Nairobi, 4 May 2020  - Over 100 participants joined the first COVID-19 Urban Thinkers Campus session to discuss the importance of local communities in addressing the current crisis in informal settlements, recovery and building future resilience.  The online meeting, organized by the World Urban Campaign, included representatives from Slum Dwellers International, the Cities Alliance, Freetown City Council, Wits University, REALL and UN-Habitat.

The President of the South African Federation of the Urban Poor, a partner of Slum Dwellers International, Rose Molokoane, called for governments to support civil society and organized community groups. She described how the Federation had proposed to the Government to re-pave some roads in informal settlements to ensure water supplies and allow ambulances to move around.

The Informal Settlements Upgrading and Relocation Lead at Freetown City Council, Sierra Leone, Sibyl Harleston, called COVID-19 an “invisible enemy” which many in the city saw as being worse than Ebola. She said the COVID-19 response was based on behaviour change messaging and support, isolation and containment which required engaging community leaders. 

Prof. Marie Huchzermeyer from Wits University, South Africa also emphasized the important role of civil society.  “Community organizations that are structures of communication and decision-making within informal settlements, onto which systems of reciprocity are often built are key to building resilience and had been under stress,” she said

The important role of women as health and care workers taking care of the sick, recognizing the needs of the community and winning their trust and delivering food and supplies was highlighted by Giulia Maci, Urban Specialist at Cities Alliance. She said it was essential to engage women in defining post-COVID-19 recovery plans, including with economic measures to protect and stimulate the economy, from cash transfers to credit loans targeting women .

Smruti Jukur from the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres, India, said the crisis had focused attention on long standing problems in informal settlements such as water, sanitation, healthcare and overcrowding which would have to be addressed to avoid future pandemics.

Housing can reduce people’s vulnerability and provide an asset according to Lucy Livesley, Director of Market Transformation at REALL, an innovator and investor in affordable homes in Africa and Asia. She spoke about houses requiring space for physical distancing, clean water and a toilet providing safety and security within resilience and vibrant communities.

Kerstin Sommer, Coordinator at UN-Habitat, outlined the approach taken by the Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme(PSUP) in the COVID-19 crisis combining “the immediate responses with the long term recovery strategies, particularly through  partnerships between people, private sector, informal sector.”

She said they were advocating with governments to integrate informal settlements and slums in their responses, sharing innovative approaches among partners, working with national government to ensure communities were involved in the design of national policies and protocols for informal settlements.

Participants agreed that the role of communities and their leaders is crucial in the immediate response and in the next steps from the immediate recovery plans to long-term resilience.

A total of nine Urban Thinkers Campuses on COVID-19 will be held online in May to discuss current actions on the ground in different contexts, analyze good practices and solutions, extract lessons from the crisis and make recommendations for building resilience. For more information and to register go to