporting the injured and ill, the missing, and the dead; treating the sick and injured; and assisting the civilian population through humanitarian aid. They are occasionally referred to as unbiased humanitarian organisations.

One particular category of the humanitarian organisation is the relief society. Their respective governments acknowledge the military laws and procedures governing such societies. They are thus accorded the same privileges as military medical personnel. National Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies now make up the majority of organisations of this type.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), a global humanitarian organisation, responds to the most severe humanitarian disasters. To provide vulnerable communities and families with significant health and financial services as well as information and protection, the organisation is collaborating with partners in Poland and Ukraine. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is also doing its bit to help Ukraine. Their employees are present in Ukraine. They vowed to remain there and provide aid whenever and wherever access and security permit.

Simultaneously, UNICEF has developed guidance on how authorities and aid workers can help keep children displaced by the war in Ukraine safe from trafficking and other forms of exploitation and abuse. The ICRC, too, in collaboration with the Ukrainian Red Cross and other Red Cross partners, is providing emergency aid to persons residing in conflict zones or those who the violence has displaced. This includes food for over 800,000 individuals and hygiene products, kitchenware, home appliances, mattresses, blankets, and other necessities for over 300,000 internally displaced persons.


As discussed earlier, the victims of war struggle financially and lose their livelihoods irrespective of if they stay behind in their home country amidst a war zone or seek refuge in other countries. In both cases, governments need to support adults, the elderly, and children. Unfortunately, the war-zone countries often lose their hold on the country’s resource bank, leaving the citizens at the mercy of the invaders.

On the other hand, countries that welcome refugees can change the refugees’ situation for the better. They can provide food, shelter, job opportunities, education, and healthcare across all age groups if included in urban planning from the beginning. However, it is only possible if the country leaders and urban practitioners strategically allocate the resources to vital sectors, including supporting the NGOs and other volunteer organisations to build a support network. Shelters for refugees in the short term can be the traditional tents, but in the long-term demand inclusion in the community.

Further, education and job opportunities are closer to governments making the transition easy for refugees. Built structures, relevant staff, and other resources must accurately be assigned to the right places. More importantly, they are trained to deal with the victims of war since they are very likely to suffer from PTSD and other mental health issues.

World leaders and Urban practitioners have a significant role to play in building safe cities. By planning secure cities, governments can create stability and security, enhance the quality of life, and lessen public fear of crime. In the design process, urban planning equips the leaders with tools to distribute health facilities and long-term refugee residences and create new job opportunities and education centres for children of displaced families. By combining both planning and design, a safe city could be built.

Note: This article does not cover all the aspects in which world leaders and urban practitioners can aid the war victims. It only aims to bring attention to the topic and start the conversation on planning for the sustenance of victims in the event of unexpected crises.


Ronika Postaria

About Ronika Postaria

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Associate Consultant at Cities Forum specialized in urban planning and design.

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