UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday called for efforts to build sustainable cities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a video message for the launch of his policy brief on COVID-19 and cities, Guterres said urban areas are ground zero of the pandemic, with 90 percent of reported cases. But he added that cities have the resilience to build back better.
“We must pursue a green, resilient and inclusive economic recovery,” he said. “Many cities have created new bike lanes and pedestrian zones, reclaiming public spaces and improving mobility, safety and air quality. By focusing on high ecological transformation and job creation, stimulus packages can steer growth toward a low-carbon, resilient pathway and advance the Sustainable Development Goals.”
The rapid adoption of telecommuting illustrates how societies can transform seemingly overnight to confront urgent threats; there is a need to act with the same urgency and resolve to transform cities and address the climate and pollution crises, he said.
“Now is the time to rethink and reshape the urban world. Now is the moment to adapt to the reality of this and future pandemics. And now is our chance to recover better, by building more resilient, inclusive and sustainable cities.”
Guterres stressed the need to ensure that all phases of the pandemic response tackle inequalities and long-term development deficits and safeguard social cohesion.
“We must prioritize those who are the most vulnerable in our cities, including guaranteeing safe shelter for all and emergency housing to those without homes. Access to water and sanitation is also vital.”
The inadequate state of public services in many cities requires urgent attention, particularly in informal settlements. Nearly one quarter of the world’s urban population lives in slums, he said.
He also asked for the strengthening of the capacities of local governments. “This requires decisive action — and deeper cooperation between local and national authorities. Stimulus packages and other relief should support tailored responses and boost local government capacity.”
Cities are bearing the brunt of the crisis — many with strained health systems, inadequate water and sanitation services, and other challenges. This is especially the case in poorer areas where the pandemic has exposed deeply rooted inequalities, said Guterres.
But cities are also home to extraordinary solidarity and resilience, he said. “As we respond to the pandemic and work toward recovery, we look to our cities as hubs of community, human innovation and ingenuity. Today, we have an opportunity to reflect and reset how we live, interact and rebuild our cities.”