How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the urban poor?

By Benigna Boza-Kiss, Shonali Pachauri, and Caroline Zimm from the IIASA Transformative Institutional and Social Solutions Research Group

Benigna Boza-Kiss, Shonali Pachauri, and Caroline Zimm explain how COVID-19 has impacted the poor in cities and what can be done to increase the future resilience of vulnerable populations.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a halt to life as we knew it. We have been restrained in our activities and freedoms, forced to stay indoors at home, to cancel travel plans, and to transfer meetings to an online space, where most of us have also celebrated birthdays and other important life events that should have been in person with our loved ones. These changes have impacted many aspects of our comfort, our social wellbeing, as well as our financial situations, but it has also brought existing inequalities and poverty into the spotlight.

The risks of the pandemic and restrictions following containment measures have been felt most acutely by the poor, the vulnerable, those in the informal sector, and those without savings and safety nets. The suffering of women in the health sector, school children in households without electricity and internet, workers in the informal sector that don’t have the option to telework, crowds living in slums – to name just a few examples of vulnerable groups – have become glaringly visible to all. These people have had to adapt to new rules and conditions when they were living on the edge even before the pandemic.

In a new perspective piece published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Cities, we explored how aspects related to access to shelter/housing, modern energy, and digital services in cities have influenced the poor and what can be done to increase the future resilience of vulnerable populations.

We described three ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic and related containment measures have exacerbated urban inequalities, and identified how subsequent recovery measures and policy responses could redress these.

First, lockdowns amplified urban energy poverty. Staying at home has meant increased energy use at home. For the poor, who already struggle with utility costs, and typically live in low energy quality buildings, these services have become even more unaffordable. These populations also shoulder a higher burden of poor health, for example, higher incidence of respiratory problems, with poor or inadequate ventilation and insulation increasing their risk of infection even more.

Second, preexisting digital divides have surfaced, even within well-connected cities. Multiple barriers limit digital inclusion: access to digital technologies due to high costs (for devices, internet access, and electricity connections), and unreliable services (again both for electricity and internet), as well as low digital literacy and support. This lack of adequate digital service access is contributing to these populations falling further behind during lockdowns as they miss out on education and income.

Third, slum dwellers in the world’s cities have been particularly hard hit, because of precarious and overcrowded housing conditions, lack of basic infrastructure and amenities, and a high concentration of the socioeconomically disadvantaged, resulting in even more negative consequences of lockdown measures. With many slum inhabitants working in the informal sector, many have been left either without jobs and income, or have been compelled to work in precarious and unsafe conditions to survive. The loss of income has also had knock-on effects, making payments of regular expenditures for rent, water, electricity, and other utility services difficult. Women within these settlements have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, as they are over represented in the informal economy, and more likely to be engaged in invisible work, such as home-based or domestic and care work.

Recovery measures need to ensure immediate relief, but also point towards long-term solutions that contribute to the redistribution of wealth and new urban development, while also increasing resilience to the current and future pandemics or other disasters. There are tested measures that should be reemphasized.

Urban green recovery plans that include large-scale home renovation programs could ensure warm, healthy homes, and affordable energy bills for all. In the shorter-term, alleviation of payment defaults on the rents and utility bills of the energy poor should continue. In parallel, urban digital preparedness, more equal access to the virtual delivery of essential services, and provision of opportunities for virtual working and education for all in the future, need attention.

COVID-19 can be a wake up call to increase efforts to close the digital divide and push for structural change. The crisis has increased the urgency to redesign and improve informal settlements and provide adequate and efficient services that address the diverse needs of poor urban residents. This requires partnerships between urban municipalities, planners, and stakeholders, as well as strengthening local communities for inclusive planning strategies. More immediately, it is necessary to provide direct support to slum and informal settlement populations in terms of income support, adequate nutrition, energy, water, and other basic infrastructure and services.

All in all, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a “test of societies, of governments, of communities, and of individuals”. Digital technologies, home renovation, and slum rehabilitation are the means, rather than the end to improve conditions for all, but if specifically targeted to the poor and most deprived, such measures can reduce inequalities and increase resilience.

Reference:

Boza-Kiss, B., Pachauri, S., & Zimm, C. (2021). Deprivations and Inequities in Cities Viewed Through a Pandemic Lens. Frontiers in Sustainable Cities 3 e645914. [pure.iiasa.ac.at/17121]

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Solutions providing multiple resilience dividends require an integrated approach

 

Disaster Risk Reduction investments bring a wide variety of benefits, including economic, ecological, and social, but in practice these multiple resilience dividends are often not included in investment appraisals or are not recognized by those making funding decisions. How do we change this?

Research led by the London School of Economics and Political Science with IIASA and Practical Action published in the Working Paper Multiple resilience dividends at the community level: A comparative study on disaster risk reduction interventions in different countries highlights the need for an integrated decision-making framework to overcome the challenges.

The negative effects of disasters on people and communities are varied and far reaching, and will only get worse as climate change make floods and other natural hazards more frequent, severe, and unpredictable. Disasters lead to loss of lives, assets, and livelihoods, they undermine or destroy development progress. Since 2000 climate related hazards have caused $2.2 trillion of losses and damages and have affected approximately 3.9 billion people globally.

With investments in disaster risk reduction (DRR), where community resilience is enhanced these negative impacts can be reduced and savings can be made. It’s more cost effective to invest in pre-event resilience than post-event response and recovery.

So why is disaster risk reduction so difficult to finance?

The problem with estimating the direct benefit of disaster risk reduction interventions is that you only see the benefits when an event which would otherwise have turned into a disaster occurs and is successfully mitigated.

This makes cost-benefit analysis and other decision-making methods difficult to carry out, and makes the costs of doing something more aligned to the probability of the event, rather than the lives and economic costs saved, thus changes to policy and practice are slow to materialize.

What are the multiple dividends of resilience?

The multiple dividends of resilience refer to positive socioeconomic outcomes generated by, and co-benefits of, an intervention beyond, and in addition to, risk reduction.

It’s an approach aimed at making DRR investments more attractive as the multiple dividends of an investment may help identify win-win-win situations (as well as trade-offs), even if no hazard event occurs. Co-benefits can be intended, or unintended.

As framed by the Triple Resilience Dividend concept these benefits can be divided into three categories:

1. The avoided losses and damages in case of a disaster

For example, how bio-dykes in Nepal prevent river bank erosion, which reduces the risk of flooding, and associated sand deposits that ruin the fertility of agricultural land.

2. The economic potential of a community that is unlocked through the intervention

This includes ecosystem-based adaptation solutions in Vietnam where mangrove plantations create new habitats for fish, leading to improved livelihood opportunities for those making their living from fishing.

3. Other development co-benefits

Transition to solar stoves in rural Afghanistan does not only protect natural capitals from degradation, but also empowers women and girls, reduces in-house smog pollution, and fosters technological innovations.

Rongali next to his community’s bio-dyke. Photo by Sanjib Chaudhary, Practical Action.

What are the challenges?

The triple resilience dividend approach is often linked to new and innovative solutions like ecosystem based adaptation, where the benefits can be wider, but when and how they will materialize is more uncertain than with traditional, hard infrastructure solutions.

Although many developing countries have policies that align DRR, climate change adaptation, and sustainable development, sadly, in practice, local decision makers assume that multiple resilience dividends will only accumulate over the long term. This often leads them to select traditional, hard infrastructure solutions that offer quick and more visible protection.

We need more success stories. Pilot interventions can be shared and shown to community members and decision makers to overcome their skepticism but this require better and more comprehensive evidence than we have today.

We also lack decision-making frameworks that can include and monitor multiple resilience dividends. Frameworks that support planners as they navigate the decision-making process, and help generate the evidence needed.

Community members in the Peruvian Andes working at a local tree nursery. Photo by Giorgio Madueño , Practical Action

How do we overcome these challenges?

The solution suggested in Multiple resilience dividends at the community level: A comparative study on disaster risk reduction interventions in different countries is an integrated decision-making framework that allows to systematically include, appraise, implement, and evaluate individual resilience dividends at each stage of the decision-making process.

Application and relevance matters.

As we suggest, instead of maximizing resilience dividends based on a specific, one dimensional, metric (e.g., monetary benefits) decision-making approaches need to identify those dividends that are most needed and demanded by the community and the solutions, novel or local in nature, best suited to generate these.

A structured approach in combination with participatory decision making allows for a tailored approach where community buy-in is achieved by prioritizing the resilience dividend(s) that matter most to them, while at the same time contributing to the evidence base for multiple resilience dividends.

This is urgently needed to highlight the fundamental challenges with the existing planning and decision-making system and therefore generate demand to deliver more effective solutions at scale.

Cleaning waste from river in Penjaringan Urban Village, Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo by Piva Bell, Mercy Corps.

Read the working paper this blog is based on here.

This blog post first appeared on the Flood Resilience Portal. Read the original post here.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Multiple benefits of Disaster Risk Reduction investments

By Julian Joseph, research assistant in the Water Security Research Group

Julian Joseph explains the concept of the triple dividend of disaster risk reduction investments based on the application of a novel economic model applied to a case study undertaken in Tanzania and Zambia.

What are the benefits of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) investments such as dams and the introduction of drought-resistant crops in agriculture for an economy? They are threefold and called the “triple dividend” of DRR investments. The first dividend comprises the direct effects of DRR investments, which limit damage to houses, infrastructure, and other physical assets and prevent death and injury. The second dividend unlocks the economic potential of an economy because risk reduction drives people and businesses to invest more, as they expect less of what they invest in to be destroyed by disasters, while the third dividend is comprised of development co-benefits through other uses the investments provide.

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Using a new macroeconomic model called DYNAMMICs, my colleagues and I have found that there is often a significant growth effect for the economy attached to investing in mitigation measures like dams and drought resistant crops, which is commonly underestimated in traditional models. One reason for this is the focus of other models on only the first, direct dividend. We specifically looked into the examples of Tanzania and Zambia, which show that governments and other stakeholders in developing countries can spur economic growth by investing in DRR measures, thus increasing future earnings and creating a safe environment for investments into other economic activities.

In Tanzania and Zambia, floods affect tens of thousands of people each year (on average 45,000 or .08% of the population in Tanzania and 20,000 or .11% of the population in Zambia). Droughts have more widespread consequences and already affect 11.8% of the population in Tanzania and 19% of Zambians who often lose all or parts of their harvest. This poses an imminent threat to food security in countries where substantial shares of the population rely on subsistence farming as their primary source of income. Given the effects of climate change, these numbers and their ramifications are bound to become ever more pressing issues. However, policymakers, institutions, enterprises, and individuals tend to underinvest in adaption measures.

A promising avenue for demonstrating the potential of DRR investments is offered by including all economic growth effects they invoke into policy analysis, thus showing that besides risk reduction and post-disaster mitigation of destruction, investing in DRR measures can help countries achieve many of their other development goals as well.

We tend to only think of the first dividend of DRR investments, the direct effects of which stop people from being immediately affected by disasters. In the case of Tanzania and Zambia, we examined, among others, the benefits of constructing additional dams. The direct benefits of dams lie in the safeguarding of livelihoods, infrastructure, housing, and agricultural production. These are seen as the first dividend, called the ex-post damage mitigation effect. There are however also additional co-benefits.

In both Tanzania and Zambia, large shares of the population are heavily dependent on agriculture, which makes the introduction of drought-resistant crop varieties such an additional benefit. These crop varieties do not only help farmers preserve their yields in times of disastrous droughts, but additionally support farmers by generating higher yields, even in the absence of disaster. This effect is boosted by the lowered risk for the loss of crops, which spurs investment into farming activities and inputs. Farmers who do not fear losing their entire harvest can, and generally will, invest more into the production of this crop – an example of the second type of dividend, the ex-ante risk reduction effect. This type of economically beneficial effect materializes regardless of the onset of disaster.

The same is true for the third type of dividend, the co-benefit production expansion effect, which is especially relevant for the advantages of dams. The power generation capability of dams, leads to much larger economic gains than the two other dividends combined. In countries such as those at hand with frequent power cuts and comparably low levels of electrification, especially in rural areas, the additional electricity generated can lead to particularly pronounced positive effects by supplying economic actors with access to power. In other scenarios, the provision of ecosystem services is also an important effect falling into this category.

The results we obtained using the DYNAMMICs model are promising: Constructing only two additional dams leads to a 0.3% increase of GDP growth in Tanzania for the next 30 years (0.2% in Zambia) with results largely (97%) driven by the co-benefit production expansion effect. Similarly, the introduction of drought resistant crops and exposure management (i.e., land use restrictions) significantly boost economic growth perspectives. Finally, introducing insurance is a driver for a reduction in the variance of GDP growth, which helps to reduce uncertainty for everyone in the economy. Modeling in such a fashion is therefore an important means of weighing policy options for DRR against each other and for determining optimal levels of investment.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Restructuring the food system after COVID-19

By Husam Ibrahim, International Science Council (ISC)

The IIASA-ISC Resilient Food Systems report looks at the vulnerabilities in the food system and recommends changes to move forward through COVID-19 recovery plans that prioritize society’s least protected.

Credit: Adam Islaam – IIASA

The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified and brought to the fore existing vulnerabilities and global interdependency in societal institutions, including the food system. The pandemic has exaggerated the scarcity in some areas’ food supplies and highlighted the divide between the haves and have-nots.

The number of people suffering from poverty had been on a steady decline, going from 2 billion people in 1990 to 740 million in 2015. However, for the first time in decades, the global poverty rate is once again increasing due to the pandemic. Early estimates suggest that an additional 88 million to 115 million people may suffer extreme poverty, with the total rising to as many as 150 million by 2021.

The socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic are further exacerbating inequalities within and between  countries, and intensifying the rise in food insecurity observed since 2014. It has been estimated that the effects of the pandemic could have longer-term repercussion for low-income countries, greatly undermining their development prospects, unless sufficient international support is provided.

In order to explore how the world can recover from the crisis sustainably, IIASA and the International Science Council (ISC) launched the Consultative Science Platform: Bouncing Forward Sustainably Post COVID-19. The two organizations have drawn on their combined strengths, expertise, and large scientific communities, to come up with a set of insights and recommendations based on a series of online consultations that have brought together over 200 experts from all regions of the world. The Resilient Food Systems report is a contribution to this effort.

Resilient Food Systems

Transformations within reach:
Pathways to a sustainable and resilient world

 

 

 


While the pandemic exerted supply and demand shocks across economic sectors, the report highlights that the food system was particularly affected by impacts on employment and income in relation. This is because international food supply has been strong, and the supply-demand ratios have remained stable throughout the pandemic. However, job and income losses, insufficient safety nets, and constraints on local access to food created conditions for food insecurity.

Lack of access to basic services, such as water and sanitation, and the prevalence of informal employment, have forced many people in low- and middle-income countries to make the impossible choice between following physical distancing measures or maintaining basic income and access to food. Before the pandemic, an estimated 3 billion people were unable to afford a healthy diet on a consistent basis.

Therefore, the report argues that the emphasis on efficiency – which has in large part been driving the evolution of food systems – must be balanced with an emphasis on concerns related to resilience and equity. With this, the food system can combat future crises while serving society’s most vulnerable. The recovery process should be harnessed to strengthen the preparedness of the food system to manage multiple risks.

As highlighted by the pandemic, this would entail expanding the scope and reach of social safety nets and protection schemes. Future food systems should be characterized by better pricing-in of environmental externalities. The sustainable management of natural resources should be seen as an integral part of strengthening the resilience of food systems, recognizing also the close linkage between human and planetary health concerns.

‘ In light of resilience and sustainability concerns the focus should be on using agricultural areas that we already have, rehabilitating degraded environments, and looking into the potential of diversification of practices and technologies.’

Frank Sperling, Senior Project Manager, IIASA

The role of different agricultural practices in building resilience needs to be looked into. This includes high-tech solutions like biotechnology, as well as an increase in the trade of agricultural goods, a sustainable increase in crop yields, and using underutilized crops to their full potential.

This also means protecting biological diversity, minimizing the destruction of pristine natural environments and focusing on the regeneration of natural ecosystems.

The report also states that strong international institutions are necessary to coordinate policies and limit tensions between multiple social, economic, and environmental interests represented within food systems internationally. Further funding, integration, and emphasis on context-specific solutions can help make changes, and emerging action-oriented knowledge and funding platforms are being used to help transform the food systems.

‘It is very important that these reforms are characterized by global collaboration, keeping nutritional security at the forefront with society’s most vulnerable people in mind, so that no one gets left behind.’

Frank Sperling, Senior Project Manager, IIASA

For more information on how COVID-19 is impacting the food system, and the lessons learned from the pandemic, read the IIASA-ISC Resilient Food Systems Report.


You can also watch the discussion on Strengthening Science Systems as part of the launch event for the Bouncing Forward Sustainably: Pathways to a post-COVID World, which explores the key themes of Sustainable Energy, Governance for Sustainability, Strengthening Science Systems and Resilient Food Systems.

This blog post was first published on the website of the International Science Council. Read the original article here.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

How COVID-19 complicates the journey for climate migrants

By Lisa Thalheimer, 2020 IIASA Young Scientists Summer Program (YSSP) participant in the Risk and Resilience and World Population Programs

Lisa Thalheimer shares her journey in researching climate-related migration in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of taking mental health issues into account in climate science and the policy realm.

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COVID-19 has changed our idea of normal. These unprecedented, stressful times affect us all – some of us more than others. Fear and anxiety over a new disease without any promise of a vaccine anytime soon, global economic downturn, along with feelings of loneliness and emotional exhaustion due to the lockdown, can leave us mentally exhausted. Rates of depression and addiction-related suicide are in fact already on the rise among young people like myself.

Now imagine you are advised to stay at home, but you cannot do so because climate change has turned your entire life upside down: your house is no longer there, you have lost your job, your family or friends – you are likely to feel unhinged. This is a reality for many migrants across the globe. It is inevitable that existing migration patterns will be shifted beyond disasters alone. Cascading impacts form the still unfolding pandemic could compound. No matter if you are a migrant yourself or not, agency and the choice over the decision whether to leave your house or not, and the luxury to socially distance could potentially not be an option with a systemic shock like COVID-19.

These changes in circumstances have also affected me as a young scientist. I would have been in Laxenburg, getting to know my YSSP peers and IIASA colleagues, but this year’s journey has been rewritten – courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I was living in Oxford in the UK when I came to realise that mental health is a game changer in the way I manage my day, make decisions, my ability to care for my partner who suffers from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and making progress on my PhD thesis. Everything felt more difficult. I was overwhelmed. I wanted to understand why this is the case. My interest soon evolved into researching the links between mental health and my PhD topic of climate-related migration.

For the article “The hidden burden of pandemics, climate change and migration on mental health”, I teamed up with an epidemiologist who specialises in mental health at my old university home, the Earth Institute in New York City. This research experience was an eye-opener, both personally and scientifically.

In our article, we focused on the US, as it has been hit hardest by COVID-19 – in mid-August, the number of COVID-19 cases exceeded five million. On top of this, depression and anxiety are already prominent among Americans, as is costly impacts from disasters. Hurricanes cost the US around US$ 17 billion every year, but estimates show a higher probability of extremely damaging hurricane seasons with climate change. We may know the impact of climate change on assets and on physical health, but what about mental health impacts?

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Although my coauthor and I come from different scientific disciplines, I soon came to realize that our scientific approach has a common denominator: systems thinking. Accounting for interconnections and cascading effects, our article shed light on different systems affected by COVID-19 and situations where mental health issues are likely to become increasingly prevalent in a changing climate. The article focuses on already vulnerable parts of the population, for example those who have been impacted by Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Harvey – the latter of which has been made worse by climate change. The article illustrates how COVID-19 becomes a risk multiplier for climate migrants in three distinct case studies: key workers in New York as urban setting, seasonal migration dynamics, and disproportionate effects on black and Latino communities. Unrelenting effects include loss of employment, and a lower likelihood of being able to work from home or to have health insurance than white people.

A better understanding of the mental health-migration-climate change nexus can help absorb adverse mental health outcomes from COVID-19, which would otherwise compound. We however need to tackle systemic risks affecting mental health through synergies in research and policy, and an integrated intervention approach. Free mental health support for key workers through tele-therapy and mental health hotlines provide a practical way forward. Personally, I learned that climate migrants have been relentlessly resilient to systemic shocks. Nevertheless, with mental health issues, it becomes increasingly hard to maintain such resilience. With this commentary, I hope that mental health and interdisciplinary research finds its way in climate science and in the policy realm. We all need a clear mind to attain the Sustainable Development Goals.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.