The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing vulnerability and economic disparity. How are cities responding to these changes? 

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing disparities in vulnerability through health, social and economic impacts. The contagious nature of the virus poses specific problems to cities where individuals live in close proximity and travel together via public transportation. For many cities, the most practical way to stop the spread—social distancing—has deep economic impacts on the manufacturing, service, and informal sector jobs that the poor rely on.  Poorer residents in crowded urban neighborhoods cannot afford the luxury of social distancing. The lack of adequate infrastructure often means shared spaces like washrooms or water pumps are easily crowded and violate the two-meter distancing guidelines. As a result, these areas are often Covid-19 hotspots in cities. 

Here are some examples of how cities responded to changing vulnerabilities and disproportionate impacts: 

In Medellin, Colombia, vulnerable people hung red flags from their homes to signify a need for assistance leading to a rise in ad hoc voluntary contributions. In response, the city created an integrated program of support to vulnerable people that combined contributions from civil society and business. This approach included:  

  • Creating a single point of donation for all resources (human, in kind and financial), combining private and civil society donations to create a substantial, long term resource;  
  • Using data on links to existing social support to capture voluntary work undertaken, the needs of individuals, and areas served; and  
  • Linking data to a centralized donation system, enabling an economic committee with representation from local government, business and the charity sectors to jointly decide financial allocations to support voluntary organizations. 

In Los Angeles, US, disruption of social networks due to Covid-19 increased socio-economic vulnerabilities among refugees. However, financial subsidies and medical care are being provided by the Los Angeles County government to the uninsured and underinsured regardless of immigration status, with information on available support being shared in languages and formats accessible to these communities. 

Further resources: 

Lesson: Hear from Lakhsmi on the increased vulnerability of waste pickers in Pune on Cities on the Frontline #13 – Waste Management. Waste pickers in Pune are an essential service of 3,500 pickers who cover 70% of the city. Since most waste pickers are impoverished and of lower caste, civil society groups and corporations banded together to provide them with PPE to ensure safety. Despite this, many slums where waste pickers live had higher case counts. 

Practice: LA’s Inclusive Response to Covid-19. As Covid-19 has disproportionate impact on communities of color and immigrants, inclusive actions are needed. Recovery measures should be as broad-reaching as possible with a focus on underserved communities. 

Practice: Centering Gender for Hawaii’s Resilient Recovery. Based on Hawaii’s traditional cultures, the feminist Covid-19 response team, which is composed of 40 women, developed resilience programs and the feminist economy recovery plan for Covid-19. This is based on data which shows how women are disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of Covid-19, as they make up 55% of the unemployed population. Specifically, Native Hawaiian women are vulnerable to Covid-19 as they have the highest asthma rates of any group in the state 

Practice: Decrease Gender Inequality in Salvador. Salvador has created a two-pronged approach to combatting increased vulnerabilities. First, it has received permission from the courts to extend urgent protective measures to victims of domestic violence for the duration of the lockdown and retooled the municipal women’s center to provide legal, psychological, and social assistance remotely. Second, it is providing economic and food support to vulnerable families through food baskets (over 200,000 per month) and monthly assistance of about BRL 270. 

Lesson: Manchester Briefing #7. In Colombia, there has been a novel approach to seeking assistance; hanging a red flag from the home. Using this approach, the local government created an integrated relief system that collected donations of all resources (financial, human, etc.) and combined it with data on existing social support to enable the community to provide for the most vulnerable households.  

Opinion: (Im)mobility and social networks: the impact of Covid-19 on critical coping mechanisms for urban refugees. Disruption of social networks due to Covid-19 has increased refugees’ socio-economic vulnerabilities. But society cannot afford to exclude refugees as critical contributors in implementing responses to Covid-19.