Nairobi, 21 January 2022 — Pandemics and plagues are nothing new to humanity. The first recorded pandemic dates from 430 BCE in Athens during the Peloponnesian War. In 1918, the Spanish flu killed up to 50 million people worldwide. Final numbers on COVID-19 are still evolving, with the World Health Organization reporting more than 5.5 million deaths and more than 328 million cases of infection as of mid-January.
As with many previous disasters of this type, the global COVID-19 pandemic has provided both opportunities for assessment and reflection. This time around, much of that thinking has focused on the role of cities and urban environments.
“Seen from an urban perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the extent of global vulnerabilities and inequalities. Cities have been at the forefront of the crisis, as the scenes of enormous suffering, job losses and adversity,” said the UN Secretary. – Said General Antonio Guterres.
“How they emerge will have a huge impact on public health, social cohesion, prosperity and our prospects of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” he added.
UN-Habitat, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, has taken advantage of COVID-19 to not only re-evaluate its own policies, but also provide comprehensive, yet data-based solutions and recommendations to national, regional decision makers. and locals around the world. world on how to transform current realities to better face similar future challenges.
An example of the in-depth review was Cities and pandemics: towards a fairer, greener and healthier future, a report in which a global panel of UN-Habitat experts and external contributors examined some common – and sometimes incorrect – assumptions about COVID-19, and provided recommendations. Some experts have called this study a “COVID vaccine” for cities and human settlements.
Main conclusions and recommendations
While experts agree on the need for faster and more coordinated efforts to build more sustainable cities by implementing green and environmentally friendly urban projects, the suggestion that the pandemic will move people out of big cities and , therefore, will minimize their role has been demystified.
“Narratives around the cause and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic challenge the core components of cities such as density, mixed land use, and global interconnectedness that have led to their success as cities. as drivers of economic prosperity, drivers of social mobility and hotbeds of research, innovation and creativity,” the report says.
But, he adds, “there is little evidence to associate higher density with higher transmission or mortality rates… Now is the time to re-examine how regions, cities, neighborhoods and buildings are planned, designed, built and maintained”.
Whether some people choose to leave cities for less populated suburbs or even rural areas, medical and non-medical experts agree that government officials, lawmakers and others involved need to look differently at how we build, where we build and what materials we use.
Well-funded and integrated solutions will be key to the world’s future ability to emerge from the current pandemic and survive well in all future ones.
Such an approach, the experts said, will need to revolve around measures such as systematically tackling poverty and inequality in cities, building a “new normal” urban economy, clarifying urban legislation and governance arrangements, and the bridging of the digital divide that allows some countries and cities to provide citizens with environmentally friendly solutions and reduce inequalities while leaving others behind.
“Finally, let me stress the importance of greater multi-level coordination between international, national and local governments, especially when investing and implementing recovery programs, so that we can truly build back better, greener and fairer while protecting our communities,” Maimunah said. Mohd Sharif, the executive director of UN-Habitat in the report.