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Urban programming

Medellin, Colombia (Credit: Alan Brouder/Oxfam)

At a glance

Oxfam works to improve the lives of the urban poor in 47 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.


Poverty is urbanising rapidly. Currently, 54% of the world's population live in urban areas and this is expected to rise to 66% by 2050. This means an additional 2.5 billion people added to the urban population, with nearly 90% of that increase in Asia and Africa and over two billion of them living in slums. Estimates vary widely about the percentage of today's poor living in urban areas, however, no-one disputes the trajectory - within a generation, poverty will be a predominantly urban phenomenon, and may be more acutely felt in secondary towns and cities, rather than in the megacities that receive the lion's share of attention.

To be poor in a city is to experience a particular kind of vulnerability. One where: livelihood options are scarce and insecure; social protection and health insurance are rarely available; communities may be transient and lack cohesion; housing is sub-standard and usually in informal settlements where tenure is insecure; basic amenities and services are often non-existent, contributing to an environment that breeds ill-health, physical insecurity, and tension. 

However, well-functioning cities can hold solutions to the problems of poverty - lifting millions out of poverty, as in China and India. Cities can provide opportunities for: education and employment; health care and welfare; satisfying cultural and creative needs; transforming the lives of the rural poor; and for providing sanctuary to refugees and internally displaced people. To be successful and sustainable, however, the urban poor need to be involved in local governance, articulating their needs and aspirations, and ensuring that those in power have the right incentives to make sensible, fair, and pro-poor decisions.

Where we work

We currently work in urban areas in 47 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. In some countries, such as Liberia and Sierra Leone, we are responding to emergencies by providing essential services such as water and sanitation. In others, such as Lebanon and Jordan, we are working with local and national governments to address the challenges of urban displacement. 

In countries that have been affected by natural disasters, such as the Philippines, we are contributing towards reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts. In non-emergency situations, we are addressing long-term development challenges related to habitat and livelihoods. Habitat covers a range of issues, including housing, land tenure, essential services, disaster risk reduction, ending violence against women, public spaces, and infrastructure planning, while our livelihoods work focuses on social protection as well as the informal economy, where the majority of the urban poor make a living as street traders, domestic workers, waste pickers, and other precarious and low-paid jobs.

Profiles are currently being developed for each of the countries listed below. Please check back soon for detailed information on our work in these countries.

Africa: Chad; The Democratic Republic of Congo; Kenya; Liberia; Niger; Tanzania; Sierra Leone; South Africa; Zambia; Zimbabwe

Asia: Bangladesh; Indonesia; Nepal; Pakistan; Philippines

Latin America: Bolivia; Brazil; Colombia; Guatemala; Haiti

Middle East: Jordan; Lebanon; Tajikistan


Oxfam's theory of change for urban programming, as outlined in our Global Urban Framework (GUF), places a special emphasis on supporting active citizenship and improved, participatory governance, regardless of the thematic focus of the work. We believe that achieving change at scale is only possible when our programmes are built on sound analyses of power, gender, conflict, and political economy, and where the urban poor are supported to participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives. Oxfam cannot do this alone, of course, and so we aim to build partnerships with local and national authorities, national civil society organisations, the private sector, and other relevant local, national, and international organisations.

Extending livelihood opportunities and social protection to empower poor urban informal workers in Asia

Oxfam Great Britain, the Rockefeller Foundation and the WIEGO network joined hands to undertake a review of the available statistical data, research findings and practical experience on the urban informal economy and workers in Asia. The multi-country study focuses on the challenges and opportunities available to four different types of informal workers including home-based workers, domestic workers, street vendors, and waste pickers. What the working poor in the urban informal economy need most urgently is recognition and inclusion as productive economic agents: inclusion in city planning, the allocation of urban land, basic infrastructure and transport services, and local economic development. Otherwise their livelihoods will remain threatened by the juggernaut of urban renewal. It is expected that the study will serve not only as a baseline for our urban work across Asia but it will help us guide our policy influencing around the urban informal workforce in several Asian countries, including Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Thailand.

Download: Extending livelihood opportunities and social protection to empower poor urban informal workers in Asia

Key resources

A list of additional guidance, tools, case studies, and other programming resources are currently being compiled. These will be continually reviewed and updated, so please check back often. if you would like to recommend a useful resource, or to request guidance on something that is not listed here, please contact Hashim Zaidi.

Sustainable economic development

Following on from the regional agenda of the ASEAN Economic Community 2015, a regional meeting held in Hanoi looks a the tools, approaches and engagement required for sustainable local economic development.

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