Safe and Inclusive Cities: New projects to propose strategies to reduce urban violence

OTTAWA, Sept. 11, 2013 /CNW/ - From South Africa's townships to Rio de Janeiro's favelas and the streets of Mumbai, urban violence has emerged as one of the central development challenges of our time. To meet these challenges, 15 new projects have been announced as part of Safe and Inclusive Cities, a CA$11 million initiative funded by Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID).  IDRC and DFID have joined forces with research partners around the world to document the links between urban violence, poverty, and inequalities, and to propose strategies to reduce violence in urban centres.

Leading security analysts in this field believe that future conflicts will be fought in cities that are unable to absorb fast-rising populations. Criminal and organized violence, associated with the drug trade in some countries, has become linked with national politics. In certain urban centres, gangs and militias have replaced public authorities, offering services and protection to communities. These services often come at great cost. Forms of social and domestic violence are also significant problems, particularly for the most vulnerable groups which include women, girls, and youth. An IDRC-commissioned background study showed that much is known about the direct impacts of urban violence on the poor. However, we are also starting to understand the indirect impacts and costs of violence, such as population displacement, the disruption of social services, reduced economic growth, brain drain, and higher spending on law enforcement.

The Safe and Inclusive Cities initiative is a five-year endeavour that will propose strategies and solutions to reduce violence in 40 cities across sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Research recipients will work to identify key knowledge gaps, test the effectiveness of urban violence reduction strategies, and examine what works and what doesn't to reduce violence in urban centres.

"We actually understand very little about the links between violence, poverty, and inequality," said John de Boer, Program Leader of the Governance, Security, and Justice team at IDRC. "The Safe and Inclusive Cities initiative will not only document the connections between urban violence, poverty and inequality; but also help us identify the most effective strategies for addressing these challenges."

"The speed and scale of global urbanization are staggering and the implications for the fight against poverty are immense," said Iain King, CBE, Senior Governance Advisor with the Research and Evidence Division at the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID).  "The international community needs a better understanding of the dynamics of urbanization, and a better understanding of effective strategies so that we might work towards better outcomes for the urban poor."

More than 30 researchers involved in the Safe and Inclusive Cities initiative will gather at an inception workshop in Ottawa on September 10-13 to share knowledge and experiences on current research on urban violence.  While the workshop is closed to the public, researchers will be available to the media at a public panel discussion on September 13, 2013.

For more information, visit and see Backgrounder - IDRC and UK's DFID join forces to make cities safer and more inclusive.

Journalists and the public can join the conversation through Twitter #SafeCities and Facebook.

Putting research to work

Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) funds practical research in developing countries to increase prosperity and security, and to foster democracy and the rule of law, in support of Canada's international development efforts. We promote growth and development and encourage sharing knowledge with policymakers, other researchers, and communities around the world. The result is innovative, lasting solutions that aim to bring change to those who need it most.


Safe and Inclusive Cities: IDRC and UK's DFID join forces to reduce urban violence

Fifteen research teams have been awarded multi-year grants of up to CA$500,000 each to undertake research in 40 cities across sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. Together they will identify key knowledge gaps, test the effectiveness of urban violence reduction strategies, and propose comprehensive solutions to urban violence, inequalities, and poverty based on rigorous data collection and analysis.

In the Khayelitsha township of Cape Town, South Africa, for example, researchers will examine the impact that improving urban environments and public spaces might have on reducing the city's high rates of violence and homicides. In urban Pakistan, experts will focus on how the perception of traditional gender roles might be complicit in driving violence against women among urban youth of working class neighbourhoods of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, and Karachi, one of the world's fastest-growing and most violent cities. In Rio de Janeiro, Durban, and Mumbai, researchers will look at how poor urban planning may be contributing to forced evictions and mass relocations, which in turn can lead to violence in the form of protests, riots, looting, sexual violence, and criminal acts to secure access to services and spaces.

Project overviews:


  • South African researchers from the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) will examine how effective government-led poverty reduction programs have been in combatting violence in Johannesburg, Tshwane, and Cape Town.
  • Researchers at the University of Cape Town in South Africa will focus on engaging local communities to improve urban and public spaces by upgrading infrastructure, such as providing better lighting and safer access to public bathrooms, and water points. The project will also investigate the impact of services such as neighbourhood watches for victims of violent crime.
  • Researchers from Oxfam Canada, Zimbabwe's Southern and Eastern African Regional Centre for Women's Law at the University of Harare Law School, and the Musasa Project, a local women's rights NGO, will examine the relationship between unemployment, overcrowded neighbourhoods, the lack of services, and gender-based violence in six urban centres across Zimbabwe.
  • Using technologies like Geographic Information Systems, the University of Ghana's Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research will map the geography of crime, investigating the relationship between average incomes and crime rates in select neighbourhoods in three Ghanaian cities.
  • Côte d'Ivoire's Université Alassane Ouattara's researchers will examine what impact civil conflict may have on new and emerging trends in urban criminal violence of three Ivorian cities over the last 30 years.
  • The Chaire de Dynamique Sociale of the Democratic Republic of Congo will investigate and document the causes and perpetrators of violence in Kinshasa and Mbuji-Mayi. The research will focus on understanding violence dynamics among youth, including women, rebels, and militarized civilians.


  • In India, researchers from the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology University and the Institute for Human Development Funding will investigate the urban poor's survival strategies and their efforts to push for better city planning in slums and informal settlements of Ahmedabad, Delhi, Guwahati, and Patna. Researchers will assess how cities planned in collaboration with the poor can reduce social tensions and violence.
  • The Institute of Business Administration of Pakistan will seek to understand how traditional gender roles are perceived in poor urban neighbourhoods of Karachi and Islamabad, and how they may be complicit in driving different types of violence. Using this evidence, researchers will propose concrete changes to public services to reduce gender-based violence in urban Pakistan.
  • Research led by the International Centre for Ethnic Studies in Sri Lanka and the Centre of Development Studies in India will examine how displaced people cope with risks associated with eviction, nutrition, the basic needs of women and children, legal status, and protection in three urban areas of Sri Lanka and India.


  • Researchers from Costa Rica's Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales will examine why urban communities with similar conditions of social exclusion experience different levels of violence. The study will compare six cities of different sizes in Costa Rica and El Salvador.
  • The Centro de Estudios en Seguridad Ciudadana del Instituto de Asuntos Públicos in Chile will examine whether urban segregation, combined with a lack of access to government programs, contributes to increased levels of violence in Bogota, Colombia, Lima, Peru, and Santiago, Chile.
  • Researchers from Venezuela's Laboratorio de Ciencias Sociales want to understand why Caracas, Venezuela is an exception to the theory suggesting the close relationship between high income inequalities and high levels of crime. They look at the role institutions play in Venezuela to mitigate violence.


  • Research led by the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa will map out the relationship between inequality, poverty, and violent crime in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Cape Town, South Africa by measuring the impact and cost effectiveness of concrete violence prevention interventions. The goal is  to understand the importance of social cohesion and collective action as a strategy to reduce urban violence.
  • A project, led by India's Tata Institute of Social Sciences, South Africa's University of Kwazulu-Natal, and Brazil's Instituto de Pesquisa e Planejamento Urbano e Regional, introduces social justice as a new concept to reduce rates of violence in Mumbai, India, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Durban, South Africa. It explores coping strategies adopted by marginalized groups - women, informal workers, the elderly, migrants, and children - to deal with violence, poverty, and inequality.
  • Brazil's Instituto Promundo undertakes research in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Maputo, Mozambique to understand why twice as many men than women commit and are victims of homicides and other violent crimes. How do gender inequalities contribute to high levels of gang-related crimes?

SOURCE International Development Research Centre

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