From national to local, including local governments in the strategy against the pandemic

13 July 2020
Mauren esquivel

During this pandemic crisis, it has been found that the most successful countries in controlling the COVID-19 virus are those that have been able to develop solid national strategies using data and scientific evidence as in Uruguay y Germany, but they have also had efficient responses from the local level as in Tokyo o Seoul  , and discipline individually as shown by the New Zealanders.

Regarding national interventions, a lot has already been written; In general, the strategy followed by our countries has been to “flatten the curve”. That is, to reduce the speed of transmission of COVID-19 so as not to saturate the capacity of health systems, through measures of distancing and social isolation, including border closures, vehicle restrictions and control of citizens' freedom of movement. .  This strategyWhen properly implemented, it has been shown to have an impact on reducing the number of infected; although it has also meant growing costs in the economic and social sphere, so it should be considered as a temporary measure.

As restrictions are lifted, in what is called the "new normal", the weight of the local becomes more relevant, since the governments of the cities, of the municipalities, are the level of government closest to the people are the bridge between the responses of the central government and the community; and the one with the better knowledge on local social and economic dynamics to help guide companies and citizens in this orderly coexistence with the virus.

In a global crisis such as the one we are experiencing, inter-institutional collaboration and coordination will be key, and in that coordination local governments, taking advantage of their proximity and knowledge of risk areas, vulnerable populations, community dynamics, incidence of the informal economy, interactions between populations, etc. The World Bank mentions that local governments are the first line of defense to prevent the transmission of the disease, and to guide the economic recovery in the “new normal”.

In this logic, local governments serve to guarantee the operation and supply of essential goods and services (water, energy, security); They are essential to efficiently replicate and communicate information from health authorities among their communities; to guide support to the most vulnerable populations, and to generate new layers of information that support national strategies.

For the region, this coordination between local and central governments is a challenge, mainly because the way in which traditionally Central government ministries function tends to hinder comprehensive and inter-institutional public policies; and on the other hand, due to the great heterogeneity in the management quality local government public.

However, given the level of emergency in which Latin America finds itself, and the depth of the economic crisis y social media looming, the United Nations estimates a contraction in Latin America of 9.1% of GDP, the International Monetary Fund a fall of 9.4% and the World Bank of 7.2%, the largest drop in a century; and in terms of employment, the International Labor Organization estimates a contraction in working hours of 20%, equivalent to 55 million jobs with a 40-hour week, the highest in the world, affecting income and living standards of millions of people; Well, in the region, only 1 each 5 workers can telecommute. This panorama makes it imperative to accelerate processes, improve communications, innovate interventions, and learn from international experiences.

This means considering local governments as determining actors to facilitate the necessary interventions in the public space, in the social fabric and in the economic functioning of the communities. Because during this crisis it has been seen that the most affected places are the places with the greatest overcrowding in homes, with little access to public services, with limited open spaces, with the presence of informal settlements; where the inhabitants depend more on the informal economy, and the means of transport are of poorer quality. And unfortunately these conditions are all very present in the local and urban reality of the region, making us more vulnerable to the pandemic.

Today there are already examples of efforts in different countries where local governments have generated initiatives and projects to address the crisis:

  • Quito, Ecuador where mobile food units and food markets were implemented for the poorest populations that cannot go out to work on the streets.

  • Melbourne, Australia Targeted support was created for workers in the cultural sector and creative industries that have been severely affected by the closures of museums or theaters.

  • County of Cobb In the state of Georgia, in the metropolitan area of ​​Atlanta, it carries out a strategy through “crowdmapping” or generation of maps in a collaborative way, together with an alliance with the local chambers of commerce and tourism, facilitating the publication of jobs georeferenced to help place people who lost their jobs to the pandemic.

  • The city-state of SingaporeIt also used map technology, but to show the level of occupancy of city parks, and to facilitate social distancing.

  • CDMX, which launches the Verified Key tool, a digital authentication mechanism so that citizens can carry out up to 50 digital procedures that have been simplified, saving time and minimizing physical contact.

  • Cantons of Desamparados and Alajuelita, in Costa Rica, which have operations in the communities so that social distance measures are not violated in irregular settlements.

  • Buenos Aires, Argentina with the “so-called operation” of the Housing Institute, with which personalized telephone follow-up is given by family groups at risk within popular neighborhoods.

The responses, actions, tools and possibilities are many so that local governments can more efficiently support central governments' strategies against the pandemic. Even the World Health Organization, suggests a multisectoral model, where local governments can be that bridge between government and society, promoting coordination and coherence of strategies against the pandemic with a territorial and inclusive approach, facilitating delivery in the "last mile" and communicating directly with the citizen. The evidence shows that if the region wants to get ahead in this pandemic, both economically and health-wise, it will have to work to flatten the contagion and unemployment curves from a local perspective.