The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the extent of our vulnerabilities and inequalities, especially in urban perspective. Cities have been at the forefront of the crisis, as indicated by the scenes of enormous suffering, job losses and adversity. At the same time, most of our cities (especially people living in those cities) have also shown their resilience in the eye of adversity. Our ability to come out of the pandemic with least damage will also have an impact on our prospects for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
But we should also not forget that the pandemic has highlighted a host of shortcomings — from inequitable death rates to basic services stretched to breaking point — that have raised fundamental questions about the justice, security and wellbeing of our cities. The current crisis has also demonstrated the decisive, potentially agile role of urban areas in the battle for a just and green recovery. Cities offer unique opportunities to respond, recover and build long term resilience.
Cities’ preparedness and responses to the pandemic largely depend upon multiple factors like support provided by national governments, efficiency of local bodies, as well as the strength of the urban economy, institutional capacity, political will and other locally determined factors. The pandemic has shown how cities track, cope, react and respond to the crisis is also critical for the health and economic wellbeing of their regions, towns and interlinked rural hinterlands surrounding them. The local response also sets the scene for future resilience and sustainable recovery.
The Covid-19 crisis has brought out the significance and necessity of data and information on the prevalence of the disease, the incidence in different groups and locations, the evolution over time and specific human settlements, the severity and vulnerability at home, workplace and the mobility of people. Such information and data are critical to adopt a public health policy that permeates all forms of decision-making about urban areas. Accurate, timely and disaggregated data is more than numbers and it takes the form of a fundamental public good, which is needed to face possible future pandemics and prepare a sustainable recovery.
The experience gained since last one year or so has also taught us that space truly matters in the response, recovery and rebuilding. But rather than density, overcrowding and access to adequate services, including health facilities, have emerged as the predominant drivers of — and critical antidote to containing — the pandemic spread in cities. Experience of other nations brings out the significance of place-based responses in creating economic prosperity, reducing health risks and advancing sustainable development and resilience. Its high time that we learn from others’ experience and allow it to guide us in our efforts to rebuild our cities post pandemic.