Urban areas are the most impacted by the pandemic

Cities generally have high concentrations of population and interdependent activities which increase the risks for disaster infectious diseases spread and make natural social distancing difficult:

  • In the USA, New York accounts for 32.4% of the total national COVID-19 cases and 45% of associated deaths (as of 19 April 2020)
  • In Kenya, Nairobi, the country’s capital accounts for 75% of the total national COVID-19 cases and more than 60% of associated deaths (as of 19 April 2020)
  • In South Africa, 36% of confirmed cases (1148 out of 3158 total cases) were recorded in Gauteng, the region that covers Johannesburg, the country’s largest city and Pretoria, its administrative capital (as of 19 April 2020).

Lockdowns in urban areas are not only difficult to implement, but also lead to costly urban living. In many cities, transport costs have gone up by over 60% when you compare before and after Covid-19 lockdowns (United Nations Human Rights and the Social Justice Centres Working Group).

Basic services are essential to address the pandemic

Yet, in 2020 2.4 billion people lack adequate access to safe water and sanitation

  • In total, 97% of urban populations live in households that have access to improved drinking water whose collection does not exceeds a 30-minutes round trip;
  • In total, 85% live in households that use improved sanitation facilities which are not shared with other households.
  • An estimated 144 million urban residents still do not have access to this service worldwide (of whom 63 million live in cities in sub-Saharan Africa).
  • Furthermore, about 621 million urban residents do not have access to basic sanitation facilities worldwide. Central and Southern Asia, Oceania and most notably sub-Saharan Africa seem to be lagging behind in terms of access to basic sanitation facilities.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, only 44% of urban residents have access to basic sanitation services, suggesting that in 2017, about 226 million urban populations lack basic sanitation facilities in this region.

Informal settlements at risk

  • About 24% of the global urban population live in slums and informal settlements, with multiple basic-needs deprivations.
  • The largest shares were recorded in Sub-Saharan Africa, Central and Southern Asia and Eastern and South-Eastern Asia with respectively 56.2%, 31.2% and 27.2% of the total urban population living in slums (2018)
  • Informal settlements are extremely vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their spatial features make social distancing difficult, increase COVID-19 spread risk and complicate crisis management:
    • High settlement densities with limited open spaces
    • Limited or unreliable access to basic services in particular lack of proper water reticulation networks and illegal connections to water services impacting on quality, shared water points and sanitation services or total lack of accessible facilities
    • Limited access to health facilities, and almost no provisions for specialized medical facilities for COVID-19
    • Poor connectivity, implying high risk of infection during transfer of infected persons
    • Economic limitations, with high reliance on casual labor and informal economic activities