Urban-Rural Linkages and COVID-19: Lessons for Resilience and Recovery from Crisis

Monday, 27 December, 2021

Urban-Rural Linkages and COVID-19: Lessons for Resilience and Recovery from Crisis

by UN-Habitat | Published in 2020


This report presents the results of rapid mobilizing in 2020 on the part of the UrbanRural Linkages (URL) team in the Policy, Legislation and Governance Section (PLGS) of the Urban Practices Branch of UN-Habitat to capture the experiences and lessons being learned from the COVID-19 pandemic through the lens of urban-rural linkages. The vehicle for capturing these experiences in real-time was live webinars featuring key speakers and interactive discussions. Experiences were presented from all regions and all scales of settlements, from villages and neighbourhoods to large cities and metropolitan regions. The pre-pandemic context of work on urban-rural linkages informed the design of the webinars, which were organized to understand how urban-rural relations were impacted or were important to the response and recovery effort of cities, regions, and territories.

Urban-rural linkages have been important for the development of cities and recognized for decades. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with SDG 11 calling for sustainable and resilient cities recognizes the need to integrate urban, peri-urban and rural planning for sustainable development. The New Urban Agenda further recognizes the importance of urban-rural linkages to integrate urban and territorial planning and development.

Member States at the first UN-Habitat Assembly in 2019 launched the Urban-Rural Linkages: Guiding Principles (URL-GP) and Framework for Action to Advance Territorial Development and approved a resolution calling for focused efforts to strengthen URLs. Through partnerships with other United Nations, national, subnational, and various research, development, and NGO partners, thematic guides and normative products were developed and began to be piloted in the two years before the outbreak of COVID-19. This was to prove important to the mobilization of organizational response and exchange of lessons from cities, territories, and countries facing the pandemic.

When the pandemic spread across cities, countries and regions, the URL team and its partners decided to host a series of action learning webinars focused on the pandemic and urban-rural linkages. UN-Habitat collaborated with partner organizations to hold two series of webinars comprising nine sessions between May and December 2020. Over 2,200 people participated in one or more of the webinars. The series substantially expanded UN-Habitat’s outreach to the urban-rural community of practices, and its geographic reach (over 75 countries) underscored the effectiveness of online platforms to disseminate inspiring practices, regulatory frameworks, operating procedures, and methodologies.

The series of webinars was instrumental in fostering new relationships and identifying new areas of engagement in coordination with multilateral organizations, national and subnational governments, civil society organizations, research and professional institutions. These areas of engagement included integrated urban-rural policy and governance, metropolitan and intermediate cities governance, food and market systems, migration as well as the application of the URL-GP in the context of climate change and ecosystem restoration in the urban-rural interface.

The action learning process of the webinars themselves led to new modalities of collaboration and partnership that have continued in efforts in 2021 to mainstream the importance of strengthening urban-rural linkages for sustainable territorial development. Analysis of the content of the webinars reveals the applicability of the Urban-Rural Linkages Guiding Principles (URL-GP) launched at the UN-Habitat Assembly in 2019. All ten principles were applicable to the experiences of cities and territories participating in the webinars.

The issues rising from the shared experiences of the impacts, challenges and consequences of this pandemic for the management of future response to crisis, whether the origin of the crises is a virus, a climate emergency or other shock, stress or disaster, include five categories that need to be taken into account for improved crisis response and recovery: 

  • Digitalization of commerce and civic participation
  • Weakness and disparities of social protection systems
  • Crisis-driven human mobility and migration
  • Markets and market systems that provide food, goods and commodity to and link urban and rural communities
  • Multilevel governance for territorial recovery and resilience

Critical areas for improvements in policy and programmes include:

  • Social protection systems linking cities and territories for essential services of food, water, health, education and housing must be strengthened as vital safety nets
  • Informal economic and solidarity safety nets are a vital part of the mutual interdependency of urban and rural areas and must be recognized and supported
  • Inequalities within and between urban and rural areas are a major vulnerability for health, safety and resilience and must be part of all COVID-19 recovery agendas.
  • Ecosystems services from rural to urban areas (food, fibre, water and animal products) are at the heart of circular urban-rural economies and require improved and integrated urban-rural governance
  • In different ways, depending on the scale and context of cities and territories impacted by COVID-19, the flows of essential goods and services (food, water, shelter, funds, etc.) proved more resilient in shorter, subnational supply chains than in longer distance national and global supply chains
  • Integrated territorial development that links sectoral priorities of health, environment, food systems, biodiversity, economy and social cohesion across urban and rural communities is a core precept for future crisis mitigation

Cross-cutting challenges that emerged and the responses that inform long-term recovery, suggest the possibility of a new “urban-rural contract” for inclusive, balanced and sustainable development that is also more resilient and adaptable in times of crisis.

Access the full report here: