COVID-19, Slums and Resilience

Amaia Celaya Alvarez

In the world of disaster risk reduction and resilience, it is always said that crises should be windows of opportunity; although when we are immersed in one of those crises, as is the case of the current global emergency of COVID- 19, it is really difficult to think this way, especially in slums,[1] now seriously threatened[2] in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean.

However, if we go back in time and review other urban global crises, it is possible to see how crisis can come with in-depth urban transformation. In London in 1665 we had the bubonic plague epidemic, and in 1854, the cholera epidemic,[3] which brought with it the first mapping and epidemiological studies and modified the logic of the fabric of cities. The Spanish flu, from 1918, also affected Mexico City and New York, teaching us that in dense and degraded urban areas, populated by people in vulnerable situations, the interconnections and systemic nature of the problem mean that solutions necessarily have to come from a strengthening of the public health system.[4] However, in 2014, with the Ebola crisis, we saw how in Freetown, Conakry or Monrovia, the rural and urban links, the cultural identity and traditions, and the extreme complexity of the interconnections of the urban system, turned these fragile and un-planned cities into a challenge for the international community, which attempted to break the chain of infection and save as many lives as possible.

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[2] Annie Wilkinson (2020), The impact of COVID-19 in informal settlements. Cities Alliance – Cities without Slums. Available at:
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