French philosopher Henri Lefebvre introduced the concept of "the right to the city" in his 1968 book, Le Droit a la Ville, in which contemporary urbanist Neil Brenner refers to as a "radical demand for a democratization of control over the collective means of producing urbans space." More specifically, "the right to the city" characterizes the antagonistic sociopolitical and neoliberal forces of governance--and by extension urbanization--that have prioritized the city for a group of powerful elites while disenfranchising the "others". Even today, the concept of "the right to the city" remains highly relevant in midst of the humanitarian crises as the United Nations, world leaders, and stakeholders are working to create a new framework for humanitarian action at the World Humanitarian Summit that began yesterday in Istanbul, Turkey.
Even though political conflict and socioeconomic instability have severe consequences on human conditions around the world, it is hard to ignore the disproportionate impact that this has on the lives of children and youth who are most vulnerable and in need of humanitarian assistance. While the fragile nature of children and youth are commonly recognized, their dual role as agents of positive change in humanitarian action and peace-building has yet to be fully understood or harnessed.
All around the world, young people are galvanizing in solidarity to ameliorate the lives of the most marginalized, those affected by disaster, conflict, forced displacement and other humanitarian crises. Looking at the United Nations Volunteer programme, the majority of first responders are under the age of 29. Meanwhile, young people have also shown that they are able to be innovative contributors to humanitarian action. The UN Major Group for Children Youth working with the UN-HABITAT Youth Unit have both actively and meaningfully engaged the voices of youth inflicted by humanitarian crises through their own network of changemakers around the world, from the slums in Nairobi to refugee camps in Jordan. To lead them into the World Humanitarian Summit, young people developed the Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Action to guide their advocacy and activism.
In the host city of the World Humanitarian Summit, the Istanbul Municipal Youth Council has endeavored to meet the needs of young refugees by conducting a face-to-face quantitative study of 378 Syrian refugees and three in-depth consultations to better understanding their living conditions in the Istanbul, discovering, for instance, that under half of refugees area able to speak Turkish. The Council's work has shown that young people have tremendous abilities to respond to humanitarian crises in differentiated ways, as well as the role of cities in responding to humanitarian challenges. It is undeniable that there is a clear urban dimension in crises, particularly the city's role in often serving as an intermediary in the current refugee emergencies. Cities have both the professional knowledge and direct abilities to intervene in humanitarian management.
On the second day of the World Humanitarian Summit, the Mayor of Istanbul, Dr. Kadir Topbaş, will commit to the Youth Councils Network on Humanitarian Action and emphasize the crucial role local youth-led organizations have in humanitarian action. Dr. Topbas' position as the President of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) and the United Nations Advisory Committee of Local Authorities (UNACLA) will powerfully enhance the attention that youth and youth-led organizations will receive from local authorities.
Following the first ever World Humanitarian Summit here in Istanbul, the international community will be preparing for the upcoming UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) that will be hosted in Quito, Ecuador, and which will renew global commitment towards sustainable urbanization via the production of the New Urban Agenda. It is crucial that the role of both youth and local authorities in sustainable urban development, including humanitarian response, be emphasized in the New Urban Agenda. Only an agenda that is inclusive of youth and cities can truly create a framework for future action and empower actors around the world to work towards a more peaceful future where all persons, regardless of their gender or geographical location, can lead a life of peace, prosperity and dignity. For now, those present at the World Humanitarian Summit are pushing for an ambitious framework for humanitarian action as the international community awaits the outcome of this unprecedented gathering.