This article is co-authored with Amit Prothi, Managing Director, Asia Pacific, Global Resilient Cities Network.
Satyendra Pal Shakya, a college student, conducts open-air classes for underprivileged students who ... [+] lack electronic devices to attend to their schools' online classes on July 20, 2020.Amarjeet Kumar Singh/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
While the devastating effect of Covid-19 still plays out here in India and elsewhere, it’s not a stretch to say that it has fundamentally altered the way we now begin to think about urban systems and resilience. Cities have been hit the worst by Covid-19. As per the federal Ministry of Health, in India, eight states have contributed to almost 80% of active cases and cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad and Pune have borne the brunt of the pandemic.
The fact that world over, more than half the population live in cities has only accentuated the problem of dealing with the Covid-19 challenge.
The scale of this pandemic was unforeseen, and when coupled with risks from natural disasters such as the two cyclones that recently hit India, it underscores the need for cities to be better prepared. Add to this the exigencies of three converging trends–climate change, urbanization, and globalization–and the pressure that these exert on our current city systems stares us in the face.
GRCN and The Rockefeller Foundation’s role in supporting Urban Resilience
Adversity has been and will continue to be a fact of life. The question is, what will it take to recover? To find a lasting response to this searching question, for the past decade, The Rockefeller Foundation has been supporting urban resilience in India and around the world. The Global Resilient Cities Network (GRCN), seeded with funding from the Foundation, has worked closely with Indian cities including Surat, Pune and Chennai to steer urban resilience policy and action in developmental paradigms.
GRCN has been working closely with the federal Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs since 2018 and university networks across India to transplant learnings about resilience from global cities that are effectively addressing risks as part of their development plans.
Learnings from Covid-19
Today, the pandemic has presented us with an opportunity to re-evaluate inherent stresses and gaps in urban systems, which have aggravated the impact of Covid-19. Looking at India and globally, three lessons are highlighted here that can help cities as they move towards long-term resilient recovery.
The first is to strengthen the role of technology in urban planning and governance, and increase access to digital resources. During the current crisis, spatial tools for mapping and analyzing dynamic changes in Covid-19 cases have been an important instrument for governments to identify high risk areas and act accordingly. This has been leveraged with great success in the Indian city of Pune, where these were used to track, test and isolate people, leading to improved management during the crises. Globally, too, Buenos Aires provides an apt example of how technology was smartly leveraged in the education space, in the backdrop of Covid-19. Both the training of teachers and digital access to school children ensured a seamless transition to an online mode of education and minimum disruption due to the pandemic.
The second is to improve collaboration and coordination between government and non-governmental actors. The spirit of volunteerism and collaboration came to the fore during the pandemic here in India. But this needs direction and cohesion. Across cities, the number of volunteers who took initiative to provide support where governments could not, is the vanguard support that needs to be aggregated and managed so that when crisis comes, there is better coordination between government, non-governmental actors and volunteers to rise together to its challenges. London demonstrated this successfully through the London Resilience Partnership—an established network of over 200 partners including government, businesses, healthcare providers, utilities and volunteers who are coordinating on the emergency response to Covid-19.
The third step towards better resilience is strengthening existing urban systems. The pandemic has not just woefully exposed the inadequacy of our existing capacities but also our lack of readiness to deal with a situation of the kind that confronts the world today. This is a serious gap in planning and needs to be bridged. Over the last five years, GRCN has worked with cities to recognize systemic stresses in urban systems, and to develop initiatives that address these challenges. Quito in Ecuador, for example, recognized the need for food security and has been working to address the gaps for the past several years. During the pandemic, urban farms and food banks have helped to feed more than 100,000 vulnerable people across the city.
This pandemic should be a watershed moment in the way we deal with natural and man-made catastrophes in the future. And there are lessons to be learnt from all around us. It’s about time that we all come together to learn from success stories and play our parts in planning the next era of resilient cities around the world.