Wanted: an inclusive vision of urban recovery from COVID-19 full transcript
Host [00:00:01]: You’re listening to Make Change Happen, the podcast from the International Institute for Environment and Development, IIED. In this episode, host Liz Carlile talks with colleagues and international partners from the transformative urban recovery project, which has created a framework to provide a unifying urban vision to inform and resource an urban recovery process from COVID 19 and other potential future risks.
Liz Carlile [00:00:27]: Hello and welcome to the Make Change Happen podcast. This is Liz Carlile, your host today. And with me are five experts on transformative urban recovery. I’ll ask them to introduce themselves in just a moment. But I just wanted to say that this podcast is going to explore a little bit about what transformative urban recovery is and what are the important ways that we can achieve something that’s much more reflective of a kind of social justice we would like to see.
I think that we will hear a little bit about a framework, you know, why would we need such a framework, how it’s been arrived at. And to make sure that we get the voices of what are usually excluded communities in the kind of urban recovery space and those are the communities who are left out of decisions around basic service provision or housing or planning. So I hope this will be an interesting podcast. I’m sure it will give us lots to think about and I’m looking forward to introducing our guests. [Music]
Liz Carlile [00:01:35] Beth, can I start with you?
Beth Chitekwe-biti [00:01:37]: Thank you, Liz. My name is Beth Chitekwe-biti, I’m the acting managing director of the Slum Dwellers International Secretariat. I’m based in Cape Town but SDI works in cities in the global South in 33 countries.
Liz Carlile [00:01:57]: Great, thank you. What about you, Joe?
Joe Maturi [00:01:59]: Thank you, Liz. My name’s Joe Maturi, I’m the coordinator of the Kenya Slum Dwellers’ Federation, which is an affiliate of Slum Dwellers International. I’m also the chair of Slum Dwellers International. I’m based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Liz Carlile [00:02:13]: And Caroline?
Caroline Skinner [00:02:13]: Hi, my name’s Caroline Skinner. I work for an NGO called Women in Informal Employment, Globalising and Organising. One of our core constituencies are membership-based organisations of informal workers. So we work in many, many countries, largely in the global South, and have been monitoring the situation very closely.
Liz Carlile [00:02:34]: Great, glad to have you with us today. And Sunandan?
Sunandan Tiwari [00:02:37]: Thanks, Liz. I’m Sunandan Tiwari, director of global implementation at the world secretariat of ICLEI, Local Governments for Sustainability, that is based in Bonn, Germany. ICLEI is a global network working with more than 2,500 local and regional governments that are committed to sustainable urban development.
Liz Carlile [00:02:56]: And welcome to you, too. And last but by no means least, Anna.
Anna Walnycki [00:03:00]: Hi, I’m Anna Walnycki, and I’m a researcher in the urban research group at IIED. Most of my work focuses on urban poverty and informality, working in particular with grassroots organisations and federations of the urban poor in cities across the global South.
Liz Carlile [00:03:16]: And great to have you all with us. [Music]
Liz Carlile [00:03:21]: So I guess my first question, how is COVID-19 affecting the communities and the groups or the organisations you’re working with right now? Sunandan, can we start with you?
Sunandan Tiwari [00:03:32]: As ICLEI, we work directly with local and regional governments, so that is our entry point. And these are also frontline agencies that are having to deal with the pandemic situation. So this crisis has actually put the spotlight and amplified what I would just like to call three existing challenges that local governments actually face. One is the finance gap, which is an impact that we see across all the regions that we work with. This we see across in terms of city budgets that are shrinking due to the significant economic slump because of the crisis. And secondly, cities are actually having to now repurpose existing budgets and human resources to prioritise actions to contain the spread of the virus.
So this has widened the existing financial gap that we have always had at the local level. Secondly, you have the governance gap, that is in terms of structures of collaboration across different levels of government and the devolution of power to the local level. And local governments actually being the bodies that interact with communities most closely do not always have this power to affect the change that this current crisis is actually demanding.
And finally, there is the capacity gap which is actually empowering these local governments with training in human and financial resources to address these challenges. So these are areas actually that we as ICLEI, we work through. The pandemic has only further exacerbated these challenges. But I would also say that it has provided a window of opportunity to accelerate change.
Liz Carlile [00:05:07]: Right, so although really tough challenges, perhaps this can be a moment. That’s kind of good to hear. Caroline, what about you?
Caroline Skinner [00:05:15]: So it’s interesting, we’re looking at it from the perspective of informal workers almost in contrast, and really the impact has been devastating. Early on in the crisis, the International Labour Organisation estimated that 1.6 billion of the informally employed, bearing in mind that there’s about two billion people across the world who are informally employed – that’s around about 60% of all workers – would be particularly negatively impacted amongst the worst in their words. They estimated in the developing world, 82% of earnings from the informal economy would be lost. And this was proven to be correct. So in the hard lockdown period, it has been devastating. We’ve seen particularly high reports of food insecurity among workers themselves and their children. And if you think about it in lived reality terms, informal workers tend to be hand-to-mouth in terms of their livelihoods and don’t have savings to fall back on. So really they’re being particularly hard hit.
And also women have been disproportionately hard hit, so much so that many of the analysts are calling this rather than a recession, a c-session. So there really has… it’s spotlighted women’s role in the economy and also disproportionate role in caring responsibilities. On the upside, this has spotlighted the important essential services that informal workers provide. So think in the transport space, getting goods and services around cities, the important role that informal food vendors and other informal players in the food system are playing. So there has been a greater profile for the important role that the informal economy plays.
Liz Carlile [00:06:58]: So, Joe, I mean, listening to what Sunandan and Caroline are saying, does some of this resonate for you, for your communities and organisations? Is this the same, or are there differences?
Joe Maturi [00:07:08]: I think they’re the same, just picking up from what Caroline was saying. If you look at most of the people who live in informal settlements, most of them are workers, casual labourers in factories, they are engaging in one form of informal business or the other. Basically, it’s a hand-to-mouth daily survival. So with impacts, with the coming of COVID, I think they are the ones who suffered most.
One of the things that I think contributed to the situation that we are currently in, in terms of economic impact of slum dwellers, the government response was more of security, was more of policing, was more for clampdown, making sure everyone is indoors at curfew hours, trying to enforce the social distancing, which is practically impossible in an informal settlement, given the population density. So we have seen a lot of businesses shutting down, both formal and informal. There was a lot of organisations coming up providing washing stations, providing masks. Now that is not happening any more. We see a lot of people happening now, the city of Nairobi and the adjacent counties have been shut down. There was a demonstration which was clamped down by the police. People who are in the informal sector had organised a demonstration to push for the government to open up the country.
Liz Carlile [00:08:25]: So what we’re seeing is a very steep learning curve for everybody, really. And I suppose the challenge is how are we going to get out of this and what will come next. Beth, how is this playing out from your perspective?
Beth Chitekwe-biti [00:08:38]: For Slum Dwellers International, work in slum communities and informal settlements, the pandemic is carrying in the context of multiple deprivation. So a majority of communities live without secure tenure, so they are prone to evictions. They live without access to water and sanitation, but at the same time the dominant messaging at the beginning of the pandemic was that you need to socially distance, you need to wash your hands.
In the context where communities do not actually have these services, the UN has actually estimated that in the population of people living in slums has grown from 2018 by 24%. So you can actually see just how big this problem is for cities in the global South. Also, what we saw at the beginning of the crisis was an acknowledgement by communities that we are actually on our own and if we have to find ways to manage this crisis, we have to innovate and use our collective capabilities and capacities to support each other. Across the network that’s what we found. This obviously is not measured to the extent of the pandemic and what is required. But definitely has demonstrated just the power that is there in local organising and finding solutions that come at the local level.
Liz Carlile [00:10:12]: That’s really good to hear, Beth, because I think it’s a good reminder to us, isn’t it, that the pandemic has been one of the latest challenges but it’s by no means the only challenge for these kinds of communities. They have to respond every day to some very considerable things that they personally and through their own groups need to deal with. And presumably they’re innovating, they’re finding solutions. So how do we support that? [Music]
Liz Carlile [00:10:44]: How do we support that in a way that gets the kind of recovery that we’re looking for?
Beth Chitekwe-biti [00:10:48]: The first thing is to understand what people are already doing. Our experience in SDI has been that in a lot of cases, when government comes with programmes, they often do not acknowledge what is already happening on the ground. The same can be said for emergency aid. There often is an elitism around external solutions at this, but for me I think the first point of call will be to actually say what is happening already. What are communities doing when they are all, and how can external support scale up those initiatives? That would be the first point from my perspective. If you look at what the Kenyan affiliate that Joe is part of have done around finding solutions to economic disjuncture with economic activity, because people were in lockdown, they have used the data they have collected over the years in informal settlements as a basis to negotiate with governments and other agencies for cash transfer. So there is already a repository of information that could be used to prioritise who in those communities needed support immediately. In South Africa, the SDI affiliates collaborated with other stakeholders and civil society organisations to do rapid assessment of the availability of water and sanitation in informal settlements and use that information to then lobby or present that information to government as a resource for them to actually provide these services.
Liz Carlile [00:12:20]: That sounds really interesting. Joe, can you give us an example of sort of how these cash transfers work that Beth’s talking about?
Joe Maturi [00:12:27]: A lot of organisations are looking for how do we support informal, people living in informal settlements. One of the things is that the government came to us. We worked with three organisations, the bank, the government and the bank and an organisation in the UK called Give Direct. So they didn’t want people to go collecting data, so they wanted people who already had the information, they had contacts, they had taken names, identification numbers and mobile, because these were going to be cash transfers.
So we worked with Give Direct which was giving three thousand per month for four months. The government was giving two thousand per month for three months and KCB bank was giving a thousand shillings every week for three months. So that kind of helped. And we had a number of also like organisations, foundations, churches that also used our information to provide food stuffs and other support. We also are part of the County of Nairobi COVID committee, and one of the things that also got to that, we were more or less forward thinking in terms of identifying. Because of the most of the quarantine centres were hospitals, schools, we also started also looking at and mapping out - just in case they come to us in informal settlements - we started mapping out which other possible quarantine centres for people living in informal settlements within their neighbourhood.
Liz Carlile [00:13:50]: Anna, do you want to add anything here from your experience or projects that you’ve worked with? Any reflections?
Anna Walnycki [00:13:56]: I guess what we’re hearing from Joe is something that we at IIED have been trying to give a platform to throughout the context of the pandemic. When the crisis first hit there was so much, so much discussion about the impact that COVID was having in cities and countries in the global North. But less so about what was actually happening in cities and also even less about the sort of innovation that was happening.
Liz Carlile [00:14:21]: And Caroline, I think, I mean, if you work in the informal economy, you certainly have to be innovating all of the time. So I imagine some of the things, particularly the points that Beth was making around innovation, really echo for you. Is there any kind of example that would help our listeners kind of get a feel for this?
Caroline Skinner [00:14:41]: So yes, I mean I think there was, and the hard lockdown, let’s be honest, most people were unable to work. But there were amazing innovations around information dissemination, around support. So where the state failed, which it did in many, many cases, informal workers demonstrated huge solidarity among themselves. It would be interesting to hear whether this echoed similarly with slum dwellers. But really striking, lobbying with local churches and local authorities, and when that failed, supporting each other.
First, you know, we’re seeing this kind of very gradual recovery, in inverted commas, where people are slowly going back to work. In some contexts, obviously, going into hard lockdown and others. So India’s a real concern for all of us at the moment. But there have been innovations where people have started going back to work to really minimise health risks. If you think of the street vendors’ space, people have re-designed areas, they’ve come up with their own lovely designs for wash stations. You know, social distancing messaging. So there’s some really interesting innovations around taking seriously the threat to health. I mean I think what’s really important here is also not to let the state off the hook. So I think that the cash we have seen some, some innovations at national level around cash transfers, sometimes informal workers many times have fallen through the gaps.
But I think we’ve got to keep the pressure on the state to get the giant wheels of the economy going again, through the cash transfers, through getting monies back into the economy. The informal workers, small business support is very important and to acknowledge that these folk are small businesses. In the global North there’s been a lot of focus on what a devastating impact lockdown measures have had on small businesses. It’s similarly the case in the global South and yet we’re seeing that informal workers are falling through the gaps. They’re not big enough to access the grants that have been available.
So we’ve got to keep our careful eye on the state and make sure that those who most need it get the support that they need to rebuild. For informal workers, they’ve used their last resources. They’ve sold many assets, so, you know, we’ve done research in 12 cities and it’s remarkable the extent to which people have had to dig into their very last resources just to see themselves through lockdown. And now really need injections to restart again. So I think that, you know, it’s getting the balance between celebrating the innovation that’s happening on the ground but also seeing that there’s a need for systemic change and that we need to keep the pressure up on the state to deliver and build back better.
Liz Carlile [00:17:25]: So I think that’s good to hear, Caroline. You know, we mustn’t let the state off the hook. [Music]
Liz Carlile [00:17:32]: So I think that leads us perhaps back to you Sunandan, to say, you know, what about local government? How are they reacting? What support can they perhaps lend or what support do they need in order to be able to play their role? You talked earlier about challenges of finance and governance and their capacity. But do you have perhaps any examples where you’ve seen different efforts or things that people might be able to replicate?
Sunandan Tiwari [00:17:58]: That’s actually very interesting listening to my fellow panellists, that no matter on which perspective you look at the current crisis, what we see is that it is significantly amplifying existing challenges and problems that we have. For me, it underlines the fact, you need this fundamental and, as you’re saying here, transformative changes that clearly need to be done and this is a huge symptom of the larger problems that we have to deal with. We find something very similar that the local governments also challenged with. Joe was talking about maps and information. That was the same problem with local governments is that they did not really have necessary information very often in terms of how to then deal with this situation, and they needed guidance through that. And very often our officers are approached in terms of providing resources.
Another way of actually going about it was what are other cities doing, and therefore we organised a lot of peer-to-peer learning in exchange where cities could really share with each other what it is that they were doing, how were they dealing with this critical situation. Joe also mentioned maps, and Beth had mentioned innovation. We’ve seen also local governments using some of the work that they have done earlier to deal with the current situations. For example, in terms of maps, where specifically around looking at climate impacts, where vulnerability maps have been developed for the cities, typically the most vulnerable to climate impacts are also the ones in informal sectors, living on the fringes or in slums. And these maps were then further upgraded to help the cities to identify which would be the most vulnerable zones, and also to support some form of contact tracing and to predict the potential impact. Our South Asia office, for example, that worked with 17 cities to really look at that. So cities were interested in saying where the impacts are, what is it that they can do.
Also I think Caroline had mentioned about, you know, the transport space. In the transport space we are seeing cities now working more closely with different actors to provide better service. For example, in Pasay City, which is part of Metro Manila, the city actually carried out with the private sector to provide free public transportation services to government and medical workers so that they could really travel. We also found the non-motorised transport, for example bicycle lanes, that we’ve really being pushing for in a number of cities got quite a push as part of the global situation. Another interesting example was we’ve been promoting electric vehicles and some of the cities that decided to use these electric vehicles to deliver groceries and other subsistence needs to their services. These may not have been going to the most marginalised but just to say that the cities were also thinking about what do they have at hand and how can they then use it to deal with the current situation. Definitely cities are very stretched, but I would say that they are standing up to the challenge.
Liz Carlile [00:20:55]: And I think that’s really interesting, isn’t it? We’ve seen that all over, and all of the things that you’ve been talking about are when people are faced with a crisis, they innovate. And the trick here is to get those innovations working together and get those communities and different voices working together. And I know all of you have been thinking about what is a strategic vision for the future. And although it might seem like talk, you know, the COVID-19 recovery feeling a bit pre-emptive, you know, we’re kind of not there yet. But there are conversations that are going on internationally that we know are kind of potential decision points. So things like the Commonwealth Local Government Forum, the climate change Conference of the Parties later in the year and of course the World Urban Forum next year. So what have we got in that vision that we can sort of help share with others? Perhaps I can just ask all of you to sort of give some pointers about what we can do to achieve a fair and green recovery for those people living in our urban spaces. Anna, would you like to start? That would be great to hear from you.
Anna Walnycki [00:21:59]: We at IIED have been stuck in London for the last 12 or 14 months, given the pandemic. And in an attempt to try and reflect on some of the innovation that’s been happening, some of the responses that are under way in cities all over the world, we’ve been convening workshops and discussions with grassroots organisations, federations of the urban poor, other researchers and international agencies in an attempt to try and develop something of a vision or a framework that speaks to a transformative urban recovery.
And I guess, you know, we’re not only facing the crisis that is COVID-19, we have the existing issues of poverty and inequality which all of our guests today have gone into in quite some depth. But on top of that I guess there’s a funding crisis that’s been exacerbated in the UK by cuts to Overseas Development Assistance. Municipal authorities are facing, have curtailed budgets. So I guess what we’ve been trying to get at is a common shared vision based on collaboration across scales and across diverse actors has more scope to achieve success in the current context.
Liz Carlile [00:23:09]: Beth, can I ask you, you know, in response to what Anna says, does this work for you, this shared vision? Is this something that you guys want to get behind as well?
Beth Chitekwe-biti [00:23:19]: Yes, definitely. So SDI has been participating and contributing to this conversation that IIED has been championing. And mainly from I suppose two perspectives:, at the local level, the COVID pandemic, what it has essentially shown is that the city is a system in that what deprivations in slum communities can and will impact life in the higher income areas. And of course this has been replicated globally, because if you look at just how the pandemic, sort of like, transformed there is a very clear indication of our connectivity. So in that respect, a shared vision around what it is that is required to transform.
But for me I think transformation is not just about getting out of the crisis, but actually to ensure that there are step changes in how people experience their lives in informal settlements or informal work and ensuring that we are prioritising whatever legal resources local authorities have to what is absolutely a priority. We often see in these cities where we work in SDI that there might be prioritisation for a large project that is really just about, I think there’s a particular word which escapes me, but more for show than is actually required by communities. So you will have a city put up a statue, I think it’s called vanity projects, while communities do not have water or sanitation.
So I think revisiting the prioritisation of what is required in our cities. Cities can claim they don’t have resources but as SDI, I always find that they ignore resources for water or sanitation but they have resources for these vanity projects. So I think a shared vision and some agreement of what our priority is is absolutely critical. Then of course at the global level, it’s really also around the prioritisation of where international aid is going. And here I think at Slum Dwellers we share a lot of sympathy with local authorities because they are often excluded out of these conversations with national governments taking the centre stage, but implementation as well as the expression of the challenges is always at the local level.
Liz Carlile [00:25:45]: Thank you, Beth, thank you. Good to hear your thoughts. Caroline, do you want to add at this point what you see the opportunity of a shared vision might be?
Caroline Skinner [00:25:53]: So I think all of us have been in real crisis management mode, really responding to the needs of our particular constituencies. And I think what IIED has done is provide us a lovely platform to move beyond our silos and look up a little bit. And really this is a moment to kind of get together, as we did interestingly around the pressure to introduce a dedicated urban SDG.
So there’s kind of these key moments in the urban space where all of us who are working in our silos but all kind of concerned with a just city should be coming together. And it’s a lovely way of saying let’s work on a kind of shared framework of building back better. So not to be too glib about it, but there is a kind of sense of, like, don’t waste a good crisis. This has generated a real shake-up across the economic space. You know, there’s new social protection, innovations, people who you would never believe would have supported things like cash grants are behind it. There’s a real shake up in the planning space.
So we’ve got to really use this space to put on the table some concrete alternatives, particularly around building back in a greener, more people-centred way. So I think that IIED has really filled an important gap and kind of just opening up the conversations about what innovations are happening and how we can scale them up is really important. And I think what you’ve identified, Liz, of like there’s a few key moments that are critical to insert this shared vision that are coming ahead of us, I think it’s a great initiative.
Liz Carlile [00:27:30]: And I really like what you say, Caroline, about using a crisis [laughing]. I think we’ve seen in so many areas of our life recently that we can use this crisis as an opportunity. [Music]
Liz Carlile [00:27:44]: So, at the end of the podcast, this podcast is all about making change happen, so I like to ask our guests what is a change they would like to see. Joe, what is a big change that you think this crisis can give us? What could be a big change that we make right now, or a message of change that we can send?
Joe Maturi [00:28:10]: I think the crisis has shown us that most of the attitude at the moment, if you look at the challenges of people living in informal settlements, of slums across the global South, people usually say those are their problems. The lack of access to sanitation, clean water, finance. A proportion usually say those are their problems, but this crisis has shown us that it’s our problem. It’s the governments’ problems, it’s the city’s problem, it’s the residents’ problem, it’s the corporate world problem.
And I think this should kind of change the attitude on how people look at some of these challenges. And what Beth was saying how all of us are connected, and for us the message has been very clear. It’s how in the future and the opportunity now, how do we include the marginalised in the designing of a project, in the implementation, right through implementation. So those are the things that I think probably at the moment we need to focus on.
Liz Carlile [00:29:12]: Thank you. I really think, I can really hear from all of you the importance of this shared vision. This needs to be shared, it needs to be shared widely, both at local level, community level and at international level. Sunandan, perhaps you can have the last word on what positive change we should be looking for?
Sunandan Tiwari [00:29:32]: I think what we really need is a change in mindsets across all sectors and scales on how we perceive growth and prosperity. And actually then work more collaboratively towards making this change happen. This sounds very broad and airy but for me it always comes down to that, it’s just in the way we think, the way we plan, the way we design. That is a very fundamental change that is really required in all these aspects. And we really need to then you know really build that critical mass of likeminded organisations to effectuate that change.
Liz Carlile [00:30:08]: That’s great. Thank you very much. So just finally, down to me to thank you all very much indeed for really interesting discussion today. And I guess also for us all to keep our fingers crossed to join in with this discussion, join in with making sure that we can achieve a transformative urban recovery and move on to a more socially just future. Thank you very much.
Host [00:30:38]: You can find out more about this podcast, our guests, and their work, at IIED.org/podcast where you can also listen to more episodes. You can leave us feedback, or follow the series at soundcloud.com/theiied. That’s soundcloud.com slash T H E I I E D. The podcast is produced by our in-house communications team. For more information about IIED’s work, please visit us online at www.iied.org.