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New report, COVID-19 in African Cities: Impacts, Responses and Policies, launched by ECA & partners


New report, COVID-19 in African Cities: Impacts, Responses and Policies, launched by ECA & partners

New report, COVID-19 in African Cities: Impacts, Responses and Policies, launched by ECA & partners
Photo credit: UCLG Africa

With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic crippling economies the world over and set to trigger into motion Africa’s first recession in 25 years, the Economic Commission for Africa and its partners teamed-up to produce a new report which proposes several interventions to promptly and effectively address COVID-19 challenges on the continent at the urban level.

The report, titled COVID-19 in African Cities: Impacts, Responses and Policies, analyses the current situation within the African continent and efforts channeled at mitigating the global pandemic within the context of cities in the region.

Produced by the ECA, UN Habitat, UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG), African Development Bank (AfDB), and Shelter Afrique, the report, which was virtually launched Tuesday, proposes responses for short, medium and long-term interventions to be led by national and local governments with the support of international and regional development Institutions.

To adequately address the challenges of COVID-19, six key recommendations have been identified in the report.

  • Applying local communication and community engagement strategies

  • Supporting SMEs and the informal economy

  • Deepening decentralized responses to COVID-19 through strengthened local government capacities

  • Targeting informal settlements through tailored measures

  • Establishing mechanisms to promote rapid access to housing and prevent forced evictions

  • Integrating urban planning and management as key priorities for recovery and rebuilding strategies towards long-term resilience

In their remarks during the virtual launch, officials from the partner organisations agreed COVID-19 has revealed the high vulnerability of African cities to the effects of shocks, and their limited capacity to mitigate and recover from the associated impacts. All this as Africa’s cities continue to grow rapidly under conditions of severe infrastructure and service deficits, absence of adequate productive jobs, weak planning and management capacities and institutions, among others.

Informality, poverty and inequality persist as a manifestation of the underlying structural constraints of Africa’s urbanization. Under these conditions, and without deliberate policy responses and adequate investments, cities may well become liabilities for inclusive and resilient future growth and transformation, the report notes.

It also notes that considering the economic and fiscal impacts of COVID-19 on national economies and the need to ensure that people have access to adequate food, housing, safe water and sanitation and reliable information, it was fast becoming clear that there is a need to increase and specify the role of local governments.

“These authorities are important in advancing community engagement, supporting risk communication and awareness building and facilitating adaptation measures,” reads the report.

COVID-19 has shown that it is important to rehabilitate the function of stabilization and redistribution of financial transfers from national to local and regional governments.

Strengthening local economies is one of the most effective responses to reducing the sensitivity of national economies to pandemics like COVID-19 and to the cycles of the global economy, notes the report.

“The degree of economic and financial impact of COVID-19 in Africa has been severe at all scales from national to local,” said Ms. Edlam Abera Yemeru, Chief of the Urbanization and Development Section at the ECA in remarks during the launch.

“The economic effects of COVID-19 have been particularly severe due to underlying vulnerabilities in African economies. The pandemic has exposed pre-existing underlying vulnerabilities in the economy of African cities that have made the urban impact of the crisis severe.”

She said in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for example, the impact of COVID-19 on hotels has been severe with 88 percent of hotels with membership in the AA hotel association being partially or fully closed due to low occupancy. Monthly losses are estimated at US$35 million and 15,000 workers have so far been laid off.

Ms. Yemeru said the local economic and financial effects of COVID-19 have a direct impact on economic development broadly and industrialization specifically.

“Going forward, local economic recovery and rebuilding should be at the core of economic recovery and rebuilding strategies of the continent and countries, and related stimulus packages,” she said.

“Continental and national COVID-19 discussions and efforts do recognize the vulnerability of cities and local governments, and acute impact, but insufficiently consider the role of productive, job rich and competitive cities in economic recovery, rebuilding and resilience in the medium and long term.”

Priorities should be on creating economically resilient cities, concluded Ms. Yemeru.

This report has been jointly published by UN-HABITAT, UNCDF, UCLG-A Africa, and UNECA.

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