After battling with the coronavirus pandemic for over a year and witnessing the devastating losses of lives and livelihoods that it continues to cause across the globe, a solution to the immediate threat of COVID-19 is in sight. But not for everyone.
The reality is that every country is at its own unique stage of cases, deaths and vaccination rates, with particularly high infection levels in many of the countries Practical Action works in.
What’s more, the impact of this devastating disease has led rates of extreme poverty to increase for the first time in 20 years.
For many, abiding by strict lockdown measures was impossible; others faced significant setbacks in their livelihoods and living conditions. Many of the most vulnerable have lost family members unnecessarily.
This crisis has touched every part of our work: every community we work with has had to deal with the impact of COVID-19 in the best and most ingenious ways they can.
Practical Action has sought to adapt its work to the reality faced by the people we work with. This process of adaptation has taken many forms – from adjusting the design or delivery of some of our work by placing greater emphasis on water, sanitation and hygiene aspects, or by bringing forward the delivery of training that can be delivered safely or remotely while staff are in lockdown.
In this way, we have continued to support communities to change their world through lasting and locally-owned solutions for agriculture; water and waste management; climate resilience; and clean energy, in ways that keep both communities and staff safe.
Working closely with our partners and government bodies, our global response to the coronavirus threat combines three stages:
1.Limit the spread. Protect the lives of vulnerable people by improving access to handwashing facilities and supporting front line workers with protective equipment.
2.Keep essential systems running. Work with communities to ensure that water, sanitation and waste services continue, and food supply chains remain intact – and maintain disaster preparedness.
3.Support longer-term recovery. Help vulnerable communities build back better, improve their lives and livelihoods, and enable a more resilient future.
With the help of our supporters, we have been able to adapt our work to continue to work with communities living in poverty in Africa, Latin America and South Asia, ensuring the pandemic will not undermine their efforts to build better lives.
Since our last update on our response to the pandemic, we have continued to take action to protect the lives and livelihoods of the communities we work with safely and in ways that balance an immediate response with our longer-term goals.
Planting the seeds for a resilient future in Latin America
Nurturing community ties is at the centre of our work in Latin America and has been invaluable in our actions to tackle the pandemic and its profound impacts on access to food, health, services and income-generating opportunities. For example:
In Bolivia, our team drafted economic reactivation plans with 15 municipalities that aimed to sustain and boost the development of local commerce in various productive chains.
These plans included biosecurity protocols targeting producers, transporters, distributors, storage operators and other actors exposed to risk in their daily activities. The key messages of these plans were shared on radio and social media and aimed to reduce transmission rates and support food production and access to food. The messages were available in Spanish and native languages Quechua and Aymara.
With the support of all the local governments it was possible to deliver seeds to family-led nurseries, agroforestry plots, and producers that were harmed by the pandemic and the vulnerable seed supply chain.
Working with family-led nurseries is now included in a number of our projects. It has created closer and more resilient ties among communities enabling access to varied and nutritious food through exchanges. Advocacy has been crucial; we have been able to share knowledge gathered through surveys to enable authorities and producers to make informed decisions and plans in the face of the pandemic’s challenges
In Peru, being unable to bring together teachers and students in rural areas for such long periods revealed the urgency of introducing educational alternatives, primarily through internet access. This enormous challenge is being addressed through a collaboration between Practical Action, local communities and the Peruvian government. Initially, this programme started with just 16 schools. It now has national reach.
With the support of the Ministry of Education, we are developing four apps as part of a strategy for closing educational gaps in bilingual schools at the national level. Now, we’ll reach 200,000 children – a step up from the 680 we would initially have engaged.
Despite unavoidable delays to the project due to lockdowns, key meetings and workshops have resumed with strict protocols and the supply of sanitising equipment. We have found creative ways to work together safely and provide information about the importance of complying with the required levels of care. The results show a solid commitment to the success of the project and keeping communities safe.
The same necessary care and involvement has been achieved within community networks in Chosica, an area prone to flash floods and mudslides. They have taken a central role in responding to emergencies and evacuations in a context in which sanitation protocols can be easily forgotten. In February 2021, the Resilient Leaders Network of the Rimac basin received emergency backpacks that included supplies relevant to the pandemic as part of the Zurich Flood Resilience Programme – a partnership of nine international organisations, including Practical Action.
Information and facilities for a healthy future in Africa
In Africa, we have been working with our existing networks to provide information and much-needed supplies to remote communities. For example:
In Darfur, Sudan, a market survey led to identifying the healthiest and easiest handwashing facility system to be installed and used by community members. More than 60 handwashing facilities in public places with soap and sanitisers were manufactured and distributed by the project team and Community Development Association members in various crowded public spaces. In co-ordination with the Ministry of Health, a personal protective equipment (PPE) kit containing face masks, sanitiser, and gloves (for health care workers) was distributed to the most vulnerable people.
Also in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, awareness-raising campaigns about COVID-19 sensitive hygiene were implemented through sessions held by promoters, posters and leaflets in public places, and radio and tv production, targeting the whole population.
Similar efforts have been taking place in Kassala: 36 awareness-raising sessions have been delivered in local languages, 40 handwashing facilities were established, and with the formation of 2 school clubs, children have been provided with personal hygiene kits to promote best hygiene practices.
The Ethiopian Refugee Emergency Response has also been heavily supported by Practical Action with COVID-19 activities. It included the distribution of face masks, jerry cans for water storage, as well as soap and sanitisers.
In Turkana, Kenya, a region facing chronic drought conditions, we distributed water storage containers, soap and other hygiene products. These have reached over 12,000 people.
In the informal settlements in Kisumu, our staff are working with private sector manufacturers of sanitary products to provide emergency supplies for free to people who cannot afford them. We have distributed hygiene and cleaning supplies benefitting over 21,000 people and enabled over 19,000 people to access water closer to their homes. In addition, over 100 frontline workers have received PPE.
Limiting the spread in Asia
In Asia, where infection rates have recently surged, we’ve focused on disseminating knowledge to remote urban and rural communities on the importance of handwashing, mask wearing and social distancing, as well as providing essential PPE. For example:
In Nepal, we’re working with micro, small and medium-sized enterprises to support them to operate safely and adjust their business models in this challenging context. This business support aims to enhance business performance, improve their access to finance with favourable terms, and remain viable businesses that contribute to the recovery of local economies and continue to provide income and employment to community members. We’re also working with 500 women-led enterprises by providing much-needed market linkages and contingency business planning exercises to help them reduce the impact of continued lockdowns. We extended our support to the digitalisation of their transactions in order to reduce the risk of exposure and improve operational efficiency.
In India, we continued to make hygiene and social distancing messages clear and relevant, ensure people have the information and resources they need to practice good hygiene, and make sure essential workers stay safe and healthy. We distributed water, sanitation and hygiene kits to 1,500 families across 18 slums. Community Toilet Managing Groups are now equipped with nine toilet cleaning kits. And 350 PPE kits were distributed to sanitation workers, volunteers, and municipality sanitation staff.
As an organisation, we are committed to evaluating the effectiveness and impact of our work. Our response to coronavirus is no different. The pandemic has reinforced a number of valuable lessons, including:
- Leveraging our existing relationships with communities, local authorities and partners has demonstrated our strong reputation and significance in the contexts in which we work
- Localising and decentralising operations has been essential for a timely and effective response
- Adapting to the nature of the pandemic has demonstrated our innovative and creative abilities, such as no-touch handwashing stations and virtual visits
- Traditional methods should not be forgotten or simply replaced with digital means. As with all our work, our support must remain locally appropriate for the countries and cultures we seek to empower.
While these were already central to our ways of working, the pandemic has served as an invaluable reminder that as an organisation, our focus on locally-led adaptation and innovation is the only way to successfully and sustainability reduce poverty in an ever-changing world.
It is a testament to the creativity and perseverance of all who work with and support Practical Action that more than one year on, our projects are continuing to empower others to make better, more resilient lives for themselves in spite of the additional and extraordinarily challenging circumstances created by this pandemic.
A more resilient world that works better for everyone
Our work has never been more critical than it is today.
While some communities are beginning to live life with fewer coronavirus restrictions, others are navigating new waves of infection. The rapid spread of coronavirus has affected us all in different ways, and will continue to do so as we recover. But we believe there is potential for a future that focusses on collective wellbeing in sustainable, just, and ingenious ways.
The skills developed during the pandemic and the networks enhanced between people, communities, and authorities, offer hope for increasingly bold and creative collaborations and open the door to creating policies with both people and planet at their heart.
Now, more than ever, it’s vital that we increase the resilience of the world’s most vulnerable people so that when the next crisis hits – whether it’s climate change, a natural disaster or another pandemic – they are equipped to cope.
While the pandemic has brought many challenges, it has also brought opportunities to do things differently and the possibility to work in new ways with a wide range of partners to build a world that works better for everyone.