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There is No Resilient Recovery Without Equity

Lauren Sorkin — Acting Executive Director, Global Resilient Cities Network
Oren Ahoobim — Partner, Dalberg Advisors

Whether managing dense housing and mass transit, providing water and sanitation, or creating small business incentives or cultural events, cities concentrate both risk and opportunity. Never has this been clearer than during the current Covid-19 pandemic, and urban communities have not been equally impacted.

In the U.S., African-Americans face a Covid-19 death rate that is six times higher than white Americans. Similarly, job losses for African Americans and Latino workers in the U.S. far outpace national averages. Women around the world are facing a surge of domestic violence as they quarantine in unsafe homes. And for the one in four city dwellers – nearly a billion souls – living in informal settlements, social distancing, and preventative hand-washing practices are luxuries that are far out of reach.

Inequalities that drive divergent health outcomes are deeply rooted, reflecting a mix of structural racism, and a lack of investment in urban infrastructure and services for poorer and marginalized communities. As cities are already looking ahead to planning and resourcing recovery efforts, there is an opportunity to transform them in meaningful ways that not only protect vulnerable people from health threats, but also build resilience for the looming climate crisis as well.

A truly resilient recovery cannot exist without equity.

Equitable, resilient recovery plans need to develop fast often in places where capacity, data, and funding are limited. How can this happen?

  1. First, cities need holistic approach to recovery planning that captures the cascading impacts of Covid-19 and other shocks and stresses that will likely exacerbate the overall cost of this pandemic. As summer approaches, Europe is at high risk of heatwaves and the U.S., Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Caribbean are at risk of hurricanes and tropical storms. Droughts and locust infestations in parts of Africa and South Asia could push food insecurity (already at critical levels due to mobility and trade restrictions) to situations of mass hunger and starvation. Managing effective and equitable responses to these overlaying shocks and stresses requires tools to enable systems level decision-making. The City Resilience Framework is one example of a holistic tool that can be adapted to recovery planning.
  2. Second, cities need to organize and share existing vulnerability data quickly, which may be a challenge for governments with gaps in their understanding of vulnerable groups such as migrant workers or families living in informal settlements. Cities also need to identify gaps in their existing data systems (e.g., specific indicators, frequency of collection, analytical capabilities). They can fill these gaps by expanding existing systems, building new data capabilities and tools, and partnering with community-based organizations who can support data collection. The Rockefeller Foundation and City University of New York’s , Equality Indicators are one example of a tool city leaders can use to measure disparities within their cities and evaluate the impact of their recovery efforts.
  3. Third, cites need to prioritize funding for recovery projects that respond to vulnerable communities’ needs and deliver multiple benefits in response to Covid-19 urgencies and future climate related challenges. In a survey undertaken by the Global Resilient Cities Network and Dalberg of approximately 50 cities globally, funding, unsurprisingly, emerged as the biggest barrier for cities as they build recovery plans. “Fiscal barriers are a big barrier for cities to invest in equity,” says a North American city official. “There are stimulus plans, but there is uncertainty around them because all cities are going through the crisis at the same time.” There is an opportunity to embed equity in city systems that will be re-started or re-invigorated. Examples such as investments in converting temporary hand-washing stations into long-term water infrastructure for communities that lacked a steady water supply before the crisis showcase this multi-benefit approach.

A truly resilient recovery cannot exist without equity. The current pandemic is just the latest reminder of not only how fragile our economic and health systems are, but how increasingly our individual health and prosperity depends on the health and prosperity of the most vulnerable among us.

Response and relief efforts have brought together diverse actors in new ways. We must act with real openness to achieve new ‘normals’ and work closely with partners and funders to seed innovation and help city governments adapt regulations to be more inclusive. GRCN’s Network platform, Cities for a Resilient Recovery, launched with support from Dalberg, recognizes the potential of this moment to support cities to better use data, innovation and partnerships to achieve a more resilient and equitable recovery.