Enhancing Local Resilience in Informal Settlements During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Cities Alliance looks back on challenges and achievements of its support to vulnerable populations in informal settlements and slums during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The main difference is that federations do not have a project ending period. For us, we invest in a process that does not have a timeline, does not have a sell-by date, does not have a pull-out strategy. We put measures, and structures, and frameworks in place that support the community beyond the scope of any one project", stated Sheila Magara, community leader in Zimbabwe and member of SDI Management Board.

Globally, an estimated 25% of urban population lives in informal settings, slums or extremely poor neighborhoods, with the percentage rising in the least developed countries (LDC). Informality is the cause of lacking basic services, appropriate housing and sanitation infrastructure, with some groups, like women, being disproportionately affected. These issues were further worsened through the COVID-19 pandemic. Population in informal settlements faces considerably stronger and decisive challenges than any other. The health implications are just part of the issue, as the spread of the virus has an impact on every aspect of life in informal contexts, affecting livelihoods and basic needs. The danger also resides in the fact that once a COVID-19 outbreak starts, it is almost impossible to stop its spread and thus to address its consequences and further plan.

During the last year and a half, the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) funded an initiative implemented by Cities Alliance in partnership with Slum Dwellers International (SDI) in 17 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America, to support population in informal settlements and slums. The Project addresses the pandemic’s consequences and aims at strengthening resilience for future shocks. During the implementation of the initiative, Cities Alliance and SDI faced many challenges linked to the complex dynamics in informal settlements. At the same time, they could make several important observations and witnessed many positive outcomes.

To cite some, by working with existing community-based systems and networks, they witnessed the centrality of poor urban populations to ensuring that appropriate and inclusive aid responses are provided. Using local communities’ intelligence was established to be key for building resilience and enabling long-term solutions. The approach allowed Cities Alliance and SDI to enable slum dweller federations and networks to address basic sanitation needs, strategically collect and use data, build and improve safety net structures, such as savings groups and taking the lead in raising awareness about the disease. While these achievements are tailored to the COVID-19 pandemic, they show the potential of community-based systems to address crises and build long term resilience.

To learn more about the gained insights and potential perspectives on working in informal contexts to build resilience, please follow this link here.