The COVID-19 outbreak has dramatically changed the shape of daily life in cities around the world. The cities in which the Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund (UCCRTF) operates are no exception.
Economic activity has slowed considerably during lockdown and the planning and construction of infrastructure projects face delays as municipal governments tackle the immediate health crisis. So, what has life been like inside cities supported by UCCRTF? What lessons might the response to the COVID-19 crisis hold for building resilience to other shocks and stresses such as climate change?
The city resilience officers of UCCRTF, who have been working on climate change resilience projects in many secondary cities across South and Southeast Asia, share how the pandemic has impacted their cities
Summer season has arrived in Viet Nam and temperatures are rising. Reflecting on recent months, Hanoi citizens are very proud of what has been done to combat COVID-19. By the end of April, the Vietnamese Government recorded only 270 confirmed cases, of which 223 have recovered and returned home. Since that time there have been no further deaths, as of June 17th 2020.
The relatively low number compared to neighboring countries is largely due to the swift and effective prevention and control measures that the government put in place since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) in January and cases in Hanoi in early March.
Viet Nam suspended entry of all foreigners from 22 March and mandatory health declarations became required at all international borders for Vietnamese nationals arriving from abroad. Authorities also suspended schools and canceled festivals nationwide. The most challenging time for many was the 22 days of lockdown from April 1 to 22. Everyone was asked to stay at home and stop all unessential activities.
People remain worried about the possibility of the virus spreading through the poorer areas of the cities, where living conditions are crowded. In Hue and Hoi An City, most people rely on tourism and other related business activities. They work in restaurants, hotels, tourism services, or small businesses such as street vendors or lottery ticket sellers. During the lockdown, the ban on gatherings meant many businesses had to close, many people lost their income and jobs.
To support these vulnerable groups, the government provided a support package of about VND 62 trillion ($2.7 billion) for around 20 million severely affected people for three months between April and June. In addition, free rice distribution centers were set up in Hanoi, HCMC, Danang, Hue, and other provinces to help poor people and those affected by the coronavirus.
While the country works toward a socioeconomic recovery, the immediate response to the crisis will focus on food production and manufacturing to support labor markets. As early as 4 May, tens of millions of students from preschool to high school in 63 provinces and cities returned to school, taking another step towards returning to some semblance of normal life.
The whole country has been declared as an ‘Infection Risk Area’ under Section 11 of the Bangladesh Infectious Disease (Prevention, Control and Elimination) Act, 2018. As of 17th June, 98,489 cases of COVID-19 have been identified and the number of deaths has risen to 1,305. The highest number of COVID-19 cases is recorded in the older parts of Dhaka City.
All offices remain closed to prevent the spread of the disease. The army is currently carrying out street campaigns to enforce social distancing. People in infected areas must stay at home unless absolutely necessary. A daily curfew is enforced from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
The office of the Prime Minister issued an order assigning officials to each of the 64 districts in the country to supervise and coordinate a large-scale relief distribution program for vulnerable citizens.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved an emergency grant of $300,000 to the Bangladesh Government to help respond to the crisis. In collaboration with Directorate General of Health Services, this grant will be used to procure personal protective equipment such as face masks, safety googles, aprons, thermometers, and biohazard bags.
All the UCCRTF-funded cities remain under partial or complete lockdown, which is delaying progress on urban development, planning, and infrastructure programs. More importantly, cities are facing an additional challenge as the country approaches cyclone season. The combined COVID-19 and large-scale climate impacts will be difficult to manage as the responses to COVID (such as to stay inside and to maintain social distancing) are in contrast to the recommended response to cyclones, which may require people to leave their homes or congregate together in protective shelters.
Recently, on 20 May, Bangladesh faced Super Cyclone Amphan, which made landfall in the southwestern part of the country causing serious damage to property. The UCCRTF-supported city of Patuakhali was badly affected. The government evacuated an estimated 2.4 million people from coastal districts, although observing social distancing was challenging. As an immediate measure, schools were used for more space in addition to regular cyclone shelters.
A 3- to 4-meter tidal surge that accompanied the cyclone, however, destroyed crops and sources of drinking water.
Relief efforts are currently underway in coordination with local administrations. According to the Bagerhat district administration, Amphan caused $50 million in direct damages with around 349 houses partially damaged and 374 houses completely destroyed. The total number of people affected by the cyclone in Bangladesh is estimated at 5,331.
At present, only emergency services are available in all public and private hospitals, which have recently re-opened after being closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Schools are still closed and only some offer classes online. There are also severe travel restrictions. The lockdown has affected every part of life in Pakistan’s cities.
The huge reduction in traffic has led to big improvements in air quality in major cities. While there is no data covering small cities backed by UCCRTF, the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency has reported that the air quality index in Lahore has fallen from 496 parts per million (ppm) in January to 37 ppm in April. Similarly, for Islamabad, average concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide are below the permissible limits of National Environmental Quality Standards, and concentrations of fine particulates (PM2.5) are also within permissible limits.
Currently, the UCCTRF-supported cities in Pakistan are not coping with other shocks and stresses from natural or human-induced hazards. However, since the cities are vulnerable to urban flooding and earthquakes, they are still at risk. The monsoon season is also drawing near (expected to start in July), which could compound the challenges faced by the cities. They will have to cope with flood management alongside COVID-19. While government officials, including national, provincial, and district disaster management authorities, are focused on COVID-19 response, this may well mean that there is less capacity to prepare for the upcoming flooding season.