The Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena, called today for reclaiming the urban agenda and conceptualizing the city as an opportunity and a global public good, and not as a cost, during the presentation of the global report entitled “Cities and Pandemics: Towards a More Just, Green and Healthy Future,” which was produced by UN-Habitat.
“It is necessary to promote articulation between the local and national levels, decentralize responses, and foster productivity and structural transformation both within and from the city, creating value in the chain of sustainable urban mobility, public services and housing, driven by urban demands,” she affirmed.
The senior United Nations official also called for “reducing social unrest and combating the culture of privilege by expanding the right to the city, the quality and coverage of public services, and by emphasizing the role of urban policies and local authorities in reducing spatial inequalities and exclusion.”
Alicia Bárcena was one of the main speakers at the event organized by UN-Habitat and the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs of Mexico. Also participating were Martha Delgado, Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights of Mexico; Elkin Velásquez, Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean of UN-Habitat; and Claudia López, the Mayor of Bogotá (Colombia), among other authorities.
During her presentation, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary stressed that the pandemic prompted by COVID-19 struck when the region was on bad footing, exacerbating its structural development problems and social discontent.
She recalled that the region has a high degree of urbanization that potentiates contagion in the most vulnerable neighborhoods, which lack services and have high rates of overcrowding.
She also stated that Latin America and the Caribbean is the developing region that has been most affected by the pandemic: with just 8.4% of the global population, it accounts for 30% of pandemic-related deaths.
“The region runs the risk of an asymmetrical recovery, divergent due to unequal access to vaccines, not green, and with reprimarization, segmentation and greater inequality,” Alicia Bárcena warned.
The UN regional commission’s highest authority underscored that in Latin America and the Caribbean, the building comes first and then cities are established. She noted that 21% of the region’s population lives in precarious settlements and between 2012 and 2018 urban poverty rose from 23.8% to 26.4%.
She added that the lack of adequate housing and services has intensified the pandemic’s impacts and widened social gaps: in 55% of poor urban households, 2 or more people live in each room, and in more than 1/3 of urban households, there are 3 or more people per room.
“The rise in unemployment and the drop in household income limits people’s access to having their own home and serves to extend informal settlements. There are more demands on local governments and fewer resources to address them,” the senior official stated.
She stressed the convergence between the report “Cities and Pandemics: Towards a More Just, Green and Healthy Future” and ECLAC’s proposals for a transformative recovery with equality.
She recalled that ECLAC proposes seven sectors that promote technical change, create jobs, and reduce external constraints and the environmental footprint, in pursuit of a big push for sustainability. These are: the transition to renewable energies, sustainable electromobility in cities, digital inclusion for sustainability, the health-care manufacturing industry (including vaccines), production and restoration of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, the circular economy, and sustainable tourism.
Finally, Alicia Bárcena urged for universal access to COVID-19 vaccines, as an essential measure to avoid a divided world. Furthermore, she called for promoting new social compacts that would redistribute resources and opportunities, recognize identities and rights, and build welfare states and a care society.