Rabat, Sidon, Essaouira, Byblos, Alexandria: Arab cities are leaving no one behind

The COVID-19 crisis is currently sparing no region. In response to its outbreak, member cities of the Coalition of Arab Cities against Racism, Discrimination, Xenophobia and Intolerance are protecting the most vulnerable, to ensure that no one is left behind.

Rabat, the capital of Morocco, has benefited from national decisions allowing mayors to accelerate procedures for the procurement of medical and other health-related supplies to respond quickly to the evolving Covid-19 pandemic. The City has also been very active in awareness-raising of its inhabitants regarding precautionary measures to counter the spread of the virus, including hygiene and social distancing measures. Inhabitants have been provided with access to expertise of mental health professionals through free hotlines.

Morocco has also witnessed a strong movement of solidarity from the private sector towards people. Several companies have offered free internet access to online education sites, financially supported poor families, and put their private health facilities at the service of the Ministry of Health.

The municipality of Sidon (Saida), in the south of Lebanon, has proactively established a Covid-19 pandemic “crisis committee” that includes all non-governmental organizations active in the city. The Committee helps to identify and implement actions on the ground, including the establishment of a Hotline to communicate with all its inhabitants. The Municipality has mobilized its police force for awareness-raising of inhabitants to stay home. It has also facilitated safe access to supermarkets where people flocked to stock up on food, and supported social distancing efforts. Support has been provided to local textile workshops to enable them to switch to the production of masks and medical uniforms. Coordination with neighbouring municipalities has been a key to success in tracking the evolving situation in south Lebanon.

The municipality of Essaouira in Morocco, co-lead city of UNESCO’s Coalition of Arab Cities, took a series of measures in solidarity with the most vulnerable. It has put its sport facilities at the service of its inhabitants, equipping these facilities to host the homeless, who are provided with food and other essentials. It has mobilized its vehicles to transport patients that need to receive frequent care, as normal public transport services have been interrupted. Essaouira has also established home services to the elderly. These exceptional services have been made possible through a Covid-19 emergency fund established by the municipality by diverting part of its budget, and using donations – including from municipality civil servants.

In Byblos (Jbeil), in the north of Lebanon, the municipality has started to support individuals who are self-isolating in their homes, by delivering groceries and other essential items. The municipality police delivers items in sanitized vehicles, in all confidentiality and free of charge. The municipality distributes food rations to families in need, with the financial support of the private sector. The campaign targets workers who have lost their income due to COVID-19. The municipality has financially supported individuals for COVID-19 testing by covering the cost of the test, up to a certain ceiling, and facilitating the taking of the test at home. Byblos has also facilitated access of city inhabitants to mental health experts free of charge.

The governorate of Alexandria, in the north of Egypt, has mobilized a group of volunteers and trained them on how to prepare sanitizing solutions and carry out sanitation operations related to the coronavirus in areas across the governorate. In this context, Alexandria has helped to establish a special fund to support daily-wage workers who have lost their income due to the pandemic.

These inspiring actions are in full adherence with the Toolkit for Urban Inclusion in Arab Cities, published in 2019 by the UNESCO and the European Training and Research Center for Human Rights and Democracy in cooperation with member cities of the Coalition. This confirms the Toolkit as a reference guide “by Arab cities, to Arab cities”, presenting policy models and hands-on guidance from which cities can benefit in times of crisis.

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