By Cristina Churruca Muguruza and Pablo Cortés Ferrández
Concerns about urbanization and the multiple risks faced by urban populations in particular in informal settings are not new. However, it is only recently that the international humanitarian community has started to pay attention to engagement in urban areas. Specifically, humanitarian actors work with the most vulnerable population in urban areas, who live in slum households, places characterized by poverty, large agglomerations of housing often located in the most hazardous urban land with no security of tenure and usually lacking or cut off from, basic services and city infrastructure. In addition the housing may not comply with current planning and building regulations, and is often situated in geographically and environmentally hazardous areas. Besides, due to the lack of presence of the authorities particular slum areas might suffer different levels of violence and be under the violent control of non-state armed actors.
The complex and interlinked vulnerabilities of urban dwellers cannot be adequately captured through ‘traditional’ humanitarian categories of vulnerability, such as the displaced, the elderly, the sick, women, and so on. In densely populated urban areas it is difficult to neatly divide the levels and types of vulnerability between host and displaced communities, since they are all facing similar challenges. In this context this paper has two parts , the first part explores the limits of humanitarian action in this contexts, what does a human security approach to protection mean in informal urban settings and proposes building resilience of communities as an alternative protection strategy. From this starting point the second part looks at the meaning of human security in the case of Altos de la Florida a neighbourhood of the informal settlement of Soacha in Bogota, the vulnerabilities and capacities of the people living there and discusses the contours of a community strategy for building resilience.