The COVID-19 outbreak poses a severe threat to global health and the provision of city services, especially affecting persons with disabilities and older persons. Luis Artieda on challenges and ideas how to tackle them.
COVID-19 especially threatens persons with disabilities and older persons – 25 per cent of the world’s population, 80 per cent of whom live in low and middle-income countries (LMIC). Depending on underlying health conditions, they are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Challenges include:
- COVID-19 exacerbates existing health conditions, particularly respiratory function, immune system function, heart disease, or diabetes;
- Barriers to accessing health and rehabilitation care services
- Difficulty in enacting physical distancing and isolation when living in residential institutions, refugee camps, or informal settlements and/or requiring additional support from care givers for essential needs.
- Barriers to implementing necessary hygiene measures, such as hand-washing dues to lack accessibility or limited mobility
- Barriers to accessing public health information (the need to touch things to obtain information) and difficulty communicating for physical support.
During Covid-19, persons with disabilities and older persons should have the right to the highest attainable standard of health. without discrimination and an inherent right to life on an equal basis. However, “the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the gaps in public policies, legislation, and services concerning the need of being truly inclusive, negatively affecting the human rights and sustainable development of millions of persons in the world.”
COVID-19’s Impact on Inclusive and Accessible Cities
More than 7 million confirmed cases, more than 400 thousand deaths, and forecasted losses in city revenues ranging between 15 and 25 per cent due to declines in economic activity. More than 1.6 billion workers and countless more working in informal sectors have had their livelihoods threatened by lockdowns, and more than two-thirds of children have had their schooling affected. The latest estimates show that around 50 million people will fall into extreme poverty, and over 100 million will be new poor people in 2020.
These are sobering statistics and reflect the magnitude of the issues the world currently faces. Local Governments need to enact evidence-based policies to tackle the immense challenges brought about.
The objective of these policies must include:
- Identifying emerging issues and documenting the lived experiences of persons with disabilities and older persons
- Ensuring the sharing of best practices
- Creating a Network of Networks (NoN) and greater coordination among cities and stakeholders
- Overcoming the “data desert” (see below)
- Overcoming a lack of actionable responses
Inclusive practices by New York and São Paulo exemplify how local mitigation of the pandemic’s effects can be implemented.
In New York, the City Mayor’s Office of Persons with Disabilities (NYC MOPD) has created an accessible virtual meeting guide to educate public and private partners to be equitable when hosting public meetings. The city also has a grievance protocol if a public entity has failed to provide reasonable accommodations for public meetings.
São Paulo launched a Municipal Observatory for Persons with Disabilities. The Secretariat of PwD will release statistical and analytical data on persons with disabilities, including data related to Covid-19.
Cities4All Equity and Access in Times of Pandemic
In response to urgent action needed, from March through May of 2020, World Enabled (WE)’s “Cities4All Equity and Access in times of Pandemic Webinar Series” mobilised and engaged 40 speakers and 2000 city leaders, organisations, and experts from more than 60 countries through the Cities for All multi-stakeholder platform. The webinar series allowed to identify emerging issues and to activate six Regional WhatsApp Learning groups, in which 600 stakeholders were actively involved in sharing and exchanging more than 5000 resources, for example case studies, best practices, data, journal articles, an others.
Along with the series, the Cities4All Covid-19 “Inclusive and Accessible Cities” Survey was launched in collaboration with the World Bank to overcome the “data desert” by generating globally comparative data on the pandemic’s impact on persons with disabilities and older persons at the local level. 60 per cent of respondents pointed out a lack of trust in their city government’s ability to respond to the needs of persons with disabilities and older persons during the pandemic effectively. 70 per cent agree persons with disabilities and older persons face discrimination in local pandemic responses, and 60 per cent say their city does not ensure that public facilities and services are accessible to persons with disabilities during the pandemic.
Furthermore, on July 15th 2020, during an official HLPF side event co-hosted with Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Disability & Accessibility and UNDESA, World Enabled published the document “Empowering Local Governments on Inclusive Pandemic Response”, a series of recommendations inspired by the Principles of the Global Compact on Inclusive and Accessible Cities. It showcases commitments and proposed actions to promote inclusive pandemic preparedness and resiliency recovery at the local level, including lessons learned and gathered through the Cities4All webinar series, the WhatsApp Regional Learning Groups.
A Way Forward for Inclusive Pandemic Response
People with disabilities and older persons hold a privileged vantage point in understanding and dealing with crises. They are an extraordinary asset in the current pandemic, and their insights should drive policy actions.
It is essential to recognise that pandemics are not as exceptional an event as one might think. For example, the WHO has documented more than 12,000 diseases involving tens of millions of people between 1980 and 2013. The WHO announced that epidemics in the 21st century would spread faster and further than they have in the past due to environmental, biological, and lifestyle changes. This situation increases the urgent need to build sustainable, inclusive, accessible, and participatory responses to current and future pandemics to increase the resilience and preparedness of cities and nations.
We extend an open invitation to join The Cities For All Global Campaign and Compact to ensure cities #buildbackbetter. This multi-stakeholder platform includes UN-Habitat, United Cities Local Governments (UCLG), The UN Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility, civil society organisations, individuals, and city governments including Berlin, Chicago, New York, Amman, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Curitiba, Puebla, Helsinki, Abu Dhabi, and Barcelona. In the coming months, we look to scale up our Covid-19 Pilot Survey, and Covid-19 Recommendations for “Empowering Local Governments on Inclusive Pandemic Response” to inform good practices on inclusive and accessible urban development.
A post-COVID-19 world presents a unique opportunity to use the Cities4All Global Campaign principles to make a substantial impact not only in reshaping our values but also in reshaping our cities and unlocking all human potential – so that cities become places where we want to live and where human dignity is protected.