Interview with Clare Short, former UK Secretary for International Development and outgoing Chair of the Cities Alliance Management Board.

Climate change, the impacts of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and other major protracted conflicts, are fuelling inequalities and triggering unprecedented migration and displacement across the world. Cities are the place where all these challenges converge. Already strained by rapid urbanization, cities in low-income countries are particularly affected. Clare Short shares her views on how Cities Alliance can play a decisive role to address some of the most pressing urban issues, particularly in secondary cities. 

Cities Alliance is a key actor in the international urban development field. How is the new Strategic Plan adapting to respond to the needs in the places where the organization works?

The Strategic Plan 2022-2025 builds on the Cities Alliance's experience of working to improve the lives of the urban poor over the past two decades. Many development projects deliver benefits to recipients but do not empower them to act for themselves or help the agencies with responsibility for the provision of services to operate more effectively. Cities Alliance's current strategic plan is focused on the needs of the one billion people living in informal settlements and slums whose rights as citizens tend to be ignored with few services like energy, water and sanitation being provided by local or national governments. We focus on helping the communities to organise and meet with local and national governments to demand services and on helping governments to improve their effectiveness and mobilise funding for housing and other essential needs.


The needs of a billion people are so great that no development agency can meet them but our focus
on empowering local people and the effectiveness of their government agencies can help spread
good practices widely.


Traditional development funding is decreasing and overstretched among growing needs. Development actors are more aggressively pursuing support from the private sector, philanthropy, and non-western donors. How can Cities Alliance secure sustainable funding for its operations?

Development funds cannot possibly provide for the massive needs of a billion slum dwellers. But their own spending on water, rent and electricity can be mobilised to pay for far better services than they receive currently. Capturing the increased value of land that comes with urbanisation is a very important priority and can help provide funding for development. Cities Alliance's new strategic plan puts increased emphasis on mobilising partnerships between public and private sources to generate the funds needed for investment in basic services. The provision of better facilities and economic policies enables slum dwellers to earn more and thus improve their own lives and that of the economy of the country.

The pandemic has made the need for localization in development even more urgent. How is Cities Alliance’s new strategy factoring this in and planning to deliver its projects in the coming years?

Cities Alliance works through two windows. One delivers exemplary projects in low-income countries focused on secondary cities where most of the urban poor live. We deliver by leveraging the expertise and resources mobilised by our members. Our perspective is long-term and sustainable and includes a focus on preventing destruction from climate change but during the pandemic, we have also delivered immediate support for hand washing stations and toilet blocks and other immediate needs in slums. In addition, we work globally to develop commitments, knowledge, and effort to generate more overall focus on the needs of the urban poor throughout the international system.

The number of international migrants, nearly 300M at the moment, is expected to grow exponentially in the years to come, with most migrants moving to cities. What role can Cities Alliance play in addressing the needs of people on the move and the impact on host communities?

OECD countries are spending considerable sums on preventing refugees and other migrants from settling in their countries. At the same time, the poorest countries are taking in large numbers of displaced people. The lesson of experience is that we must work to improve the living conditions of the local people as well as provide for the migrants and wherever possible enable the migrants to work and support themselves to prevent conflict. I am afraid that climate change will lead to more displacement, so it is crucial that we support countries receiving refugees so that there is no growth of ethnic hatred and conflict.

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