Context and purpose of the UN-Habitat Report on Cities and Pandemics

The UN-Habitat’s report - Cities and Pandemics: Towards a more just, green and healthy future – evidences how cities can reduce the impact of future pandemics and become more prosperous, fair and environmentally friendly. The Report calls for the response and recovery to pandemics to be based on human rights principles. It outlines how cities should lead the move towards a New Social Contract between governments, the public, civil society and private sector to reduce poverty and inequality, provide adequate housing and strengthen social protection while rebuilding from the pandemic.

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UN-Habitat Executive Director's message on the Launch of UN Habitat’s Cities and Pandemics Report

Urban areas have been at the forefront of the COVID-19 crisis, with 95 per cent of all cases recorded in cities in the first months. The Report documents how compact, well planned cities combining residential and commercial  functions with public spaces and affordable housing can improve public health, the local economy and the environment, despite the vast scope of challenges faced by cities with the pandemic. The report specifically calls for investment in areas which form urban ‘weak spots’, overcrowded, cut off from other parts of the city by lack of transport or at risk from environment and health hazards. In fact, as with previous public health crises, the key determinants of risk for urban residents are inequality, inadequate housing and lack of access to clean water, sanitation and waste management.

The Cities and Pandemics Report provides the basis for the much-needed local level action in spatial planning, poverty and inequality, the economy, and governance. It also recommends how to adopt rights-based principles to recovery. In an urban context this includes relevant policies to protect land rights, improve access to water, sanitation, public transport, electricity, health and education facilities and ensure inclusive digital connectivity. This also means protecting jobs and providing financial support to cities to allow them to create financial resilience. The Report recommends removing regulatory obstacles for access to municipal finance to enable city leaders to build a new urban economy that allows investments in disaster risk reduction as well as climate change actions.

The Report stresses that shifting from a mindset of emergency to recovery, cities have the opportunity to continue to focus on strengthening public health, economic resilience and services for all. The longstanding divisions and inequalities highlighted by the pandemic mean that a return to normality is no longer enough: what is needed now is transformative change. With inclusive policies, community engagement and a meaningful transition to a more sustainable approach, cities could emerge from the catastrophe of COVID-19 stronger and more resilient than before.  

Recording of launch

Launch Programme | Flyer (PDF)

Press release:

Arabic | English | French | Spanish (PDF)


Only by addressing the underlying issues of inequality and exclusion in cities, then, can COVID-19 be effectively managed and contained. If this task seems daunting, then there are also reasons for tentative optimism: with the right policies in place, the enormous economic and social resources being invested to curb the pandemic could help deliver greener, more inclusive urban areas in the long term. Cities and Pandemics: Towards a More Just, Green and Healthy Future presents an overview of the situation to date and outlines a range of bold measures that could deliver a lasting and sustainable recovery from the current crisis.

The report focuses on four key priorities:

- Rethinking the form and function of the city
- Addressing systemic poverty and inequality in cities
- Rebuilding a ‘new normal’ urban economy
- Urban legislation and governance arrangements


Press Conference for the launch of UN-Habitat’s Cities and Pandemics Report

The thematic data and analyses have produced with the following draft findings and recommendations:

  • Discussion paper 1: Spatial Patterns and Dynamics in the Face of the Pandemic

          Webinar 1: PDF | Video

  • Discussion paper 2: Rebuilding the Urban Economy

         Webinar 2: PDF | Video

  • Discussion paper 3: Addressing systematic poverty and inequality in cities

          Webinar 3: PDF | Video

  • Discussion paper 4: Rethinking Policy, Legal and Governance Responses to COVID-19

          Webinar 4: PDF | Video