UN Habitat has published its response to the serious problems posed by the pandemic in Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America and the Arabic countries.
Over 95% of Covid 19 cases are in urban areas. There are 1 billion people living in informal settlements, and 2.4 billion people lack adequate access to safe water and sanitation. The magnitiude of these figures show the scale of the emergency in poorer parts of the world. There can be no doubt that the eventual outcomes of the pandemic will be determined by the way we have urbanised for the last half century, and by how the cities can respond to the current health emergency and its economic impact. A report by UN-Habitat tells of the situation.
More than 60% of the urban population in Sub-Saharan Africa live in informal settlements. The report outlines UN-Habitat’s immediate response, which includes “direct programming in informal settlements to improve access to food and basic services.” In Addis Ababa, for example, they are helping to supply water to waste pickers, and doing rapid mapping of community assets, hotspots and identifying spaces near to informal settlements that can be used to isolate those infected by the virus. Improvement to infrastructureand services in informal areas are seen as key parts of an economic recovery strategy.
The Arab States
In these countries there are 81 million people living in informal settlements, but anotherbig concern is the conditions in for internally displaced persons and in refugee settlements. The pandemic has pushed another 8.3 million people into poverty. Inevitably, water and sanitation figure prominently in the response, but in Tunisia a mobile app is being developed to help vulnerable communities to access essential services.
Here one in three urban citizens livein slums or in slum-like conditions. A billion do not have access to adequate water, sanitation, hygiene or health facilities. An area-based approach is seen as an important way to deliver the response. In Myanmar, for example UN-Habitat is installing public hand washing stations in key locations.
One issue highlighted here is the scale of the informal economy and the numbers dependent on it – over half of the total workforce. Thus mitigating the economic impact on the urban poor is a major concern. Bringing investment into poor areas will be critical for recovery.
Major Action Areas
Overall UN-Habitat sets out three major action areas. The first is to provide support to “local governments and community driven solutions in informal settlements”. Second is to provide data, evidence and mapping to inform decision-making. Finally, there are a range of measures to mitigate the economic impacts.