What is it about?

As governments around the globe navigate the effects of COVID-19 crisis, the urban poor endure the unevenly distributed socio-economic impacts of the pandemic. This burden is more pronounced in Global South megacities, where millions of people engage in precarious informal employment. We examine how the urban poor in Delhi (India), Dhaka (Bangladesh), and Manila (Philippines) have been disproportionately affected by the crisis. A cross-case analysis was undertaken to determine how the realities and relations of one context can enrich our understanding of the other. We argue that the current COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the unequal urban citizenship in these three metropolises. Drawing on research reports, news articles, and interviews with urban poor leaders, we explain how limited government assistance has forced some to retreat to their rural hometowns or rely on self-help and mutual aid practices to survive. We consider the patterns both in governments’ treatment of impoverished citizens and in the unjust effects of lockdown enforcement on marginalised populations. We also discuss the roles that women and nongovernment organisations (NGOs) have played in facilitating solidarity-based practices to help urban poor communities cope with COVID-19 vulnerabilities.

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Why is it important?

In this paper, we shift the gaze from the monumental features of COVID-19 to its ordinary and historically-rooted dimensions by paying attention to how the pandemic has disproportionately affected the urban poor in Delhi, Dhaka, and Manila. Five interrelated issues emerge as critical: inadequate state support, urban exodus, unjust enforcement of lockdown measures, politics of unseeing and invisibility, and solidarity-based initiatives. We argue that these overlapping factors shape the urban poor’s uneven experiences of citizenship in the time of COVID-19.


Working on this piece amid the on-going COVID-19 pandemic was a bit challenging due to many factors - mobility restrictions, lockdowns, inability to undertake fieldwork, etc. But it was also pretty rewarding to produce a scholarly output that captures the often unseen working and living conditions of many urban poor in Asian megacities.

Redento Recio
University of Melbourne

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This page is a summary of: Rising inequalities, deepening divides: Urban citizenship in the time of COVID‐19, Geographical Research, August 2021, Wiley, DOI: 10.1111/1745-5871.12495.
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