A panel discussion convened by UNU-IAS and the UNU Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) on 9 September 2021 explored the vulnerability of societies in the context of COVID-19. Part of the 2021 UNU-WIDER Development Conference, it presented scientific research and activities by UNU-IAS and UNU-EHS, including collaboration as part of the UNU Water Network.
Focusing on the topic Building Resilience in Societies after COVID-19, the session considered vulnerability from the perspective of (i) the urban environment, (ii) local communities and biodiversity, and (iii) disaster risks revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and discussed solutions to build and support the resilience of societies.
On the urban environment and resilience, Kensuke Fukushi (Academic Director, UNU-IAS) introduced the concept of sustainability and highlighted the potential of wastewater monitoring as an approach to ensure urban resilience by detecting infectious diseases and mitigating health risks in cities.
Considering local communities and biodiversity, Maiko Nishi (Research Fellow, UNU-IAS) noted that more than 70% of emerging infectious diseases were zoonoses, underlining the central role of biodiversity for the human wellbeing. She highlighted the International Satoyama Initiative (ISI) and its landscape approach as a solution for local communities to enhance resilience through improved balance between human needs and biodiversity conservation.
Discussing disaster risks and the COVID-19 pandemic, Zita Sebesvari (Deputy Director, UNU-EHS) presented the newly-launched UNU-EHS report Disaster Risks in an Interconnected World, which examines ten disasters that took place during 2020–2021 and the underlying patterns and connections among them. According to the report, COVID-19 cases spiked after disasters such as the cold wave in Texas, USA; the explosion in Beirut, Lebanon; and cyclones in Bangladesh and India, where the effectiveness of disaster responses was reduced by COVID-19, the supply of goods disrupted, and people’s vulnerability increased.
Key messages emerging from the discussion included the need for awareness-raising on the interconnections between various human-made and natural disasters to implement the proposed solutions. Participants also emphasised the relationship between livelihoods and biodiversity; and the importance of shared objectives to effectively bridge communication between different sectors and stakeholders, where academia has a critical role to play as a catalyst for discussion.