Discussion on Role of multi-level governance for managing pandemics and building resilience of Indian cities organized by National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), India

Discussion on Role of multi-level governance for managing pandemics and building resilience of Indian cities organized by National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), India

New Delhi, 30 July 2020 - A webinar was held as a part of the COVID-19 Urban Thinkers Campus Series on the topic of ‘Role of multi-level governance for managing pandemic and building resilience in Indian cities’ with more than 75 participants. The panellists comprised of distinguished urban practitioners, researchers and academicians from fields of disaster management, urban resilience, international affairs, social media and digital policy. It was an energetic discussion with all the participants who were also engaged through opinion polls on the topic.

Mr. Hitesh Vaidya, Director of National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), India, set the tone of the event by emphasizing the need for coordination between various stakeholders and knowledge sharing among them to successfully tackle the COVID-19 crisis. Cities across the globe have been leading the COVID-19 response and there is a need to strengthen long term preparedness and response to future public health and climate risks. He said that a greater impetus is required on building partnerships and capacities between cities globally.

Ms. Raina Singh, Senior Fellow, National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), India, moderated the first panel on ‘Cities’ Response to the Pandemic’. She stressed that the local bodies have been at the frontline of fighting the pandemic- monitoring on-ground health services, providing relief & response, and supplying essential services. However, they have faced extensive capacity constraints and the focus should be on bridging this gap. With this context, she invited the panellists to deliberate on how some of the existing mechanisms of governance and coordination have worked or not worked; and what have been the key learnings for addressing such risks in future.

Professor Santosh Kumar, Professor at the National Institute of Disaster Management, India, stressed on the need to rethink urban planning and disaster management practices in long run, along with strengthening capacities of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) institutionally and financially. The existing impacts of COVID-19 like increased burden on solid waste management systems in cities due to bio-medical waste can lead to cascading impacts like drainage blocks, urban flooding and public health concerns. Such issues coupled with natural disasters like cyclones call for a renewed approach in disaster management in India, which can tackle multiple risk scenarios.

Dr. Panagiotis Karamanos, India Programme Lead, International Urban Cooperation, highlighted the various lessons that could be learnt from the COVID-19 response in European cities. He talked about the flexible municipal budgeting in Spain, use of technology in UK and Hungary and innovative solutions like train hospitals in India. He also stressed that no two cities are the same and what may work for one may not work for other. The data available for the pandemic is being updated daily and hence it is pertinent to consider scientific advice for policy making. He opined that the COVID-19 response is a lesson for us to tackle climate change with more urgency as it has much graver consequences.

Mr. Mahesh Harhare, Chief Resilience Officer (Pune), Global Resilient Cities Network, explained the response that the city of Pune took to fight COVID-19. The effective coordination between civic bodies in Pune, departments of health, transport and police, State government and involvement of community based organisations, private hospitals and medical colleges has been crucial in responding to the crises, especially in the dense core areas of cities where the most vulnerable population lives. He also highlighted the use of technology in form of creation of dashboard having hospital information and communicating with the citizens, as an important step.

Dr Umamaheshwaran Rajasekar, Chair- Urban Resilience, National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), India, moderated the second panel on ‘Leveraging Multi-level Governance for Strengthening Urban Resilience’. He set the tone of the panel by defining ‘governance’ as rules of the institutional system to resolve conflicts between various actors to adopt a decision. He highlighted that good governance is at the heart of any successful development, be it at city level, state level or national level. He concluded his remarks by stressing that any risk proofing measures have to be driven by people, of the people & for the people.

Mr. OP Agarwal, CEO of World Resources Insitute (WRI) India, laid focus on three things- increasing institutional and technical capacity by taking advantage of scale of economies, higher financial resource allocation by national government and uniform systems in place for dealing with pandemic risks. He stressed on large scale capacity building that includes the citizens along with peer to peer learning among cities. As National Government in India allocates funding to States and Local bodies, a financial system towards resilience building should also be developed by them to achieve effective and fast local solutions. The National Government should also provide an enabling environment for innovation and bold decision making by State/Local bodies. The advantage of having a well-connected network of civil service personnel can help regarding this.

Mr. Amit Prothi, Managing Director APAC Region, Global Resilient Cities Network (GRCN) stressed the need for preparing urban resilience plans, not just on a case to case basis like COVID 19, but for handling multiple disasters at a time. A city should identify its shocks and stresses, and have a system in place to handle any disaster. He also emphasized on multi-institutional collaboration and coordination with focus on peer learning. In the end, he highlighted various cases including the Greater Manchester one-year living with COVID plan and the ‘Toolkit for Resilient Recovery’ by GRCN as important references for methodologies that break down the complexity and provide tools of engagement to help make better decisions.

Ms. Charu Chadha, Policy Programs Manager, India and South Asia, Facebook, focused on the role of social media platforms in facilitating civic actions during pandemic and providing data sets for effective governance. She explained Facebook’s ‘Data for Good’ program and how it could be useful while preparing and responding to disasters by the government agencies. Effective partnerships between private and public agencies, along with expertise of using the data efficiently will be needed for building resilience in future.

Article by NIUA
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