Urban violence in Africa, Asia and Latin America to form focus of $11m study
Safe and Inclusive Cities initiative will compare existing approaches as part of drive to tackle urban conflict. Urban violence in 40 cities in sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia, and Latin America will be investigated as part of an ambitious Canadian-British funded research project. The initiative will seek to understand the complex causes of urban violence and find practical solutions. The $11m (£6.7m) Safe and Inclusive Cities initiative, funded by Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Britain's Department for International Development (DfID), will provide 15 research teams with grants of up to $500,000 each. "Top experts from around the world will analyse the effectiveness of violence prevention strategies and identify successful concrete examples," said John de Boer, a programme leader at IDRC. More than 1.5 billion people live with chronic, dangerous violence, which is becoming a major barrier to development and poverty reduction, according to De Boer. One of the 15 studies will look at Rio de Janeiro's "pacifying police" strategy, where gangs are driven out of favelas and Brazilian police and social services move in. The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa will compare the experience in Rio with a different strategy in Cape Town, South Africa. In Khayelitsha township, improvements have been made to urban environments and public spaces, with the creation of sports fields and the opening of libraries. "The speed and scale of global urbanisation are staggering and the implications for the fight against poverty are immense," said Iain King, a senior governance advisor at DfID. "By 2025, 80% of world's poor are estimated to live in countries beset by conflict." Throughout the world, conflict and violence occur less between states than between gangs and militias, said King, who added that little research has been done on urban violence in African cities outside South Africa. Researchers at Ivory Coast's Université Alassane Ouattara will examine the impact of civil war in shaping trends in urban criminal violence in three Ivorian cities over the past 30 years. In the cities of Kinshasa and Mbuji-Mayi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, researchers will focus on understanding the dynamics of violence among young people, including women and those involved in rebel groups.
There is little evidence that poverty is a major driver of violence, said De Boer. Inequality, insecurity and poor governance and judicial institutions are among the major causes.
"Violence undermines the few assets the poor have," said Caroline Moser, an urban social anthropologist and emeritus professor at the University of Manchester.
Violence happens to be more visible among the poor, but it occurs at all income levels. "Big crimes like extortion, drug dealing, prostitution rings, and so on are not usually crimes perpetrated by the poor," said Moser.
There are many types of violence, including social, political, criminal, economic and domestic; a violent act frequently involves a mix of these, explained Moser. "Violence is complex and does not yield simple, guaranteed solutions, making it difficult to get funding from donors."
According to Moser, the Safe and Inclusive Cities initiative is one of the first to focus entirely on urban violence.
De Boer said violence is not just a problem for the police, urban design or politics, but rather requires integrated approaches. Nor can solutions in one region be expected to work in another.
"Canadian police have spent a lot of time training Haiti's police force, but this might not be that effective given the very different culture and governance situation," he said.
The initiative is designed to generate quality data about what works to reduce violence and what doesn't, so that policymakers can make evidence-based decisions. The final year of the initiative, which ends in 2017, will be devoted to sharing the results among stakeholders.
"Their biggest challenge will be to properly analyse the data and produce simple, policy-relevant messages," said Moser.