Urban Development and Future Cities: Towards Building Back a Better Post COVID-19 Kuwait

Statement Delivered by Haoliang Xu at the #UN75 Talks: Urban Development and Future Cities: Towards Building Back a Better Post COVID-19 Kuwait

September 15, 2020

Distinguished partners and representatives of the Government of Kuwait and Kuwait Institutions,
His Excellency Dr. Khaled Mahdi, Secretary General for the Supreme Council for Planning and Development,
Ms. Maimunah Sharif, UN-Habitat Executive Director, and
Mr. Tarek El-Skeikh, UN Resident Coordinator in Kuwait,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to be here with you today for a constructive dialogue and exchange of ideas towards building a sustainable urbanization based on the Kuwait Vision 2035, as part of the UN75 TALK series. I want to thank the Government of Kuwait for their partnership and the United Nations in Kuwait for their invitation.

COVID-19 has been largely an urban crisis. Nearly 90% of all cases and epicentres of the pandemic across countries are in cities. But population density does not necessarily correlate with high incidence of the pandemic, but poverty and deprivation, poor planning, inadequate infrastructure and weak governance structures do.

Despite being hard hit by this pandemic, cities will continue to be engines of growth and opportunities, accounting for more than 80% of global GDP. In the next 20 years, about 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities.  

Therefore  we must leverage sustainable urbanization as a transformative force for the COVID-19 building back better effort — a force that can accelerate progress towards a healthier, greener, safer, and more inclusive and resilient future set out in the ‘New Kuwait Vision 2035’ and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

UNDP, in its technical lead role for the UN socio-economic response to COVID-19 at the country level, supporting the UN Resident Coordinator, is helping to leverage the wider UN system across 131 country teams. We have closely supported 83 countries to conduct a COVID-19 socio-economic impact assessment. Thus far, 120 countries have a socio-economic response plan supported by the UN country teams.

Three encouraging patterns are emerging for a better recovery which are directly relevant for the future of cities:

Firstly, there are a lot of willingness of countries to address pre-existing and underlying conditions of inequalities, which is a critical condition for sustained and sustainable recovery. Majority of the people pushed back into poverty due to COVID-19 are likely to be living in cities. So people-centered measures, contained in the response plans, to protect people either by saving lives with investments in health services, or by implementing cash transfers and restoring livelihoods, will be critical to secure social cohesion in urban areas.  

Secondly, cities are key players in the pursuit of a green, resilient and inclusive economic recovery. Recovery measures should steer cities’ local economic development towards a lower-carbon and more resilient pathway. At UNDP, we are supporting 100 countries to connect their enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and the Paris Agreement to COVID-19 longer-term recovery efforts. UNDP is also supporting SMEs to implement new business models linking to the achievement of SDGs. Some businesses have been successfully established for offering technologies and services for waste management, cleaning oceans, agriculture and sustainable energy. In this respect, I am pleased to announce that UNDP is supporting a SME initiative to overcome COVID-19 challenges in Kuwait.

Thirdly, across the globe, the current pandemic is accelerating the speed of digitalization. This transition to digital life is an important element to future city infrastructure and buildings. UNDP, through its Global Policy Centre for Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development, is supporting the Government of Singapore’s mission to become a reference for food sustainability through the application of technologies on digital agriculture and urban vertical farming.

Last, access to finance is a major constraint to city and regional governments worldwide. On average, local authorities will have between 15% to 25% fewer revenues in 2021 due to a contraction of urban economies.  We must encourage national governments’ stimulus packages to include dedicated urban recovery funds.

As we move forward, at UNDP, we have been deepening our collaboration in the UN system, in particular with UN-Habitat, and with associations of city and regional governments to enhance our support to cities to spur an inclusive and green recovery.

With UN-HABITAT, UNDP has successfully implemented joint projects on sustainable urbanization globally, and prominently in this region such as in Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain.

I thank you for your attention and I look forward to listening to the views from representatives from both public and private sectors of Kuwait.