To support cities in the region, the International Urban Cooperation Program in Latin America and the Caribbean (IUC-LAC) published a statement on its website to encourage local leaders to tackle the unprecedented crisis triggered by Covid-19. The text shows that the struggle for the sustainability of our planet and the implementation of mitigating and adaptive policies to climate change, as well as the reaction to the health crisis, highlight the role of local governments that, more than ever, must think globally and act locally to guide municipal actions.
Another initiative of the program in Latin America and the Caribbean was the publication of a series of news, shared also in the social medias, to highlight the efforts of mayors at a critical moment in health, economics and social security, and to inspire neighboring countries to face Covid-19. From small municipalities to large metropolises, it is municipalities that have taken on actions and decisions that are sometimes harsh and, most of the time, costly for public coffers and for their popularity with some sectors of society.
This role is evident in the municipality of Niterói, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The city, which is a signatory to the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy (GCoM-LAC), has given good examples of initiatives in dealing with the pandemic. The great advantage of the municipality was the anticipation of the problem, with the creation of a task force at the beginning of the year to gather information and produce documents and analyzes them. When the virus first started in Brazil, measures of social isolation, suspension of classes and closure of a good part of trade and services and the sanitization of slums and neighborhoods were adopted.
To support social isolation measures and ensure food security for the population, the city distributed basic food supplies, guaranteed emergency basic income for families in the most vulnerable situation and the water tariff collection was suspended for this segment of the population. Support programs for micro and small companies were also created, where the municipality payed the minimum wage for up to nine employees, through a commitment not to lay off them for six months.
In addition to internal measures, the municipality of Niterói and Maricá, a neighboring municipality, made an investment of R $ 90 million so that the state government could build and manage a field hospital in São Gonçalo, a neighboring municipality that has many cases of disease in the state and who suffers from a lack of financial resources. The hospital will have a capacity of 200 beds, 40 of which in the Intensive Care Unit.
Autonomous Brazilian cities
The city of Niterói, like the others in Brazil, has autonomy guaranteed by the Brazilian Constitution, since its promulgation in 1988. This means that the municipality has an assured responsibility that allows it to decide issues related to safety, health and basic education and that it has its own collection system and essential public services. This made it possible, for example, to suspend the charging of water tariffs by the poorest population during the pandemic period.
“City halls have designed and implemented actions to flatten the contagion curve, promoting social isolation; expand service conditions in the health system; guarantee food security for the population, especially for the most vulnerable sectors; and create mechanisms to face the economic crisis, mainly for micro and small companies ”, comments Eduardo Tadeu, executive director of the Brazilian Association of Municipalities (ABM), one of the national coordinators of GCoM-LAC in Brazil.