Monika Kosinska, WHO: “If we can't mobilise, we won't be able to resist the pandemic”

Conditions for the development of world cities in the context of COVID-19 have been discussed in Kazan

How should cities develop in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic? The main challenge for all countries of the world was discussed in Kazan by municipal authorities, scientists and public figures. The online forum of related cities and municipalities of the BRICS countries has started in the capital of Tatarstan. One hundred and twenty people are participating in it — not only representatives of the five states in the organisation, but also their regional partners from other developing countries. Read more about the opposition of local authorities to the coronavirus pandemic in the material of Realnoe Vremya.

Learning from each other

The two-day forum of related cities and municipalities of the BRICS countries has been held in Kazan via videoconference. In addition to mayors of foreign megacities, social activists, businessmen and scientists from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, it involved regional partners of the BRICS member countries from Argentina, Morocco, and Spain — about 120 people in total. Discussions were held in four sections, where they discussed the current situation in the world's cities and their future, and exchanged experience. One of the important questions on the agenda was the functioning of cities in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and after it.

Programme Manager at the World Health Organization Monica Kosinska spoke about the project 'Healthy Cities', which covered 5,500 municipalities of 1,500 cities, where about 200 million people live. "81 flagship cities that we work directly with, work with our partners and create incubators for author's ideas," Kosinska said.

“We see how much we can learn from each other, and this is why such platform is important for us. It is about the distribution of tasks in our societies… Investing in people, the prosperity of our cities, the development of services in these cities, building urban spaces with the involvement of the private sector, increasing the activity of people in projects, creating green zones, protecting the planet from degradation," the WHO manager listed large-scale directions for the development of municipalities.

People began to drive more cars, considering them safer than public transport. Photo: Maksim Platonov

In her opinion, in the context of the pandemic, these tasks have become more urgent. Kosinska noted the main four problems that the pandemic revealed: the impact of the virus itself on people, the heavy burden on health authorities, distancing, which has a negative impact on society, and the economic crisis. The policy of municipal leaders can influence the situation, the speaker believes.

“In Europe, at the very beginning of the pandemic, the health system was re-targeted to support our citizens, including from municipal authorities, and we provide assistance to vulnerable segments of the population — this is the main role of cities. The degree of security in cities is how safe it is for socially unprotected segments of the population," Kosinska stressed.

She pointed out that even at this time, culture and education remain important components for cities and their future. The WHO representative noted that many details need to be considered. For example, people began to drive more cars, considering them safer than public transport. From the point of view of the world's transition to a new normal, we can't go back to what was in the past, Kosinska said. But at the same time, she believes that it is necessary to think about how to build a more sustainable society, about protecting the environment.

“If we cannot mobilise, we will not be able to resist the pandemic," the speaker stressed. According to her, it is now important to ensure economic recovery, but economic investment should not harm the environment.

The speaker noted that it is necessary to take into account the interests of public health in all municipal programmes. Photo: zdorovyegoroda.ru

“Teamwork of all mankind”

The association 'Healthy Cities, Districts and Towns' in Russia is 10 years old this year. It unites 115 municipalities that represent 28 subjects from seven federal districts with a population of 17 million people, said Tatyana Shestakova, the executive director of the Russian association 'Healthy Cities, Districts and Towns'.

The speaker noted that it is necessary to take into account the interests of public health in all municipal programmes, to create an environment for citizens to lead a healthy lifestyle, and to do this, it is necessary to develop a strategy based on interdepartmental interaction and a regulatory framework. The main role in supporting public health should be assigned to municipalities. Shestakova gave an example of how 'Healthy Cities' interact with the leadership of Vologda Oblast, creating a public council under the governor there, and in Novosibirsk, the organisation cooperates with the department of social policy.

The association disseminates best practices, publishes collections of different practices, and conducts webinars. Last year, the organisation launched a project on healthy nutrition and physical activity for children, and this year, together with the ministry of healthcare of the Russian Federation, it is holding the second competition 'Healthy Cities', aimed at identifying effective experience. Besides, the Russian organisation cooperates with neighbouring countries.

The director of the department of food and social nutrition spoke on behalf of Kazan. Rimma Mukhamedshina presented a project for school feeding in the city, which has been operating for 14 years and has received various awards. The speaker said that her organisation provides 272,000 people a day: 290 schools, 550 kindergartens, 9 major hospitals. She told how the agency operates in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. During the period of self-isolation, the plant provided food to hospital patients, collected packs for school children's families, observing all precautions. In April, 73,500 packed meals were issued — 550 tonnes of products. Now the food system in schools has been rebuilt under a flexible schedule.

Khusnullin noted that many people were united by this situation, and he himself is proud of the actions taken by his company. Photo: kazanfirst.ru

KazanExpress CEO Linar Khusnullin shared his story of participating in charity. “We felt that we could be useful in this situation," the businessman said. The company had switched its employees to working online even before the entire country self-isolatated. The employees of the company managed to collect more than 10,000 food sets (designed for a whole month for one person), which they distributed to the elderly and needy people. Besides, the company purchased 300,000 masks and sold them in the republic without extra charge. Many companies that cooperate with KazanExpress have switched to working online. Khusnullin noted that many people were united by this situation, and he himself is proud of the actions taken by his company.

“Everyone felt how human we can be… Only team work in this case, the team is all of humanity," the entrepreneur added.

Decentralisation in Brazil, poverty in India

In Brazil, the situation was quite difficult, said the president of the Municipal Association of Pernambuco, mayor of the municipality of Afogados da Ingazeira of Pernambuco, Jose Coimbra Patriota Filho.

“At the very beginning, unfortunately, the Brazilian government could not recognise the fact of the pandemic itself and disputed what the WHO was doing. Several ministers were forced to resign in this regard. Municipalities took on responsibility themselves. Burden was placed on the states and municipalities, and they have taken a significant number of measures," the speaker said.

Not only small businesses but also large businesses closed. Tax collection has decreased, stated Patriota. Photo: cbnrecife.com

The Association of municipalities of the state he represents has signed an agreement with the federal university to supply PCR tests. The mayor said that there are 60 million individual entrepreneurs in the country. Urgent aid for them is negligible — less than $100, and it will be cut because there is no money in the budget for this. Not only small businesses but also large businesses closed. Tax collection has decreased, stated Patriota. Now his state is going to start vaccinating the population.

His compatriot, Professor at the University of Santa Cruz do Sul, legal adviser to the National Confederation of Municipalities of Brazil, Ricardo Ermani, said that his country has decentralised health care. Financial and administrative reforms and harmonization between all levels of government are needed, as well as the principle of subsidising citizens in such difficult situations.

The coronavirus has worsened social inequality in India, with millions of people living in squalid conditions and lacking access to education and health care, said Aromar Revi, the director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS). You can't solve social issues today and economic issues tomorrow, you need to cover all areas in a comprehensive way and rely on the development of small businesses, Revi believes. And mayors, in his opinion, should work closely together.

The head of the healthcare department of the Indian city of Madurai, Dr. Kumaragurubaran, spoke about the direct work to combat the coronavirus, how the city went under quarantine, how they isolated the sick, provided the population with clean water, informed citizens about precautionary measures, and installed cameras around the city to monitor the situation. In Madurai, they try to avoid large crowds in markets and squares.

Zhu Zheng, the deputy director of the commercial bureau of Hangzhou, spoke about the city in China. Photo: pxhere.com

Digitalisation as a recipe in fight against pandemic

Zhu Zheng, the deputy director of the commercial bureau of Hangzhou, spoke about the city in China. He said that his municipality is trying to focus on new consumption, develop electronic technologies, and improve the quality of goods and services.

The deputy mayor of the people's government of Meishan, Wan Shulin, spoke about the cooperation of her municipality with Nizhnekamsk. She listed various resources for the effective fight against the coronavirus and its consequences: the spread of openness, economic globalisation, the creation of a strong free trade zone, attracting large investments, and the development of telemedicine.

Member of the City Council of Cape Town, Sharon Cottle, said that her city is sustainable, in the last 3 years it has experienced the worst drought for South Africa, and it will also cope with the coronavirus, although the country's incidence rates are high, it is the 10th in the world. The city mobilised all forces to prevent and provide people with drinking water.

Morocco imposed strict quarantine, banned the movement of people between cities, and used disinfection. The closed stores received assistance from the state.

“I believe that our event will allow us to gain experience that has been accumulated in several countries, mobilise our local resources, strengthen notification tools, and accelerate digital transformation," Chairperson of the Committee on Environment, Sustainable Development and Urban Planning of the Rabat City Council Mohamed Fettouhi summed up the meeting.

By Yekaterina Ablaeva
Tatarstan