Co-Designing Resilient Recovery in Cities – New Partnerships for a New Era

Dana Omran from the Resilient Cities Network and Dr Nazmul Huq from ICLEI present the Resilient Cities Action Package (ReCAP).

How are Cities Affected by the Pandemic?

Around the world, cities are fighting the COVID-19 pandemic while striving to put equity, economy, and climate action at the centre of their recovery approaches. The pandemic has revealed that cities are not monolithic – they include interconnected systems, often leaving urban ecosystems susceptible to their weakest parts, shining a new light on the deep inequities confronting cities around the world, revealing vulnerabilities, and highlighting opportunities for new approaches. In the midst of the greatest global economic downturn in nearly a century, progress on sustainable development needs to be regalvanised. Now is the moment for national and local governments to build back stronger, fairer, and greener than before.

Smart, green investments and interventions within the overarching principles of resilience can create a triple dividend: helping cities boost their economies; improving equity; and preparing communities for inevitable climate and health threats.

The World Bank predicts the pandemic will have pushed 150 million more people into extreme poverty by the end of 2021, most of them in cities. For most of the developing world the pandemic is far from over. Unequal distribution of vaccines has made mass vaccination elusive and cities are still struggling with the social and economic impacts of new waves of the virus and the ensuing lockdowns.

In Rwanda, while the virus itself remained at mostly manageable levels, the economic impacts of lockdown measures resulted in increased food insecurity and left devastating impacts on livelihoods (particularly for workers in the informal sector). Meanwhile in Bangladesh, livelihoods of millions of people in major urban centres have been temporarily or permanently eliminated, leading to huge rural-oriented migration; food inequality and hunger; struggling export-oriented sectors; and millions of students deprived of formal education since the onset of the pandemic.

The Resilient Cities Action Package

If countries and cities design their economic recovery plans wisely, they can tackle the pandemic and climate crises in tandem. However, these “green” recovery plans often leave out the key element of building resilience from an integrated and inclusive perspective.

Building resilience is about recognising uncertainties, shocks and stresses are interconnected, and solutions have to be as well. As cities recover from COVID-19, smart and green investments and policies on resilience can create multiple benefits: helping cities boost their economies and create jobs; improving equity and reducing poverty; and preparing communities for inevitable climate and health threats.

Funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Resilient Cities Action Package programme is a partnership between GIZ, ICLEI, the Resilient Cities Network, and Cities Alliance. It aims to increase the capacity of selected cities in Rwanda, Bangladesh, and Mauritania for combatting pandemics (including primary health care, health management, public life); identify priority urban green recovery action packages cross-sectorally; plan for the implementation of small-scale measure; develop long-term resilience plans; and generate a global knowledge exchange on resilient urban recovery.

To achieve these objectives, we as a group of implementing partners are joining forces to design common frameworks and approaches for resilient recovery that can help address the vulnerabilities exposed by this crisis and the ones still to come. The pandemic has given those of us who work closely with cities and city governments an opportunity to re-evaluate our approaches to planning and recovery planning.

It is not enough for us to develop green recovery strategies, or economic recovery plans. Cities are complex systems with millions of moving parts and many concentrated risks. Their complexity and scale make them vulnerable to disruptions. When disasters strike, the ripple effects and economic losses can quickly spiral. Building the knowledge, skills, and tools to meet these complex challenges is essential. We understand that the triple threats posed by the pandemic, climate change, and systemic inequalities require innovative planning methods and bold systemic interventions.

How to Include Resilience into Green Recovery

We believe that there are some fundamental principles to how we will work with each other and programme cities to plan for a resilient recovery.

First, we recognise that there must be an explicit equity and inclusion focus in this work. Resilient recovery is about planning for a sustainable, equitable, and inclusive recovery and future. It recognises that every policy choice (regarding for example transportation, housing, or health) is fundamentally an equity decision.

Second, resilient recovery must be rooted in community solutions. For example, in Kigali, Rwanda, more than 40,000 vulnerable households received food assistance directly from local initiatives, many of which were initiated through community WhatsApp groups. “The ability displayed by grassroots communities around the city to self-organise, identify households at risks of the pandemic impacts, collect aid, and deliver timely assistance to their neighbours is an indication that solidarity is a crucial asset for communities to maintain hope and survive in times of crisis,” said Japheth Habinshuti, Kigali’s Chief Resilience Officer.

In Bangladesh, community-led efforts were instrumental for the millions of people and households to survive in the early days of the pandemic. Bangladesh is a close-knit society built on extended social networks which helped to mobilise decentralised and locally led initiatives to support the families who lost livelihoods. In the urban areas, providing food through soup-kitchen, financial assistance through neighbourhood centred initiatives kept distressed people moving. Any resilient plan must strongly consider the collective power of the social networks of “standing for each other” and make use of their strengths for future uncertainties.

Third, resilient recovery must break down the stubborn silos of city government and embolden us as city networks to break down our own divisions to better craft integrated and holistic interventions in cities. As cities think about how they emerge from this pandemic, they need to forge a vision for a future that recognises these intersections. For example, local governments need to recognise that every infrastructure decision they make as part of their recovery plan is also about climate and creating jobs. As cities are learning how to do this, we city networks are too. Our job is to find better ways to partner and help cities to build initiatives and projects based on long-term environmental, social, and economic benefits as part of their recovery work. As a group of partners, we stand ready to help turn our cities’ vision for a resilient future into reality.

Dana Omran
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    Nazmul Huq
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