Urban and rural poverty differ from one another significantly, and most predictors are based on the signposts of worsening rural poverty. So what distinguishing characteristics in an urban slum signal the shift from chronic poverty to devastating crisis?

This question is at the heart of the Indicator Development for Surveillance of Urban Emergencies (IDSUE), a ground-breaking study that Concern Worldwide is carrying out in five slum communities in Kenya with funding from the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).

The purpose of the research is to create a tool that can be used by the humanitarian community and governments to monitor vulnerable urban areas and respond early when crisis strikes.


The need for a new framework to look at urban poverty became clear to Concern in 2009, after disputed presidential elections sparked widespread unrest in Kenya and an extensive food crisis.

While malnutrition rates in Kenya’s slums hovered around 4 percent and 11,000 children were in need of care, the international community failed to recognize it as an emergency because the current international standard for defining a food crisis is malnutrition rates of 15 percent.

This benchmark is based on the specific realities of rural settings where the population density is significantly lower.

In urban slums, where hundreds of thousands are crammed into a single square mile, four percent malnutrition means tens of thousands of cases in a very small area — an extremely serious and potentially overwhelming situation.

As the world’s poor increasingly migrate to cities, Concern’s research seeks to create an emergency threshold for the urban context, as well as a list of indicators for humanitarian organizations and governments to monitor so that crises are detected early. Ultimately, the information will allow organizations to respond more quickly and effectively.


View a Kenya News segment on IDSUE: