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  • DRR Voices blog: 27 Jun 2017 Aaron Clark-Ginsberg
    Postdoctoral Researcher at Stanford University
    Stanford University

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Urban migrants and disaster risk: Concern Worldwide’s work with the pavement dwellers of Dhaka

Blog Post  from

Aaron Clark-Ginsberg

Postdoctoral Researcher at Stanford University
Stanford University

Aaron Clark-Ginsberg, PhD, is a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University. Aaron’s research focuses on the governance dimensions of disaster risk reduction and resilience. From 2012 to 2014 he worked as Concern Worldwide’s Disaster Risk Reduction Documentation Officer, where he traveled to 10 countries to review and document Concern's DRR programmes. He is currently examining the policy options for improving critical infrastructure resilience in the United States.

I worked as Concern Worldwide’s disaster risk reduction documentation officer from 2012-2014, and travelled to Bangladesh to review Concern’s programmes, including its pavement dweller interventions in Dhaka.  I recently wrote an article about Concern’s work reducing disaster risks for the pavement dwellers - long-term homeless men, women, and children living in the cities of Bangladesh – as part of a collection of case studies on migration and disaster risk reduction that was launched at the 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Pavement dwellers are some of the poorest and most marginalized people living in Bangladesh. Often fleeing rural poverty brought on by environmental degradation, erosion, flooding, and poor governance and services, they arrive in cities with limited human and material resources, so end up settling on the streets in long-term encampments.  Like homeless elsewhere (Walters & Gaillard, 2014; Wisner, 1998) being on the streets leaves pavement dwellers vulnerable to many risks. Without a roof over their heads and walls for protection they are exposed to numerous hazards, both natural (extreme temperature, rains, flooding) and manmade (physical and sexual violence, kidnapping, forced removal and relocation). For several reasons — including poverty and economic, social, and political marginalization — they also find it difficult to access the basic resources like healthcare, education, and food and water, which are necessary for preventing or mitigating hazards.

Central to this problem is that the pavement dwellers are, for all intents and purposes, structurally invisible to the broader governance structures.  Pavement dwellers cannot secure government birth registration certificates and national identity cards without a permanent address. When lacking these documents, they cannot access basic services such as education and health care, or open a bank account. There is also little information on the number of pavement dwellers in Bangladesh, and few specific services or policies to facilitate this group.

In Dhaka, Concern has been working with the pavement dwellers since 2008 and has established 10 pavement dweller centres (PDCs) in the city. Pavement dwellers can access support in several areas through the PDCs:


Livelihood support

Other services

Health referrals

Savings and loans

Night shelter

Psychosocial counselling

Entrepreneurship/vocational training

Resting and cooking space

Paramedic services 

Life skills training


Bathing facilities

Adult education

Day care


Formal education referrals

Birth registration

The centres provide dedicated services in basic areas of health, livelihoods, and protection to a group of people who would not have assistance otherwise.  This reduces vulnerability and hazard exposure. Concern also works to make the pavement dwellers more visible. With Concern’s support in 2013 the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extreme Poverty and Urban Pavement Dwellers of the Bangladesh Parliament released a report entitled “Parliamentarians can make the difference: Pavement dwellers’ right to survive”, which is designed to help members of parliament understand the challenges pavement dwellers face. Concern also conducts a monthly census of pavement dwellers to give and idea of the scale of homelessness in the city. It has also been given permission to allow pavement dwellers to use PDCs as a permanent address for registering birth certificates and national identity cards.

Figuring out how to reduce the risks for migrants - be they long term homeless migrants in Bangladesh fleeing poverty, pastoralists crossing between Kenya and Ethiopia to rear their flocks, men from Niger or Afghanistan moving seasonally for economic reasons, or Syrians fleeing conflict - is incredibly challenging. Migrants are very vulnerable to disasters, they face heavy exposure to hazards, and they are often invisible within governance structures designed for a settled population living in structures. As Concern’s work demonstrates, targeted support can improve access to services and render the invisible visible.

Efforts are being made to incorporate mobile populations into disaster risk reduction. Policy and advocacy organizations that participated in the recent Sendai Framework discussions in Cancun have called for greater efforts to reduce risks for the mobile, and there are currently research efforts examining how to reduce risks during conflicts, a situation that often has highly mobile populations. Such dedicated efforts for risk reduction appear necessary given the normative orientation toward settled populations found within most service delivery sectors. 

References and further reading

Clark-Ginsberg, A. (2015). Concern’s Approach to Disaster Risk Reduction in Urban Contexts. Concern Worldwide. Available from

Clark-Ginsberg, A., & Hunt, D. (2017) We Are Human Too! Concern Worldwide's Efforts to Reduce Risks for the Homeless Migrants of Dhaka, Bangladesh. In L. Guadagno, M. Fuhrer, & J. Twigg (Eds.), Migrants in Disaster Risk Reduction: Practices for Inclusion. International Organization for Migration and Council of Europe.

Concern Worldwide (2016). Pavement Dwellers: On the Streets Today, Fighting for a Better Tomorrow. Concern Worldwide. Available from

Imran, A. & M. Khan (2015). Helping pavement dwellers out of extreme poverty in Bangladesh. In: Knowledge Matters, No. 13. Lessons from the City: Experiences in Addressing Urban Poverty. Concern Worldwide. Available from

Walters, V., & Gaillard, J. (2014). Disaster risk at the margins: Homelessness, vulnerability and hazards. Habitat International, 44, 211-219.

Wisner, B. (1998). Marginality and vulnerability: Why the homeless of Tokyo don't ‘count’in disaster preparations. Applied Geography, 18(1), 25-33.

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  • Publication date 27 Jun 2017

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