Making Displacement Safer Cookbook


While some people are able to return home a few days after an evacuation, others may not be able to return for months, years or ever, as their homes have been destroyed or remain unsafe. 

Many displaced people end up in informal settlements in urban areas. This exposes them to other risks, particularly  if they settle in hazard-prone, deprived areas of the cities and their peripheries. Displaced people can face many challenges. They may be unaware of risks in their new location; unable to access basic services if they are not formally recognised; lack strong social networks; be excluded from decision making; confronted with discrimination; face language and cultural barriers; and may be unable to access economic opportunities in their new locale. These displacement-related challenges increase their risk of becoming displaced a second or multiple times.

As disaster risk continues to increase, displacement is also expected to increase, primarily in urban areas. This cookbook identifies ‘ingredients’ and ‘recipes’ that have been successful in promoting safer displacement in urban settings, building resilience and avoiding displacement.

“They still have no hope of returning home. The difficulties they face include lack of healthcare, children no longer able to study, existence of sexual violence, a lack of drinking water and more. Then, the climate change we are facing today is causing enormous damage within the community. The challenge is that all these people, whether victims of war, floods or landslides – or all – do not have appropriate government support.”

David, Dynamique Des Jeunes Pour La Paix Et Le Développement Intégral (DJPDI), Democratic Republic of Congo

How we made this cookbook

The Global Network of Civil Society Organisations for Disaster Reduction (GNDR) is the largest network of civil society organisations working together to strengthen the resilience of communities most at risk of disasters. GNDR comprises over 1,700 members in 130 countries, many of which have shared their knowledge and good practice in the ‘cookbook’ guide series [2]. The series contains success factors – set out as ‘ingredients’ and case studies – set out as ‘recipes’ on effective disaster risk reduction (DRR). 

This cookbook shares good practices and lessons learned by GNDR members throughout the three-year Making Displacement Safer (MDS) project funded by the United States Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (USAID-BHA). The cookbook references the work of 11 members who implemented activities within the project [3].

MDS built on locally led DRR solutions for displaced populations in urban areas. The aim of MDS is to contribute to the substantial reduction of disaster risk losses in lives, livelihoods and assets for displaced populations in urban areas, thus contributing to Sendai Framework targets. MDS aimed to achieve three main outcomes: 

  • An increased understanding of the unique disaster risk challenges for displaced populations in urban areas
  • An increased number of innovative approaches for reducing the vulnerability of displaced populations in urban areas
  • The approaches and stakeholder roles for reducing vulnerabilities of displaced populations in urban areas are institutionalised in national and international systems

Shared learning within the network

In addition to the 11 organisations that worked to implement MDS, GNDR surveyed its members about their initiatives to reduce disaster risk for displaced populations in urban areas. Drawing from these experiences, a number of key ingredients were identified and discussed at regional workshops in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, in July and August 2023, in which a total of 28 members participated [4]. GNDR members were then invited to reflect further on factors that contribute to risk reduction among displaced populations. Members recommended specific ingredients and approaches to be added to the draft. They also contributed their knowledge and experience of supporting displaced people, which has been integrated into the approaches, ingredients, terminology and case studies of this cookbook.

Through the survey and during the workshops, GNDR members highlighted challenges faced by displaced populations and their civil society organisations’ work to address these challenges and enhance community resilience. Specific challenges include access to housing and basic provisions and services (e.g. food, water, healthcare, education), lack of infrastructure, exposure to natural hazards and poverty. 

The eight recipes in this cookbook provide examples of how GNDR members are addressing displacement risk in urban areas and highlight the important role of CSOs in working with displaced communities to develop and implement interventions, as well as to advocate to local and national governments.

Aims and scope of the cookbook

The purpose of the cookbook is to strengthen the capacities of civil society organisations to address the challenges of disaster risk in urban displacement contexts. 

Most of the recipes in this cookbook are examples of displacement triggered by disaster, mostly weather and climate related disasters. The cookbook also includes experiences of communities displaced by conflict and by socioeconomic need, alongside the threat of disaster risk. Whilst other resources highlight different causes and terminology for different types of human mobility, in this cookbook, based on their specific context, they are considered displaced. 

Most of the communities described in the recipes settled in urban areas, such as cities or in city peripheries. The cookbook includes stories of displaced communities in more rural environments when the approaches used by GNDR members to address their needs were applicable in multiple contexts.

Making displacement safer in urban areas requires many skills and capacities that community-based organisations already have in building resilience and in advocating for communities facing disaster risks. This cookbook aims to encourage GNDR members and other actors working with displaced populations to use their capacities to help their communities avoid displacement, and effectively support those already displaced. To do this, the cookbook promotes a localised and risk-informed approach, and encourages community participation to understand displaced people’s concerns and work with other stakeholders to respond accordingly. It is hoped that the cookbook can also be a tool for members to influence national policies and practice on displacement by advocating for the replication of the ingredients presented.

Overview of disaster displacement in urban settings

When people are displaced from their homes, they may settle in official camps but most stay with host families, in rented accommodation or settle informally on available land. Although the percentage of displaced people who settle in urban areas is unknown, consensus holds that in an increasingly urbanised world, most displaced people settle in urban centres [5].

When there is limited access to relocation sites or other formal services, displaced people may be compelled to seek refuge in underserved, marginal or informal settlements in high-risk areas, such as hillsides and watersheds, where ecosystems may have been degraded, or will be degraded, by the settlement, reducing the ecosystems’ capacity to act as a natural buffer [6]. As informal settlements often do not benefit from the urban authorities’ water and sanitation services, waterways may become polluted, increasing health risks. As newcomers, displaced people are likely to be unaware of the hazards to which they are exposed in their new environment and may be excluded from DRR and other information sharing processes, which increases their disaster risk and the likelihood of being displaced again.

A displaced individual or family may face a range of challenges when settling in an urban area, including isolation, exclusion, discrimination or violence as a result of cultural differences and clashes with the host community, particularly in fragile states. Additionally, displaced populations may not have the documentation required to access land, services such as education, healthcare, and financial provisions such as welfare support. They may also face mental health challenges, gender-based violence, forced marriage and inter-community conflict, among other challenges. 

These challenges often remain unresolved for several years as disaster-response mandates frequently end when the emergency phase is declared over, humanitarian assistance is discontinued and before displaced people have found a durable solution to their displacement.

Survey results and the outcomes of the MDS project corroborated these findings, and were captured in the GNDR Forced Displacement Global Report as follows: 

  • The majority of those displaced and living in urban areas continue to be affected by multiple disasters
  • Displaced persons are rarely consulted to design policies, plans and activities to reduce disaster risk 
  • Displaced persons are not given access to financial resources to reduce disaster risk 
  • Displaced persons rarely have access to timely information to help reduce risks 
  • Displaced people are often excluded from decision making


  1. In 2022, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) reported that 32.6 million new internal displacements worldwide were triggered by disasters in addition to 28.3 displacements resulting from conflict. As of 31 December 2022, IDMC’s Global Report on Internal Displacement 2023 found that the number of people living in internal displacement (including new and continued displacement) has reached a record high at 71.1 million. 
  2. Learn more about becoming a GNDR member
  3. The Making Displacement Safer project was implemented by GNDR partners in 11 countries: Bangladesh, El Salvador, Honduras, Indonesia, Iraq, Nepal, Niger, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan and Sri Lanka
  4. See list of workshop participants in the Acknowledgements section of the downloadable PDF version of the Making Displacement Safer Cookbook
  5. For more information, see Internal Displacement in an Increasingly Urbanized World, a submission made to the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement by JIPS, UN Habitat and IIED
  6. See UNDRR Displacement Addendum to the Disaster Resilience Scorecard for Cities

Project funded by

United States Agency for International Development

Our Making Displacement Safer project is made possible by the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) – Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance. Content related to this project on our website was made possible by the support of the USAID. All content is the sole responsibility of GNDR and does not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID.

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