For millions of people around the world, life was difficult before the coronavirus pandemic arrived. They were already struggling to get food, clean water and to earn a daily wage. Many were also at risk from violent conflict. As well as the threat of the virus, the lockdowns put in place to limit its spread are also adding to the huge challenges people already face.
‘Coronavirus has pushed a huge number of people further back into poverty, and had a very direct impact on the health and the income of some of the most vulnerable people in the countries where we work,’ says Myles Harrison, Tearfund’s International Director.
‘And yet we have seen amazing resilience, creativity, effort and a determination by communities themselves, the partners we work with and the Tearfund teams who work alongside them. We are seeing our partners really stepping up in responding, and we will continue to work alongside them to help them respond and adapt.’
Tearfund works in more than 50 countries, each with their own national regulations in place to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Here are three examples of how we’ve been adapting our work to help communities face the challenges of pandemic, alongside trying to stop them being pushed deeper into poverty.
Shift of focus in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has been devastated by decades of conflict. More than 90 per cent of the population live in extreme poverty. Much of its health infrastructure has already been severely weakened during the conflict as hospitals and clinics have been destroyed.
Many people were struggling with grief, trauma, isolation, stress and fear before coronavirus arrived.
As of 10 March there have been 55,894 cases of coronavirus in Afghanistan and 2,451 recorded deaths. However, it’s feared the actual number of deaths may be much higher, because the country does not have a death registry and people prefer to face the virus in their homes.
Tearfund works through local partners in a range of areas, including supporting people with physical disabilities and mental health issues, providing clean water for communities, and teaching people reading and writing skills.
But when the pandemic hit, there had to be a shift of focus. From March to July 2020, our partners prioritised helping people follow good practices for preventing the spread of coronavirus.
They found new ways to keep in touch and provide support to families in need. For example, using digital media to reach communities and raise awareness of the dangers of coronavirus. Online courses have also been developed to teach Afghan Sign Language, as they can no longer do this in-person.
Raising awareness in Chad
Chad recorded its first case of coronavirus on 19 March, 2020. As the number of cases has continued to increase, the government has declared a State of Sanitary Emergency.
This meant the government introduced measures such as closing the airspace, land borders, schools, churches, mosques, and markets to the banning of gatherings and implementing a curfew.
However, the restrictions on movement between cities are cutting off key markets in Nigeria for farmers and traders. It means people are forced to travel to more dangerous areas to find food and other essential supplies. This puts them at risk of being attacked or abducted by armed groups, such as Boko Haram.
Tearfund works with six partner organisations who work with local churches to help people overcome poverty. This includes providing farming training, teaching reading and writing, and reducing the stigma associated with HIV in Chad.
With our partners, we have been able to continue serving people in need throughout the pandemic, despite the challenges of the virus and the threats of violence.
But we have had to change our focus. In collaboration with churches, we raised awareness of coronavirus and how communities can follow preventative measures to help keep their families safe. To help further limit the spread, we have been updating how we can serve vulnerable communities without face-to-face interaction. We have been using WhatsApp and other messaging platforms to share public health messaging and support local churches.
Reaching vulnerable people in Yemen
Yemen is described by the UN as the ‘world’s worst humanitarian crisis’. Coronavirus is thought to be aggressively spreading across the country and a third wave is expected to happen soon.
Because of an ongoing conflict, many hospitals and health centres have been destroyed and so the country’s health system is severely ill-equipped to respond to the outbreak. It also has one of the lowest testing rates in the world.
‘The crisis in Yemen is complicated,’ says Karen Soerensen, who leads Tearfund’s work in Yemen. ‘Covid-19 cases are substantially underreported in Yemen. Testing remains scarce. A lack of awareness is still the main issue exacerbating the spread of the virus. Rumours and conspiracy theories continue. Most of the community still believe Covid-19 is not real or not as dangerous as communicated.’
Thankfully, Tearfund’s local partners are still able to reach people most in need with food baskets and hygiene kits, and are helping communities be aware of how to prevent the spread of coronavirus.