TUE 26 - 10 - 2021
Date: Jun 16, 2020
Source: The Daily Star
Cities’ resilience amid COVID-19
Hiba Huneini
Cities are on the front lines of COVID-19 have been drastically affected by the virus as lockdown measures introduced new norms and behaviors in our daily lives. Those measures made cities cleaner and calmer as traffic and pollution considerably declined. Some cities redesigned their public spaces and streets to become pedestrian during and after COVID-19.

On the other hand, some cities are burdened with interconnected challenges as most people living in them don’t have the minimum required standards for social distancing and self-isolation due to housing conditions, as well as the proper infrastructure and basic services. Large numbers of people don’t have access to clean water, sanitation and health care. In addition, unemployment and poverty rates are massively increasing, which is pushing the cities on the edge of socio-economic problems and fragmentation of social cohesion.

Amid the uncertainties of the nature of the pandemic and the inability of governments to respond to the crisis and hinder its repercussions, the localization of responses is ideal to confront the challenges in each area and raise awareness and follow-up with suspected or infected people.

Municipalities and local authorities are playing a crucial role in managing the emergency process in tandem with the local communities, governments and international organizations. Such a global crisis can be transformed into an opportunity to transform how we live, build and manage our cities. It’s the right time to identify urban inequalities and gaps in our urban systems that were exposed during the COVID-19 crisis to set local strategies and policies for more resilient and inclusive cities.

More structured and strategic partnerships are needed with local stakeholders in order to have proper channels of communication, and inclusive policies. In addition, municipalities should have more extensive and comprehensive data to make rapid and effective decisions.

The national governance systems should also be more flexible in sharing relevant data between the central government and local authorities, as well as enhance the mechanism of coordination among municipalities to share data and experiences. Nowadays, the notion of urban development and resilience of cities is evolving, and we are expecting a transformational shift on how to think and plan for the resilient cities in the future.

As for Lebanon, with an urbanization rate exceeding 88.59 percent, cities are burdened with the challenges of urban slums, socio-economic problems, lack of adequate basic infrastructure, and the list can go on with a lot of pressing issues. Such problems are exacerbated with the pandemic. Despite all challenges, several cities in Lebanon were a model in crisis management amid the limited resources and confining governance system.

Lebanon started taking pro-active measures in late January 2020 and set a strategy to respond to the implications of COVID-19 based on the general framework of the national response plan during disasters and crises that was prepared by the Disaster Risk Management Project at the Presidency of Council of Ministers in 2012.

Governorates and municipalities set action plans in response to the crisis and prevent the spread of the virus. Most municipalities set up hotlines, mapping local needs, tracking the people who were in contact with infected patients, following up with people who breached the official decisions and circulars, as well as ensuring coordination at the local level.

Sidon, for example, has presented itself as a model in crisis management as it was able to invest in all the coordination frameworks and capabilities to confront the crisis.

Since the beginning of the crisis, Sidon Municipality in partnership with Red Cross and Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development conducted a series of awareness sessions to all stakeholders in the city. The municipality also coordinates with the southern governorate on contact tracing, with law enforcement efforts to implement the lockdown measures. In addition, the municipality contributed a fund of LL3 trillion to support affected poor families. A special unit of the Sidon Municipality was created in partnership with a group of active CSOs to conduct the collection and validation of data, as well as follow up on the requests and concerns of all people.

The role of municipalities nowadays raises the issue of the governance system. The COVID-19 experience has raised the priority and importance of municipalities and their flexibility in financial and human resources systems.

A national system should be set to have clear channels of delegation of tasks and sharing of information. The municipalities’ role should shift from providing basic services to producing data and managing the development of the cities. Hence, we will be able to reach more resilient cities that will be confronting future urban inequalities and crises.

Hiba Huneini is manager of the Youth and Civic Engagement Program at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development.

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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