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In the context of a global health crisis and widespread containment measures, humanitarian organizations are finding alternative solutions to ensure the continuity of their interventions on the one hand and to protect humanitarian workers and populations on the other.
Since the confirmation of the first cases of Covid-19, Action Against Hunger teams in Jordan and Iraq have been running hotlines to accompany populations and relay information on the risks of the virus.
Jordan is currently hosting nearly 1.3 million Syrian refugees, the majority of whom depend on humanitarian aid. According to the United Nations, 78% of them live outside the camps and are below the poverty line. In addition, there is a large number of vulnerable Jordanians who are finding it difficult to feed themselves in the face of drastic confinement. The rapid deployment of draconian restrictions and the closure of borders have led to the partial disruption of aid programs in a very fragile humanitarian context.
The humanitarian crisis in Iraq remains one of the most volatile, with more than 4.1 million people in need of immediate assistance. Following the closure of airports and travel bans in the country, most humanitarian programs have been suspended. Extremely weakened by the conflicts and forced displacements, the populations are the first victims of the indirect consequences of the fight against the pandemic: beyond the health impact, which is still poorly understood, the forced cessation of income-generating activities predicts a serious deterioration in the standard of living.
Our teams on the ground are also in confinement and are doing everything possible to continue to provide remote support to people who are already vulnerable and to protect them from the virus.
Since March 16th, Jordan has been under strict lockdown to counter the spread of the virus. The authorities have introduced a national curfew to limit the movement of people and promote social distancing.
From Azraq to Irbid, via Amman, our teams work with vulnerable people through our food security, water and sanitation, and mental health programs. Since lockdown measures started, the mission has adapted its community outreach approach in the field through telephone hotlines. Every week, people can receive support from the teams and learn about Covid-19, its risks and means of protection.
Our teams were among the first to use this awareness system and testify to the importance of an exchange, even at a distance. While waiting for the restrictions to be lifted, the telephone hotlines establish a bond of trust and, as a result, make it possible to understand the situation in which the person is. It also helps to identify the immediate needs and coping strategies of the people in our programs. Most of the people who express the need to be accompanied by our teams are day workers who, in times of lockdown, find themselves without any source of income.
“This is especially the case for Syrian refugees, who normally benefit from our cash assistance programs, which help the crisis-affected population cover their basic needs, whether it’s food or non-food items. “Zina Al-Gharaibeh, Water and Sanitation Technical Supervisor.
The vast majority of people express a desire to receive regular information on preventive measures to protect themselves and their families from any risk of contamination. The Covid-19 pandemic has generated a flurry of fake news and dubious interpretations around the world and Jordan is not exempt.
"We are seeing a significant increase in rumors and misinformation about Covid-19, which makes our work even more important as we are able to provide reliable information and reassure the people we help."
Every day, 38 of our employees do a painstaking work to inform, protect and advise. By continuing to make remote telephone calls, our teams find a considerable role to play in the collective effort to stop the spread of the pandemic in the country.
Curfews and movement restrictions are also impacting the delivery of humanitarian aid in Iraq. As elsewhere in the world, the country has also been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, unprecedented in its scale and speed of spread. To limit the transmission of the disease, the authorities have closed borders and airports. The country’s economy, which depends on 70% of its oil revenues, is likely to face a considerable drop in revenue as a result of the fall in global oil prices.
Before the current health crisis, we were working inside and outside the camps to meet the needs of the populations, those of the host, displaced and refugee communities. Today, humanitarian organizations are exempted to act on the ground only for virus-related interventions and any other medical programs; other projects have been suspended since the beginning of March. Nevertheless, our teams provide daily telephone hotlines to maintain the link with communities, inform them about the risks of Covid-19, the means of protection and offer them more specialized calls to discuss their psychological difficulties if necessary.
"We are providing psychosocial support, at a distance for the moment, to ensure that we properly address the distress caused by the virus, but also the cases of domestic violence that are multiplying in Iraq and around the world."
Due to curfews and containment throughout the country, people have been severely affected, especially daily workers and small traders who have no stable income. Feedbacks and needs vary from person to person, and depend on the place of residence and the economic situation of families. In order to survive in the absence of income, some have no other recourse than to deplete their food stocks or rely on neighbours and family. Iraqis face difficulties in obtaining water-based gel, medicines and hygiene products. In hard-to-reach areas, especially rural areas, people are not always informed about the dangers of the virus and its very existence.
“During a visit, we contacted a woman who lives in a remote village. She has never heard about the pandemic, Covid-19 or the fact that the whole world has been affected!” said Sardashti, Sinuni.
In parallel with this information and psychological support work, Mosul teams distribute hygiene kits to the most destitute to ensure that soap and disinfectant products are accessible to all. Our teams in Iraq hope to soon intensify this type of distribution in other towns and camps where sanitary infrastructures are deficient and the most vulnerable have not yet received any aid.
Despite the slow spread of the virus and the mobilization of the Iraqi authorities and humanitarian actors, the country is likely to face an unprecedented health crisis: hospitals lack equipment and medicines to meet growing needs, the perception of the virus as a shameful disease pushes some people to hide and not treat themselves, and many families reject the quarantine system. In this context, distributions and hotlines are crucial in terms of prevention to avoid the spread and overloading of medical facilities. Our objective is to strengthen these systems and make them accessible to all: women, adolescents, the elderly. To date, our employees in Mosul, Dohuk and Sinuni have contacted more than 2,000 people across the country with the aim of recirculating the message and we have also been able to distribute hygiene products to several hundred families.
Beyond these activities, our teams are actively preparing new projects to respond to the economic impact of the pandemic: financial aid and livelihood support are top priorities for the coming months.
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