We know that cities and urban spaces have seen more cases of COVID-19 overall, but what unique challenges do rural communities face in the post COVID-19 world?
To help us understand rural recovery, we talked to Professor Heather Hall, an expert in economic development in rural Canada.
What are the unique challenges that rural economies face due to COVID-19?
Rural Canadians are struggling with unemployment, uncertainty, fear, and competing demands over work and providing childcare and family care much like the rest of Canada. But one of the biggest challenges in rural Canada has been access to broadband. We have rural communities where students cannot easily connect to virtual learning, where employees cannot easily work from home, where small businesses cannot easily transition to online sales because there is limited or no access to broadband. This is not a new issue in rural Canada – but COVID-19 has certainly shone a huge spotlight on the digital divide that exists in this country.
How can governments respond to the impacts of COVID-19 to better aid rural communities?
As we move into the recovery phase, senior governments need to focus on investments in long-term 21st century rural development. For example, building better social infrastructure, strengthening regional collaboration, supporting connectivity, building capacity, and strengthening climate resilience. Senior governments also need to build on assets that already exist in communities (e.g. businesses, infrastructure, social, community, natural assets) and support a diverse range of existing rural and regional organizations, including community non-profits and volunteer organizations. More specifically, senior governments should:
1. Include rural expertise in all response and recovery efforts;
2. Apply a rural lens and create rural specific policy responses;
3. Fund, request, and analyze rural specific data to address the rural data gap;
4. Provide rural specific economic recovery and stimulus funding; and
5. Mobilize rural and regional boots-on-the-ground strategically.
Will the economic recovery in rural areas be faster, or slower than in urban spaces?
There is incredible diversity among rural communities across Canada which means some communities might recover faster while others might recover at a slower pace. Economic recovery will depend on the level of capacity in a community, access to resources, the state of the local economy prior to COVID-19, and the impacts of COVID-19 on local people, industries and businesses.