Nairobi, June 2020 – UN-Habitat turned the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic into a learning opportunity to bring together thousands of experts and partners to discuss challenges, solutions and innovations to overcome the current crisis and build resilience going forward. The webinars involved a wide range of old and new partners including national and local governments, NGOs, community groups, the private sector, academics, media and many more.

One of UN-Habitat’s key roles is to fast-track learning on how cities and communities, particularly in informal settlements and slums, are dealing with the COVID-19 crisis in terms of preparedness, response and recovery. By facilitating structured learning through webinars and online discussions, the agency supports the exchange and identification of innovative approaches and solutions.

In May UN-Habitat and partner organizations held nine Urban Thinkers Campuses (UTCS) promoting the COVID-19 Campaign and covering a wide variety of subjects covered including the basic services gap, the shelter gap, the safety gap, the wage gap, community leaders on the front line, planning and design for urban resilience and reporting during the pandemic. Over 1100 participants joined including community and grassroot women leaders, social workers, planners, researchers, scientists, business leaders and journalists with the recommendations  compiled in a report. A second series is taking place in June and July.

On 25 March, in collaboration with United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) and Metropolis, UN-Habitat launched #BeyondTheOutbreak, a virtual live learning series for selected mayors, local leaders and stakeholders on areas and 13 sessions have now taken place encompassing gender, finance, culture, migration, mobility, housing and public service workers. Another series is now underway.

The ongoing Global Water Operators Partnerships Alliance (GWOPA) webinar series “Water Utilities in the Fight Against COVID-19” is sharing solutions and exchanging knowledge about effective COVID-19 Pandemic responses with water and sanitation operators with topics including how to slow the spread in slums and how to effectively manage the crisis through strategy, assessment and decision-making and attracted around 150 participants each time.

The webinar series "How to continue municipal solid waste management during the COVID-19 pandemic" explored in four sessions, each attracting 60 to 100 participants, the opportunities and challenges of COVID-19 for solid waste management, zooming in on how to adapt the existing systems during the crisis, how waste workers (formal and informal) need to be protected and how to handle the increased amount of medical waste.

The #AfricaUrbanTechSummit digital edition from 26-29 May had over 2000 viewers and was co-organised between Pangea Accelerator and UN-Habitat with  the British High Commission in Kenya, UK Kenya Tech Hub and Habitat for Humanity with iGabantu Studios and brought together tech entrepreneurs, corporates, investors, NGOs, government agencies and other organizations. The digital summit aired on Youtube Live via the Pangea Accelerator platform with follow up Facebook Live sessions on the UN-Habitat Facebook page.  Speakers looked at: Emergency Response During COVID-19; Responsive Technology and Data for cities in Africa; Innovation and Startup resources for urbanization in Africa and Supporting Young Innovators in Housing during COVID-19.

The Land Rights and COVID-19 webinar and discussion series, was presented by several organizations including the Global Protection Cluster of which UN-Habitat, is a member. UN-Habitat was on the panel for the Eviction Response during and after COVID-19 session on 27 May.

The Global Network on Safer Cities partners’ webinar on 27 and 28 May defined elements of a roadmap of actions leading to the World Urban Forum in 2022 in support of the implementation of the UN systemwide Guidelines on Safer Cities and Human Settlements.

The UN-Habitat Urban-Rural Linkages project organized the webinar series “Urban-Rural Linkages in the time of Covid-19” starting in May. The aim is to exchange information and learn from the efforts of different actors to overcome this crisis and enhance post-crisis recovery actions by bringing a focus to urban-rural linkages and integrated territorial approaches. The role of metropolitan governments, small towns and intermediate cities, neighbourhoods and communities and the impact of COVID-19 on slum dwellers and the urban poor in relation to the urban-rural flows of resources, people and capital have been discussed. The fifth session on 4 June on Urban-Rural Linkages in the time of Covid-19: Neighbourhood Governance and Community Response, was jointly organised with the GCRF Centre for Sustainable Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods.

The virtual Expert Working Group meeting on Global South experiences, challenges and opportunities for managing urban mobility during COVID-19 held on 5 May was convened by UN-Habitat, the World Health Organization and UN Environment Programme with the British High Commission in Kenya, UK Kenya Tech Hub, High Volume Transport, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, the German Government’s Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative, the Partnership on Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport, the International Association of Public Transport, the Urban Pathways and SOLUTIONSplus projects, Walk21 and the Open Institute. It aimed to share responses in the transport sector in the global south and better understand managing urban mobility and was attended by nearly 770 participants.

Since 2012, PPS and Placemaking X have been a key partner to the Public Space Programme and Placemaking X have organized two webinars featuring UN-Habitat as speakers/panelists. On 21 April two UN-Habitat staff were part of the panel in the Public Spaces are Essential Services which looked at the challenges and opportunities of spending time outdoors and that  cities are facing regarding safe public space usage. UN-Habitat staff also participated in the webinar on The New Frontlines: Highlighting Actions to Promote Healthier Informal Communities Through Placemaking on 28 May

The Webinar “International Forum on Healthy Cities” on 29 May was co-organized by China Association for Science and Technology, UN-Habitat, Urban Planning Society of China and the International Society of City and Regional Planners, More than 500 participants from over 20 countries and international agencies, including senior officials and representatives from Kenya Institute of Urban and Rural Planners, Poland Association of Planners, UNICEF, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and Indonesia’s Ministry of National Development and Planning of Indonesia discussed strengthening international collaboration and promoting healthy city development.  

At the opening session UN-Habitat’s Executive Director said the Forum showcased how planning professionals are responding to COVID-19. The experts looked at urban density, improving governance to build safe, resilient and sustainable cities and enhancing the quality of public space.

A different approach is being taken by the Local2030 Initiative hosted by the Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General and which UN-Habitat is involved in as part of the Secretariat. It launched the Local2030 Spotlight Series inviting all stakeholders involved in the local response to share brief videos on Adequate Housing and Shelter, Urban Basic Services and Livelihoods.

These webinars, which are ongoing, are a key opportunity to bring together local community leaders across cities, countries and regions providing opportunities for active learning about local adaptation, preparedness and response, to look at what works and adjust the response going forward.