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Urban Poverty Working Group

​Slums vs suburbia in Mumbai, India © The Telegraph​

Urbanization – both an opportunity and a challenge

Urbanization is one of the defining challenges of our time. In terms of numbers, it is estimated that in 2050 the share of people living in urban areas will increase to 68%. Current and future urban growth will mostly take place in secondary cities (>1 Mio.) in Asia and Africa. The increase in the share of the urban population is mainly driven by natural population growth and migration. In fact, cities have become the main destination for migrants (refugees, economic migrants, rural-urban and internally displaced persons (IDPs)). However, accurate and accessible data on the relationship between migration dynamics and urbanization processes is lacking in many low income countries.

Urbanization can yield important economic gains that benefit also rural areas. Cities host businesses, markets, trade and (large scale) production, thereby creating better matches between people, enterprises and products. The economic advantages further consist in the availability of infrastructure and services (eg. hospitals, schools, piped water systems). Moreover, cities are centers of innovation, knowledge and exchange. Studies have highlighted that well-developed towns and mid-sized cities, inter-connected with each other and their rural surroundings, are central to the overall reduction of poverty and inequalities within countries, and also in trans-border regions.

However, urbanization also presents many challenges: By 2050, it is estimated that more poor people will be living in urban than in rural areas.[i] As the growing labor force in cities exceeds the demand of the formal economy, the informal sector grows. Urban governance tends to be week in many countries due to ambiguity and confusion over the roles and mandates of national, provincial and local government actors in delivering services at the municipal level. Municipal governments lack accountability and responsiveness and disadvantaged groups are often unable to articulate their needs in formal urban governance processes. Deficient access to quality services (eg. access to education, health, water and sanitation etc.) that affects poor and marginalized groups disproportionally are a reality. The socio-economic integration of migrants, internally displaced people and refugees is insufficiently in many cities what puts the social fabric under pressure. Violence and armed conflicts are increasingly concentrated in urban areas. The negative environmental impact of urbanization (eg. in terms of CO2 emissions) is a further key challenge. Fast urbanization also increases cities’ vulnerability and risks regarding natural, man-made and climate change induced disasters.


SDC and Urbanization: Learning journey on urban-rural dynamics and core working group

In view of such trends, the SDC’s South Cooperation (SC) initiated a reflection process in 2016 on the future positioning of the SDC in urban contexts. This process resulted in an Issue Paper which was presented to the SDC board of directors in June 2017.

In 2017, a learning journey on urban-rural dynamics started and built on work initiated in 2016. A core working group, which includes members from the South, East and Global Cooperation as well as the Humanitarian Aid, was created. Furthermore, a broader reflection group consisting of a network of external experts on urbanization is associated to the learning journey.

​The core working group reflects on the challenges and opportunities of urbanization. As part of the discussion, the working group also stimulates thinking about the impact of urbanization on development cooperation and SDC’s programs. The core working group holds regular meetings and (co-)organizes thematic events (eg. Brown Bag Lunches) together with colleagues from different SDC departments.

[i] SDC Issue paper “SDC’s future engagement in urban contexts” (2017, p. 2).



Working Papers

Towards sustainable urbanisation: SDC's current urban engagement (for internal use only)


Working Group Members

Sven Stucki, Lou Hélène Curchod, Diepak Elmer, Andrin Fink, Stephanie Guha, Sabina Handschin, Andrea Iff, Ueli Mauderli, Enrichetta Placella, Philippe Puyo, Jacqueline Schmid, Anne Tchoursine Savary, Steven Geiger, Estelle Gagnebin, Lauriane Bolomey


Working Group Sections


More Information

Please contact Sven Stucki​ or another working group member at the SDC.