Coronavirus - Urban Areas Face the Brunt of the Pandemic

During the first month of the virus spreading across the globe, one of the regions that governments and health experts were concerned about was South Asia. The region is home to large slums in places such as India and refugee camps in Bangladesh. Over a million Rohingya refugees are now cramped in hilly terrains of Ukhiya in southeastern regions of Cox’s Bazar along Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar. Credit: ASM Suza Uddin/IPS
During the first month of the virus spreading across the globe, one of the regions that governments and health experts were concerned about was South Asia. The region is home to large slums in places such as India and refugee camps in Bangladesh. Over a million Rohingya refugees are now cramped in hilly terrains of Ukhiya in southeastern regions of Cox’s Bazar along Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar. Credit: ASM Suza Uddin/IPS
  • by Samira Sadeque (united nations)
  • Inter Press Service

According to a United Nations Policy Brief on the impact of COVID-19 on the urban world, urban areas are the "epicentre" of the coronavirus pandemic, hosting an estimated 90 percent of total cases.

With factors such as tourism, housing, healthcare, lack of access to clean water and prevalence of crime that are negatively affected by the pandemic, urban areas might find it more challenging to address the crisis, the brief stated.

This can have a ripple effect on other issues such as safety of women, making them more vulnerable to violence and abuse.

This is because women are more likely to be employed in the informal sector with less access to social protection, Mariastefania Senese, a programme management officer at the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, told IPS.

"Across the globe, they are generally earning less, saving less, and also holding less secure jobs," she said. "They have less capacity than men to absorb economic shocks."

At the Tuesday launch of the brief, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterrescalled for comprehensive measures to address the challenges faced by urban sectors around the world as they fight the coronavirus pandemic. He called for supporting local government, using green measures towards an economic recovery and for leaders to prioritise marginalised communities.

"We need to ensure that all phases of the pandemic response tackle inequalities and long-term development deficits and safeguard social cohesion," he said.

The coronavirus pandemic has only widened the gap in inequalities across the world, including those in education, women's health and the digital divide

Urban areas are no exception.

As the brief explains, cities are already a hotbed for "deep-rooted inequalities", with a person's access to services dependent largely on where they live and work. This can affect other factors such as their access to clean water, as well as how much space they have to maintain social distancing.

During the first month of the coronavirus spreading across the globe, one of the regions that governments and health experts were concerned about was South Asia. The region is home to large slums in places such as India and refugee camps in Bangladesh. This concern came with good reason, as substantiated by the findings in the brief. 

Almost a quarter of the world's population, one billion people, have been pushed to live in slums or informal settlements owing to the global housing crisis. According to the brief, this is further exacerbated because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"With limited or no income during lockdowns, the urban poor in all countries face risk of eviction, while overcrowding in low-quality housing increases the risk of rapid transmission," the brief states.

It also claims that cities that are economically dependent on tourism could suffer gravely given a projected 80 percent drop in income generated from international tourism in 2020.

But some cities have different concerns. For example, Puerto Rican residents recently demanded that their airport be shut down to prevent international travellers who continue to flock the island, often without maintaining any social distancing regulations.

"There is a need for local governments to reinforce their collaboration with the civil society, and the private sector to rethink and build a more sustainable and resilient tourism," Senese told IPS.

Despite these concerns, the Secretary-General sounded hopeful for ways in which different countries and leaders can come together to fight this.

"Cities are also home to extraordinary solidarity and resilience,strangers helping each other, streets cheering in support of essential workers, local businesses donating life-saving supplies. We have seen the best of the human spirit on display," Guterres said.

His remarks echoed the positive changes noted in the brief, such as an "accelerated accelerated digitalisation in service delivery, including telemedicine, shifts to remote work, and the application of technology to various aspects of crisis prevention and management.

"As we respond to the pandemic and work towards recovery, we look to our cities as hubs of community, human innovation and ingenuity," Guterres added.

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service