Everyone has probably heard this countless times already - 2020 was a year like no other.
The largest pandemic in 100 years swept across the globe, upending lives and economies, and reshaping life as we know it. The World Bank estimates that COVID-19 could push an additional 88 million to 115 million people into extreme poverty this year alone, with the total rising to as many as 150 million by 2021.
So, if 2020 is a year you are eager to leave in the rear-view mirror, you are not alone.
But reflecting on the work of the World Bank’s Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience and Global Practice (GPURL) this year shows how critical it has been for the World Bank to stay its course to end poverty and boost shared prosperity, but also be nimble in helping countries respond to the pandemic. In fact, some of the actions taken as part of the Bank’s COVID-19 response are among the achievements that inspire the most hope for the future . So, as we look to 2021, here are some of the highlights for GPURL over the course of 2020.
In February, at the World Urban Forum, the World Bank launched three reports, all of which would prove to be prescient in the coming months - one examined the spatial inequalities in the MENA region, another revealed the hidden value of investing in urban public spaces, and a third handbook highlighted the importance of gender-inclusive urban design. The team also continued to prioritize climate action with a technical deep dive with the city of Paris, engaging nine client cities on the topic.
As was made clear this year, disasters can strike at a moment’s notice. This makes quick access to disaster financing an important part of our emergency response , especially when it is associated with policy reforms to strengthen disaster risk reduction and preparedness. The World Bank’s Cat DDO instrument (short for Development Policy Financing with Catastrophic Deferred Drawdown Option) is designed to fill that need and played a critical role in supporting the emergency responses to COVID-19. By June 2020, 15 Cat DDOs totaling $1.7 billion were disbursed in immediate financing for countries responding to the pandemic.
Planning ahead was key to providing rapid aid. But knowing where to target that aid was a challenge for many cities. To support rapid decision-making, the World Bank developed an Artificial Intelligence-supported model for cities using readily available satellite imagery, density and population data as well as the geographic location of infrastructure to predict where viral hotspots might develop, allowing cities to take pre-emptive actions. This tool has since been deployed in cities across the developing world and is guiding response and recovery efforts.
COVID-19 hit cities hard and fast. Conventional wisdom is that cities, and especially dense neighbourhoods, are at greater risk of being hotspots, but the data told a different story. Throughout the past few months, GPURL has emphasized the importance of understanding cities’ economic geography, strengthening urban management to combat the pandemic, and improving housing outcomes in the poorest neighbourhoods most at risk.
As the world sought to make sense of the pandemic, demography was suddenly thrust into the spotlight. We worked on forced displacement, on designing age-ready cities and what healthy cities can mean for us and our clients. The rich conversations and underlying analysis will be released over the course of the next year.
Another issue that came up in sharp relief was the importance of maintaining essential services in cities, of which solid waste management is a critical one. The Tokyo Development Learning Center (TDLC), in collaboration with partner cities Fukuoka and Kitakyushu, convened a virtual technical deep dive on solid waste management, with a special focus on medical waste and waste management in the context of COVID-19. Over 75 participants from across 11 countries shared their action plans for moving forward, stressing the importance of a step-by-step approach and engaging a variety of stakeholders, including citizens, informal workers and the private sector in the process.
COVID-19 wasn’t the only disaster the World Bank responded to in 2020. Right after a massive blast rocked the port of Beirut on Aug. 4, the World Bank, working closely with the United Nations and the European Union, launched a Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment to assess the impact of the blast. The assessment provided critical information needed to enable the reconstruction and recovery of places and people impacted by the blast. These disasters showed us that we live in a world of compounded risks and will need to prepare to handle them simultaneously and systematically.
In September, the World Bank partnered with the European Investment Bank to launch the City Climate Finance Gap Fund. This new fund will support climate-smart urban development in developing countries, at a time when cities find themselves facing three overlapping crises between rising carbon emissions, a global pandemic and a weakening global economy. Each pose serious threats for cities and their intersection causes more compounded risks but also present substantial opportunities to build back better than before. The fund is one of the key ways the Bank is financing green recovery in cities. Alongside it, our City Resilience Program (CRP) continued to scale up its support to cities to mainstream resilience in spatial planning and access finance for the development of resilient urban infrastructure.
For the first time, the World Bank’s Annual Meetings were held virtually in October, during which time the Bank announced the approval of $12 billion for developing countries to finance the purchase and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments for their citizens. This will no doubt come as relief to stop the spread of the virus, which has seriously affected cities. In parallel, we continue to provide targeted support to the urban poor and vulnerable including through slum upgrading and labor-intensive public works, as well as in greening the recovery towards inclusive, resilient and livable cities.
It was also a big year for the Global Partnership for Results Based Approaches (GPRBA). This World Bank program made strides towards advancing innovative results-based approaches to financing international development projects. In Liberia and Gaza, new grants are improving waste management, making cities healthier for all. In Solomon Islands, a GPRBA project is providing 15,000 people with reliable electricity, powering everything from lights for children to study by to refrigerators in homes. The future is looking bright too, with a brand-new fund for outcomes-based financing that was launched this year.
As we look to the dawn of a new year, there’s no telling what 2021 will bring. But we can take some comfort in the knowledge that we planted the seeds of recovery this year. It will take time, care and hard work, but our hope is that those seeds will grow and flourish again in the future.
Author: Zev Stampfer is a communications consultant specializing in digital platforms and social media. Before coming to the World Bank, Zev held several different roles in the world of American political communications. Zev got his undergraduate degree in International Relations, Economics, and Philosophy from the University of Redlands, and is thrilled to be back in the field of international development. When he's not working, Zev enjoys listening to and making music, cooking, and reading.