Since its emergence last December in China, as it stands, more than 200,000 people throughout the world have died from Covid-19. Faced with a public health emergency on this scale, many countries have closed their borders, limiting the operational capacities of humanitarian organisations in the process. Although some of our operations have had to be suspended following orders by the authorities of affected countries and humanitarian services have, for the most part, been forced to curb their campaigns, we have managed to maintain the majority of our activities without putting our teams, our collaborators or our beneficiaries at risk. To do so, members of staff have coordinated to enable a rapid reorganisation of collaborative and individual work using adapted IT tools and communication resources.
The epidemic situation differs from country to country in the regions in which we operate. While Europe is just starting the process of lifting lockdown, other countries are just reporting their first infection cases. With this in mind we have taken the decision to refocus and adapt our work to the current crisis in the Central African Republic, Ukraine and Mindanao (Philippines) in order to support our beneficiaries and, by extension, affected populations.
Central African Republic
The COVID-19 pandemic is gradually reaching all African countries. Many countries still have a low exposure to the virus and a lower number of confirmed cases. Nonetheless, the epidemic is gradually spreading, and African countries are already warning about the situation to come. Their healthcare systems cannot cope with a deluge of cases because of ill-equipped medical facilities. Some communities are extremely vulnerable because they do not have the financial resources to cover the costs of medication and hospital treatments.
Funded by the European Union, our work in the Central African Republic consists of providing the government with logistical and administrative support and regenerating the infrastructure necessary to implement the peace agreement. This involves, in particular, the reconstruction and regeneration of housing, offices and other infrastructure for security forces, their families and the local communities of Bangui and Bouar. This programme enables reformed security units to ensure a lasting security presence for the most vulnerable and fragile communities in the country.
On 15 April 2020, the Central African Republic officially announced a COVID-19-related public health emergency. In light of this we have adapted our operations over the course of the last two months, placing a key emphasis on the implementation of simple preventive such as installing basic facilities for washing hands with soap throughout our programmes and key community facilities in Bangui and Bouar. Added to this is our daily commitment to raising awareness among local communities about hygiene practices and social distancing as well as the distribution of soap, disinfectant and hand gel.
We are also working with other national partners in Bouar on the implementation of a project to support the Londo Mo Louti community centre for the education and reintegration of female victims of family conflicts. This centre teaches livelihood skills such as basket weaving or making simple clothing. We provide the centre with logistical and financial support to highlight its importance but also to encourage the use of sewing skills for the manufacture of protective masks.
We have adapted our projects for the regeneration of Bouar’s infrastructure in order to focus more on support for the local infirmary by providing more beds, a blood testing laboratory, more furniture and materials (disinfectant, soap, masks, medical aprons and flyers containing basic information).
Ukraine has been in quarantine since 12 March. The COVID-19 crisis has added extra pressure to the already limited economy in the east of the country, which has been struggling for more than six years due to the impact of armed conflicts which have caused a collapse of basic services in a number of communities. Locals have long since had to rely on the services of neighboring villages, making them heavily dependent on public transport. Since the area locked down due to the pandemic, people who were already vulnerable have seen their situations go from bad to worse.
Despite these difficulties, our teams are continuing to provide aid to the forgotten schools along the front line in the east of the Ukraine. They are continuing to visit and assess the needs of educational institutions, even if they are closed. Faced with a number of obstacles as far as education is concerned (lack of teaching resources, damaged infrastructure, children and teachers exposed to the risk of the explosive remnants of war on the walk to school, to name but a few), it’s a question of assessing the needs of each school individually, so as to provide them with the materials they need and the support required in preparation for when they next re-open. Recently, after having supplied sewing machines to Chasiv Yar School 15 in Bakhmutsky Raion, a member of our team came up with the idea of encouraging teachers to support communities affected by the crisis by producing reusable masks with the new machines. Within the space of three days, they had made more than 100 masks! Since then, teachers have been producing masks for schools but also for at-risk populations. Note that wearing masks is mandatory in the Ukraine and that this constitutes a certain financial investment given that the budget for it is equal to 1% of a retiree’s monthly pension. These free masks are distributed by our teams and offer considerable benefit to the latter. Over the next few months the project will concentrate mainly on material aid with a view to ensuring that children and their teachers emerge from the crisis in a better position.
From 13 March onwards the pandemic has given us no choice but to suspend our operations on the island of Mindanao. In addition to this, the ban on travel within the national territory has limited the movement of international personnel stuck in Cotabato and internal travel, even within the city, is subject to strict rules. Nevertheless, thanks to the support of the European Union, our team have been working on media productions (radio, social media and online videos) to guarantee the continuity of prevention operations and the broadcasting of messages.
Among the communication media used, we would like to highlight two particularly interesting videos produced specifically for members of the public in the Philippines.
The first was created in response to the restrictions imposed by the epidemic and to raise public awareness of the risks of explosive munitions. It outlines the different types of unexploded munitions found on the island as well as at-risk locations. It also illustrates the behaviour to adopt or to avoid when confronted with munitions.
The second video highlights the similarity between the safety messages associated with munitions and those associated with COVID-19: keep a specific distance (2 metres for COVID-19, 10 metres for munitions), report any danger, avoid at-risk zones etc. In this difficult period, we are committed to ensuring that everyone stays safe. That is why we feel it is so important to continue to broadcast these preventive messages to all communities that may potentially be vulnerable to these risks.
Links to the videos: