In recent months, local governments have been at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic. We have worked hard to ensure the continuity of provision of public services to support efforts to address the global health emergency.
Clean water, sanitation, housing, mobility guaranteeing food access and education have depended more than ever before on the public sector safeguarded by local and regional governments.
While we have not reached everyone and some challenges remain unresolved, unprecedented decisions have been taken to protect the people, especially those who are most vulnerable. It is our hope, as the international municipal movement, that those measures will be maintained and will guide decisions when these challenges strike. The fight is not over and other challenges will surely rise.
United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) speaks on behalf of each of its members, big and small, when we say that we are proud! We are proud of our communities, we are proud of the public service providers who cared for us, and we are proud of the volunteers and neighbors who have shown us the way.
We know now that the struggle against the virus is also a fight against poverty and structural inequality. Access to equal healthcare, to quality education no matter where you come from, to safe housing, to water and sanitation, and to quality jobs will remain a necessity long after the pandemic fades in our memories.
This pandemic has magnified the shortcomings we already were aware of, and it is spelling out a simple truth that needs to be said out loud: we can no longer ignore the persistence of inequalities, discrimination, and exclusion in our cities and territories.
We are very concerned as representatives of local and regional governments worldwide. We know that our service provision systems will be compromised due to lack of resources and we also know that there will be many more vulnerable populations resulting from the job losses our economies will face.
Local and regional governments are saying it loud and clear. We need to change the game and we are the game changers. Our sphere of government, together with our communities, need to be part of a renewed global table that defines the next steps for future generations.
Only by thinking local, and by acting global, we will be able to build sustainable societies that leave no one and no place behind. No single actor can face these challenges alone.
This is the reason why we joined the invitation of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to join the conversation on the future we need, and why we have produced our Visioning Report with the knowledge from local leaders and their networks. Our constituency’s report to UN75 shows that our communities are calling for a more inclusive multilateral system, one that considers the local sphere in every step of the decisions that we take. It is showing that our leaders are ready to be a part of the solution and that they are already caring for their populations.
We are able to turn the tide, with strong rules against evictions, using public spaces for housing, promoting proximity production and consumption and with a new generation of rights that includes the rights of the planet, digital access for all and gender equality as our guide. We need to keep our focus on human rights and strong democracy, transparency, and accountability.
Culture and innovation will be our antidote for the consequences of the pandemic and will need to become the backbone of the renewal of jobs and markets. Culture needs to become, as well, the backbone of the interconnected realities that empower the future generations.
Our hearts are in the right place, but we cannot do this alone. We need to keep our eyes on the bigger picture while holding onto strong pillars. Basic services are the cornerstone of the recovery from the pandemic and yet they are still an afterthought in the global debate. We are ready to tackle this issue head-on. Financing our public service ecosystem around the world will be as critical as achieving universal health coverage.
We are ready to bring about the collaboration among spheres of government, and with all local actors, to ensure that every person on this planet has the means to live a fulfilling life through the provision of local basic services.
Despite the difficulties of 2020, we have reason to celebrate the United Nations, its ambitious agendas, and the dialogue it represents. Our constituency is optimistic, since we represent the leadership that needs to bring solutions to the table. I salute the women and men that harness our potential to catalyze our individual hopes from the world’s city halls and the territories. I call the international community to count on them as true partners and allies.
(Saiz is the Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments & contributed article for IISD)