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Planning for Crisis and Emergency

Managing Covid-19 in India’s Cities: reshaping people’s everyday lives in poorer urban neighbourhoods

‘Managing Covid-19 in India’s Cities: reshaping people’s everyday lives in poorer urban neighbourhoods


Glyn Williams, University of Sheffield with Karen Coelho (Madras Institute of Development Studies), Darshini Mahadevia (Ahmedabad University), and Binitha Thampi (Indian Institute of Technology Madras)

This project has been funded by the British Academy under its Humanities and Social Sciences Tackling Global Challenges Programme.

Our project examines how management of the Covid-19 crisis affected residents of poorer urban neighbourhoods in India. Comparative research in Ahmedabad (Gujarat), Chennai (Tamil Nadu) and Trivandrum (Kerala), has investigated the experiences of residents, front-line staff and urban managers, combining this with secondary data explore the challenges cities these faced, and their reactions to these. Our findings demonstrate that this crisis could not be treated effectively through disease containment measures alone: community engagement and enhanced delivery of welfare support were vital components in ensuring grassroots compliance with public health measures.

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Perumbakkam, Chennai (Tamil Nadu), a resettlement project in which local NGOs provided core relief services

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VKP Nagar, Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala), a neighbourhood that organised its own community kitchen during the pandemic

Our research provides a case study of crisis management that will be useful to urban administrators and leaders planning for future pandemics or other acute threats. We argue that the city governments’ crisis responses were most effective where they combined the following: strong prior investment in frontline public services; universal prevention and support measures that anticipated the needs of marginalised communities; flexible use of existing government capacity and the willingness to expand this through a coordinated temporary/volunteer workforce; and establishing structures not only data gathering, but also for rapid reflection among multiple stakeholder groups at city- and neighbourhood level, allowing real-time fine-tuning of strategy in response to grassroots conditions.