Urbanisation and pandemic

Context: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for a reimagining of urban planning and development to make cities and towns healthy and liveable after COVID-19.

More on news:

  • PM emphasised resetting the mindset, processes and practices for safe urban living, and acknowledged that governments actually do little for the working millions at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum.

Discuss the spread of pandemic in urban areas and associated issues.

  • Spread of pandemic: The top 10 cities affected worldwide accounted for 15% of the total cases, and data for populous Indian cities later showed large spikes that radiated into smaller towns.
  • Reason for the spread: Rapid transmission in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai was the unavoidable outcome of densification and an inability to practise distancing norms.
  • In Dharavi, which has one of the world’s highest slum densities, epidemiologists point an apparently low viral impact to screening and herd immunity.
  • Social impact: The pandemic’s full social impact, especially among the poorer people has not been adequately measured here or elsewhere.
  • Housing: Good and affordable housing is the basis of a sustainable and healthy city.
  • Well-designed rental housing that is the key to protecting migrant labour and other less affluent sections remains poorly funded.
  • Mumbai is estimated to have added only 5% of rental housing in new residential construction (1961-2000), and that too led by private funding.
  • Enforcement of laws:  Laws on air pollution, municipal solid waste management and water quality are hardly enforced, and tokenism marks the approach to urban mobility.

What can be done?

  • Schemes: An opportunity to make schemes such as the Centre’s Affordable Rental Housing Complexes deliver at large scale and focus on new good houses built by the state.
  • Demand and supply: The Ministry of Housing could work by digitally combining and transparently publishing data on demand and supply for each city.
  • Learning from the past:  Past menaces such as cholera, the plague and the global flu pandemic a century ago led to change such as sewerage, waste handling, social housing and health care that reduced disease. Something on the same lines should be done about the pandemic.
  • Government should show the political will to reinvent cities after the pandemic is over.
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