World Cities Day – Global Cooperation Amidst Pandemic Promotes Sustainable, Resilient Health
The Food Aid System of Milan – Dispositivo di Aiuto Alimentare initiative

First in a Series: While COVID continues to cast a long shadow over our everyday lives, from Baku, Azerbaijan to Bogota, Columbia, there are also countless examples of how cities and communities have mobilized to respond to the social and economic fallout from the pandemic – building new forms of cooperation that also promote a wide range of longer-term social and health benefits.  

The stories cut across cities of all regions, income levels and sizes.  Some of the examples are captured in a series of case studies released yesterday by WHO ahead of World Cities Day, which is observed on Saturday, 31 October. Innovations include the dramatic expansion of cycle lanes in Bogota, Colombia; safe bus transport in Baku, Azerbijian; upgrading informal settlements in Buenos Aires, Argentina and new, city-wide food bank efforts in Milan, Italy and Freetown, Sierra Leone that linked up existing food charities to ensure more systematic coverage of people needing support, and also put an emphasis on healthy, nutritious foods.

Safe, Sustainable Public Transport in Baku and Bogota    
In Baku more than 2000 buses operate on 150 routes, carrying more than 2 million passengers daily across the city.

In Baku, the Baku Transport Authority (BTA) has more than 2000 buses operating on 150 routes. The BTA became a key member of the government’s coordinated pandemic response plan, which included acting as the primary transport providers after the suspension of operations of the Baku metro. There were also awareness raising campaigns implemented by the BTA in a show of solidarity for the government, with posters and educational booklets on how to protect against the virus distributed in stations and the city’s main transport exchange. 

“Public transport professionals are part of the front liners in these critical times and our first priority is to keep the citizens safe and healthy”, said Vusal Karimli, Chairman of BTA. “We are proud to be serving our people by providing continuous mobility services for essential travelers.”

Bogotá’s Ciclovías (bike lanes)

In addition to public transportation, Bogotá’s world-famous Ciclovías (bike lanes) have been expanded even more to promote the use of active, alternative, and sustainable transport during pandemic times.  Bogota has long had a reputation as a pioneer in sustainable bus rapid transport as well as cycle transport, with 550 kilometers of bike lanes in operation even before the pandemic began. During the pandemic, the city added another 84 kilometers,  making Bogotá’s Ciclovías network among the largest in the world, and giving people a safe, healthy and sustainable way of getting around during the  lockdown and its aftermath. Workshops are also offered to Ciclovía users to remind them to keep their hands and bikes sanitized, and to remain a safe distance from other cyclists, in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

Creating Stronger and Healthier Food Safety Nets in Milan and Sierra Leone 
Freetown, Sierra Leone, has been working with partners to provide healthy, nutritious food to its citizens during the pandemic

Food security has been a big concern in the midst of the pandemic from the wealthiest to the poorest cities. In Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone, which survived a decade-long civil war (1991-2002) civil war only to be hit brutally hard by the 2014-16 West Africa Ebola epidemic, the municipal government has been providing its most vulnerable residents with food packages so they can stay safe and healthy in quarantine. Around 30% of Freetown’s 1.2 million residents have a family income of less than 1 USD per day, and 47% do not have direct access to running water. Food insecurity was highlighted in a national survey conducted in April, where only 12% of respondents said that they had sufficient foodstocks to last even one week. 

The city government provided food to 6000 households across three informal settlements; an urban farming initiative also has been created to support sustainable access to nutritious food while helping city residents become more prepared for future crises. 

The Food Aid System of Milan, or the Dispositivo di Aiuto Alimentare, sought to organize more systematic distribution of food stocks during the spring 2020 lockdown, in partnership with many public and private organizations and charities that operate food banks and similar programmes.  A longer-term feature of the initiative is the ambition to ensure vulnerable households can access  fresh produce, and not only processed food. 

“Milan Food Policy has once again become an instrument to face emerging needs of citizens. By building alliances with many players in the city we built the Food Aid System, in order to get close to families and fragile people who, in addition to a health emergency, were also going through a food crisis, ” says Anna Scavuzzo, Vice Mayor of Milan in charge of Food Policy

The “Lethbridge Helping Organizations COVID-19 Response” was launched by city authorities to strengthen collaboration by local groups to serve the needs of all residents.

Other cities have also partnered with organizations to assist their citizens. In the Canadian province of Alberta, the city of Lethbridge launched “The Lethbridge Helping Organizations COVID-19 Response” to strengthen collaboration with local groups in order to serve the needs of city’s residents. Community members offered to pick up medications, offered rides, lent out house supplies, etc, on a Facebook COVID-19 support page. Other programmes supplied volunteer wellness checks and the delivery of food boxes to older people. 

Buenos Aires, Argentina  – Strengthening Pandemic Resilience in Informal Settlements

The City Housing Institute (IVC) of Buenos Aires, collaborated with local grassroots organizations to strengthened resilience in the Villa 20 neighborhood. In this informal urban settlement, home to 30,000 people, 14% of families have at least one household member with a disability, and 30% with a chronic or pre-existing health condition. 

Under the authority of the Ministry of Social Development and Housing and the Ministry of the City Government of Buenos Aires, IVC implemented prevention and protection measures and provided assistance to families in need. The interventions covered five areas: food security, health, urban hygiene, and communication. The quick action also helped curb the spread of the virus, resulting in fewer COVID-19 cases.

Ahmedabad, India – Reducing Tobacco Use That Breeds COVID-19 Infections 

In the largest city in India’s western state of Gujarat, the city government of Ahmedabad made a decision to reduce the use of tobacco products during the COVID-19 pandemic period. Smokeless tobacco, in particular chewing tobacco products such as gutka, khaini, zarda, and paan, induce salivation and trigger the urge to spit. Spitting can, in turn, facilitate the spread of infectious diseases, potentially including the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. In March, a ban on spitting on roads and in public places was implemented as an effort not only to reduce the spread of the virus but is acting on continued efforts to prevent tobacco-related cancers and other noncommunicable diseases in the city. 

These cities and more are part of the Partnership for Healthy Cities – a global network supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies in partnership with WHO and Vital Strategies. This initiative enables cities around the world to deliver high-impact policy or preventative intervention to combat noncommunicable disease and injuries in their communities, and has since expanded its support during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Says WHO Director Dr. Etienne Krug, who leads the effort for WHO:  “These case studies show how cities are innovating to protect the health and well-being of their citizens, while under the stress of the pandemic. They show how city leaders are addressing challenges in food security, city planning, or safe mobility by taking a longer-term sustainable approach.” 

“The legacy of these innovations and programmes will last beyond COVID-19.  They are great examples of strong local actions during the pandemic and beyond.”

Image Credits: Pietro Baroni , Baku Transport Agency, Fernanda Lanzagorta, OPS Columbia, WHO , Trevor Page.

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