20 Oct 2020 21:00 IST

Covid is an urban pandemic: UNICEF Chief

Urban-poor living in conditions worse than those of the rural-poor, says Thomas George

As part of MICA's on-going virtual series, Senior Advisor and Chief of Urban Section, UNICEF, Thomas George called for soul-searching on what happened, what worked, and what could sustain city interventions in the post-Covid scenario.


Thomas George, Senior-Advisor, Chief of Urban cities, UNICEF



George shared his insights on the impact of Covid, the complexities of urban governance, and future course of action with MICA students. Responding to the Covid crisis and its impact on children, he said, “Covid-19 is more of an urban pandemic than a global pandemic with more than 90 per cent of the cases reported in urban areas until early September 2020. The biggest impact of Covid has been the loss of schooling, which has affected the education of 1.6 billion children, one-third of whom have no access to digital education.”

Rich-poor divide

Talking about cities and their structure, he said, “Though cities are engines of growth and represent vibrant cultures, an array of choices, improved facilities, and infrastructure — they have failed to provide such features and benefits over a period of time. What makes urban areas more critical for UNICEF is that 56 per cent of the global population currently resides in urban areas. Interestingly, this percentage of the population contributes to 80 per cent of the global GDP, 70 per cent of overall energy consumption, and 70 per cent of carbon emissions.”

“We need to acknowledge the importance of granular data collection and strengthen the evidence in urban areas to develop strategies that can pressurise policy-makers to act upon the complex system of urban governance,” he added. Analysing the existing urban-poor situation in cities, he said, “We believe that people living in urban areas have access to facilities, a better quality of life, better infrastructure, and so on. But in one of our studies, we found that 40 per cent of the 70 countries surveyed had urban-poor living in conditions worse than those of the rural-poor.”

Future focus areas

Sharing UNICEF's plan, he said, “Reducing the digital divide will be the crucial focus for us in the coming years. Another critical focus area would be the availability of vaccines to the economically lower segment of society. Our strategic plan will focus on child survival, child protection, access to education, and providing a fair chance for every child.”

The global series 'MI-Manthan' at MICA aims “to engage students with academic, corporate, community, and government sector leaders for deeper thinking and reflection, focusing on human, institutional, and societal resilience, recovery, and reconstruction.”