Mayors Shared Their Covid-19 Experiences On The World Metropolitan Day

On October 7, which was declared as World Metropolitan Day by United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) and Metropolis, Marmara Municipalities Union (MMU) and Argüden Governance Academy organized an online panel focusing on the experience and governance of local governments on COVID-19.

At the panel, where the President of Marmara Municipalities Union and the Mayor of Kocaeli Metropolitan Municipality Assoc. Prof. Tahir Büyükakın, the Mayor of Tekirdağ Metropolitan Municipality Kadir Albayrak, and Koç University İş Bank Infectious Diseases Research Center Director Prof. Dr. Önder Ergönül took part as speakers, the issue of the COVID-19 outbreak and public health in metropolitan cities was discussed from governance perspective.

At the opening of the panel, MMU Secretary-General Dr. M. Cemil Arslan emphasized that during the COVID-19 pandemic, local governments assume great responsibility and it is valuable that the mayors share their experiences gained by spending a long time in the field. Arslan stated that MMU is preparing a report on the work the member municipalities have done in the COVID-19 process and this report will be shared with the public soon. Argüden Governance Academy Foundation President Prof. Dr. Metin Çakmakçı stated that the importance of the guidance of science in this process was once again understood and that COVID-19, which emerged as a health problem, also turned into an economic, political and social problem, and the local governments have a serious responsibility to be prepared for future pandemics for public health.

Dr. Erkin Erimez, the moderator of the panel, stated that governance is needed for the correct implementation of decision processes, ensuring participation, and creating an environment where information is shared with the public. He emphasized that citizens regard the municipalities as the first application point and the demand for social support from municipalities increased during this period, but the municipalities continued to support the society even though there were shortages in their income.

The Mayor of Kocaeli Metropolitan Municipality Assoc. Prof. Tahir Büyükakın pointed out the importance of considering the differences between the capacities of metropolitan, provincial, district, and town municipalities when evaluating the responsibilities and working styles of the municipalities during the process. He emphasized that even metropolises have differences in capacity among themselves depending on the population density. He added that Kocaeli is a metropolis with 2 million inhabitants while Tokyo has 40 million inhabitants and emphasized the value of a micro-scaled “tailor-made” view regarding the issue. Büyükakın said,” The issue is a crisis management, dispatch, and administration issue. We had made our preparations by predicting that the virus would come here at the beginning of the pandemic. Healing wounds and rehabilitation are also an important part of the process. We had the healthcare professionals rested in municipal camps in Kocaeli during the summer. I think activities to boost morale are important for resilient cities. For pandemic situations, an emergency action plan should be prepared in advance. Capacity adequacy should also be considered in many aspects such as public transportation and the number of personnel. We evaluated the risk of contamination in the teams and followed a working method by dividing them into groups. Coordination between institutions is important. Decisions were given quickly from the pandemic committees. The Ministry of Health is also conducting an integration study with HES codes (mobile application of “Life Fits into Home”) in public transportation. Accurate and timely information is very important. A panic environment may occur from hearsay knowledge. Managing psychology should get stronger on our agenda. It is necessary to manage the panic. It is also necessary to deal with infodemia. As local governments, we see the problems more easily. We have to rethink urban planning and create more open spaces. We should concentrate on outdoor activities, focus-group activities. In these cases, the importance of non-governmental organizations in helping each other and organizing volunteers became apparent.”

The Mayor of Tekirdağ Metropolitan Municipality Kadir Albayrak drew attention to the strategic importance of the position of Tekirdağ, “Tekirdağ is an hour away from both Europe and Istanbul, the center of the pandemic in Turkey. We receive 25 thousand migrants every year. As soon as the epidemic started, we established a crisis desk and worked in cooperation with the governorship. I participated in all meetings. A qualified crisis management has gained importance in overcoming the process in a healthier manner and fighting the epidemic. Our 11 district municipalities and health institutions also worked with great devotion, and we supported them as much as we could. We have given attention to prevent the spread of the epidemic, to provide aid to support economic and social life, and to work in cooperation with other institutions. Our Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca also spoke highly of Tekirdağ and this made us happy. During this period, we had the opportunity to better understand the needs of citizens and to meet these needs. During this period, we had the opportunity to better understand the needs of citizens and to meet these needs. This epidemic also opens up space for strength and opportunities for us as well as all over the world. As humanity, we understood the importance of health and I don't believe anything will be the same from now on. There is a need for co-management, governance, and communication-based process management. I have been the Mayor of Tekirdağ for seven years and we believe that the administration should have certain standards.”

Prof. Dr. Önder Ergönül stated that thanks to both the more self-sacrificing nature of the physicians and the number of hospitals and beds in Turkey, Turkey carried out the process more advantageously compared to the other countries. Ergönül mentioned that another advantage of Turkey is that the population is younger, and tends to be more caring towards the elderly, adding that there are serious losses in the homes of the elderly in Italy compared to Turkey. He emphasized that the epidemic hit metropolises to a great extent, and the metropolitan cities with unplanned urbanization and dense population were seriously damaged.

Stating that in Turkey, in moments of crisis, the capability of the fast coordination of the teams is valuable, but it is essential not to forget and learn a lesson from what happened, Ergönül said, “Mankind may forget what happened. One of the basic lessons is to give importance to urbanization. Just like the earthquake issue, it is difficult to manage epidemics with unplanned urbanization and a dense population.”