Resilience and Security in Cities: Lessons from Karachi and Medellín

by | Jan 23, 2016

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About Menaal Safi Munshey

Menaal Safi Munshey is currently based at the United Nations University Centre for Policy Research in Tokyo, where she is collaborating on a United Nations University and World Bank initiative on fragile and resilient cities. She holds an MPhil in criminological research from the University of Cambridge, and is a qualified barrister in England and Wales (Gray’s Inn). She previously read law at the University of Warwick. She is a lawyer and criminal justice policy consultant in Karachi, Pakistan.


Menaal Safi Munshey, ‘Resilience and Security in Cities: Lessons from Karachi and Medellín’ (OxHRH Blog, 23 January 2016) <> [Date of Access]

The recently adopted United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set the new global development agenda for the next 15 years. Significant among these are SDG 11 and SDG 16. SDG 11 purposes to “make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” and SDG 16 seeks to “promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies” with a focus on violence and crime reduction, promoting the rule of law, ensuring access to justice, and strengthening institutions. It is the intersection of SDG 11 and SDG 16 that holds importance, and hope, for vulnerable populations in fragile communities around the world.

An Urban Agenda

Cities are crucial to achieving the SDGs: more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, with this number predicted to increase to over two-thirds by 2050. Mapping out an implementation strategy for SDG 11 and 16 requires cities around the world to be able to identify the areas where these two goals intersect, and create an action plan to build resilience. Two major roadblocks to resilience and security are urban violence and poor governance. It is the intersection of these that dangerously exacerbates fragility in cities in South Asia and Latin America.

City Fragility and Community Resilience

In South Asia, Karachi, Pakistan, is an example of a city that exhibits fragility in the form of violence, and resilience in the form of community-led initiatives. In particular areas, urban violence is the norm and the state has largely abdicated responsibility for services, utilities and security, leaving the city vulnerable to the dominance of mafia-like organisations such as the Amn Committee. With mafia-like organisations in control of governance, there is little hope for a reduction in urban violence. When gangs cross-fire in Karachi’s Lyari town children can’t go to school, and those who are ill can’t go to hospital, despite the fact that these may just be a few minutes walk away. Sustainable development is linked to the reduction of urban violence, which is particularly difficult to address in cities where there is a strong nexus between organised crime and policy makers.

Community-led initiatives have been successful in building resilience to urban violence. Educational initiatives like the Kiran School in Lyari are transforming communities in areas plagued by violence. Similarly, the Legal Aid Office is working towards the reform of the criminal justice system, and has undertaken initiatives such as a free legal aid helpline, a montessori school for children imprisoned with their mothers, and a recreational center for juveniles at Karachi’s young offender’s institution. These initiatives embody values of inclusiveness and aim at building resilience within marginalised groups.

The nexus between organised crime and political actors is a phenomenon well-known to Latin America. In Medellin, Columbia, for example, urban wars play out in Medellin’s Comuna 13 over control of drugs, guns, and money. Despite social investment in the area, violence continues to disrupt and destroy people’s lives, with 1,870 people having been displaced in 2010 due to violence. To counter this at a local level, communities and governments must work together to build resilience in situations of chronic violence.

In Medellin, research by MIT shows that efforts to bring citizens and the police together in human rights table discussions have furthered the process of addressing police abuse and generating positive discourse surrounding human rights. Citizen-led initiatives in collaboration with state infrastructure projects have also led to communities regaining resources and autonomy within the city, which had been lost to organised crime groups and illicit networks. Such efforts are examples of successfully managing urban conflict by strengthening institutions, increasing citizen participation in decision-making processes, and promoting collaborative decision-making.

Building Resilience and Security

To build resilience and security in cities, reforms are needed to break the nexus between organised crime and political actors. This can be done by focusing on aspects such as campaign financing, and effective control of electoral activity. It is also important for city governments, with some help from the international community, to be able to analyse local dynamics, such as by understanding the underlying causes of urban violence, and assessing the capacity of various sectors to institute effective violence reduction interventions. SDG 11 and 16 can only meaningfully be achieved by recognising their co-dependence, and addressing issues of urban violence and poor governance in fragile cities around the world.

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