Reaction to pandemic ‘showed strength, resilience of world’s great cities’

Fahd Al Rasheed, president of the Royal Commission for Riyadh City. (Supplied)
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Updated 01 October 2020

Reaction to pandemic ‘showed strength, resilience of world’s great cities’

  • Al Rasheed said that cities were “perhaps mankind’s greatest invention”
  • “In many ways we are actually working closer than ever, despite being cities, countries or continents apart”: Al Rasheed

DUBAI: The reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic showed the strength and resilience of the world’s great cities, Fahd Al Rasheed, president of the Royal Commission for Riyadh City, told civic leaders at the opening of the U20 Mayor’s Summit.

“It was in this moment of utmost need that our urban centers demonstrated their inherent flexibility, agility and resilience. Many cities were able to transition to a virtual world almost overnight. We truly saw the strength and resilience of our cities, and humanity as a whole,” Al Rasheed said.

He was welcoming delegates at the virtual opening of the U20, the urban track of the G20 leaders’ organization, which is under the presidency of Saudi Arabia this year. Representatives of some 42 cities, as well as 30 thought leaders in urban planning, policy and economics, are attending the event organized from Riyadh.

Al Rasheed said that cities were “perhaps mankind’s greatest invention”, but warned that there would be long-term repercussions from the onslaught of the pandemic and the economic lockdowns that have resulted.

“It has impacted the world in a very dramatic way, and of course altered our way of life. Travel plans have been curtailed, families separated, businesses upended job lost, mental health strained, and we’ve lost many loved ones,

“Everything has been altered, but our productivity has not slowed. Indeed, as the U20 has shown, in many ways we are actually working closer than ever, despite being cities, countries or continents apart,” Al Rasheed added.
 

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Some urban experts have forecast the “end of the city” as a result of the pandemic, as travel restriction and social distancing measures lead to an exodus of employees to less densely populated areas.

But cities would continue to thrive, he said, because “we are social creatures who do our best work and achieve our highest form of self when we are together.”

“Cities give us so much more than just community. They give us communities of scale on the delivery of services of all kinds.

They give us healthcare systems, education, entertainment and pubilc transit services on a level we cannot afford on our own.

“While this pandemic has forced us into social distancing and to productively digitise many of our daily routines, we as humans need to connect pysically and congregate in order to enoy and afford a better way of life,” he said.

Rather than question the future of cities, policymakers should ask: “How can we best enable cities to adapt to this, and to future shocks?”

Al Rasheed said the answer was investment in resilience. “The importance of investing in the resilience, of our cities and our citizens, is the major takeaway from this unprecedented disruption.”

Maimunah Sharif, executive director of the United Nations urban organization habitat, said she was “extremely concerned about the multiple devastating effects of the pandemic on the most vulnerable people in cities, especially in crowded areas.”

But she pointed out that more than half of the world’s population now live in cities, which account for nearly 80 per cent of global gross domestic product. “Cities are powerhouses of economic growth, and function as catalysts for inclusion and innovation,” Sharif said.




Maimunah Sharif, executive director of the United Nations urban organization habitat speaks at the summit. (Supplied)

“We need to create global gender balance and provide prosperity and well-being for the rapidly growing, aging, and culturally diversifying global urban population, while reducing waste and protecting the ecosystems all people depend on. There can be no sustainable development if urbanization is not sustainable,” she added.

The U20 culminates on Friday in the publication of a joint communique signed by the leaders of 37 cities, which will be submitted to the G20 leadership for consideration as an element of the final summit communique.
 


W20 stresses importance of gender inclusivity across G20 groups

Updated 18 min 8 sec ago

W20 stresses importance of gender inclusivity across G20 groups

  • Women 20 (W20) meeting was hosted by Saudi Arabia as part of its G20 presidency

RIYADH: The second day of the virtual Women 20 (W20) meeting — hosted by Saudi Arabia as part of its G20 presidency — stressed the importance of ensuring inclusivity across the G20’s different working groups.

“The women’s empowerment team at the G20 Secretariat was established by the Saudi sherpa and… my team has engaged with working groups and discussed their topics, such as finance-track development, employment, health, education, agriculture, anti-corruption, energy, the digital economy, tourism, and trade and investments,” said Hala Altuwaijri, chair of the Women's Empowerment Team at the G20 Secretariat and secretary-general of the Family Affairs Council.

She added: “What we learned from previous presidencies is that we look at female empowerment as mainstream, as cross-cutting, and that it should not be the focus of one group only. In other words, every working group should have the empowerment of women as a priority... this is what the Saudi presidency has committed to.”

Addressing gender in the workplace, Libby Lyons, director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency in Australia, said that Australia will close the equality gap at all management levels within the next 20 years.

“Forty-three percent (of) all promotions went to women last year in the private sector in Australia. The problem persists, however, for women accessing leadership positions such as CEOs and board members,” she said in a session titled “G20 Policies: Catalyzing Women's Economic Empowerment.”

Lyons’ agency has been collecting data annually for more than seven years from every organization in the private sector with more than 100 employees, giving it a clear picture of what is happening in terms of gender equality. “We must collect standardized data to track what we are doing and assess our actions,” she noted.

She said that in Australia, private enterprise is driving this change, facilitated by the government, which is a unique model. “I think that it is a lesson we can all learn,” Lyons said.

Discussing the most notable G20 commitments over the last five years, Wendy Teleki, head of We-Fi Secretariat, said that We-Fi was founded in 2017 at the G20 Hamburg Summit focused on supporting entrepreneurs around the world.

Since then, it has allocated $300 million in funds through its partners to programs that are ultimately expected to benefit more than 130,000 women, she added.

This year, We-Fi has allocated an additional $50 million and Teleki said that another $50 million “will be allocated to the issues of technology, early-stage financing, and COVID-19 relief response to empower women entrepreneurs and help them in their reliance on technology.”

Addressing the private-sector alliance, empowerment and progression of women’s economic representation, which was established last year in Japan as a means to advocate the advancement of women in the private sector, Tomoko Hayashi, director-general of the Gender Equality Bureau in the Cabinet Office said: “The Empower project…aims to increase the number of women with access to leadership positions. Also it devises actionable plans to increase the digital literacy of women in developing countries.”

She added: “COVID-19 has greatly impacted women, including (by) increasing rates of unemployment and domestic violence. At the same time, it created a great opportunity for women to change the rules of the game.”