RIYADH: The coronavirus pandemic has affected populations around the world regardless of their socio-economic situation, which is why all people need to have a voice in decision-making processes, Maimunah Sharif, executive director of United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), believes.
“Collaboration, integration and sharing best practices between cities around the world is very important at the moment, not just on the local level but also at the regional and international level,” Sharif told Arab News during the Urban 20 (U20) mayors summit in Riyadh.
“The Saudi leadership has offered very open, transparent and collaborative discussions,” she said.
“The U20 and G20 are about making the planet a better and more resilient place for everyone.”
In March, when the WHO declared the pandemic, UN-Habitat launched an emergency package that included providing hand-washing stations in its project areas around the world.
“There are 1.8 billion people living in forms of settlements who don’t even have water to drink; how can you ask them to waste water washing their hands?” asked Sharif.
“We are happy that our programs, which cater to 1.3 million people, also attract investment from the private sector.”
She said that UN-Habitat also created a coronavirus response plan for about 72 million people in 62 countries, with 70 percent of the program taking place in vulnerable urban areas such as slums.
“We would like to help people who have been hit hardest, especially women and children,” she said.
However, more needs to be done to bolster local, regional and international policy so that governments are prepared to handle disasters such as the pandemic.
“Now is the time to rethink the state and reorganization of local governance,” she said. “We need to look into how fast a local population can react to the challenges of the pandemic. We are also looking into the rethinking of urban design and planning.
“Our studies at UN-Habitat show that high-density cities are not the only source of problems. We are trying to address poverty and inequality within cities and, lastly, we are looking into how we can reduce the failure of the current urban business model.
“Hopefully, by the end this year we will come up with models for improvement that we can share with cities and with the world.”
The pandemic has exposed inequalities that continue to plague the world, she said.
“Regardless of whether it is a poor or rich country, or whether people are working in rural or city areas, the pandemic targets everyone and exposes the inequalities within cities, regions and around the world,” said Sharif.
“We need to come together to look for the solution. This is a global pandemic; it is not a national pandemic.”
She also highlighted the importance of addressing climate change.
“We now realize that we want nature more than nature wants us,” she said. “We need to build back better, more resilient and greener.
“Before the pandemic we were speaking about the climate emergency. We should not forget it just because we are tackling COVID-19. We need to have a holistic approach in terms of policy. We also need to get the right data to address the many changes that need to be made.”