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COVID-19 response in the Philippines: linking disaster risk reduction with humanitarian action

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Following the World Health Organisation’s declaration of a COVID-19 pandemic on March 11, the Government of the Philippines issued a tentative six month State of Calamity throughout the country. The global spread of COVID-19 has called for an evaluation of the most critical and acute needs in the face of the pandemic, reassessing what is required in the short term to ensure that communities can work effectively to mitigate the risks posed by the virus.

Cordaid is supporting the Calamianes Resilience Network (CRN) in implementing COVID-19 preparedness and response actions, bridging resilience and humanitarian response efforts to prevent the spread of the virus through support for the most vulnerable.

The Calamianes region is composed of isolated islands and coastal municipalities in Northern Palawan, Philippines. Through its work under the Partners for Resilience alliance 2016-2020, Cordaid has proudly supported the establishment of the CRN; this is a multi-stakeholder network engaging government, academe, civil society and community organizations, and the private sector.

It covers the four municipalities in the region and works together to strengthen resilience based on local needs and capacities. This ‘Whole-of-Society Approach’ engages multi-sectoral stakeholders and facilitates their active participation in the decision-making process to take appropriate measures together. It also enables harnessing the immense capacities at a local level.

Assessing the most crucial needs

Strict quarantine protocols were implemented by government offices across the Calamianes to limit the spread of the virus. At the same time, to ensure needs such as water, lifeline services, agriculture, fisheries, and livestock production are met, alongside preventive measures, people are still allowed to go to work to provide these essential services.

It is therefore of the utmost importance that crowded areas like public markets and cargo ports are well-equipped with hygiene and sanitation facilities, and that public communication materials are disseminated.

In support, the CRN conducted an assessment of the most crucial needs across the municipalities. The results emphasized the need for larger numbers of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), handwashing and hygiene facilities, and increased awareness and education for the broader public to reduce the spread of the virus.

Protecting the public and those on the front line

Besides protecting members of the public in the communities of the Calamianes, the CRN are also committed to providing support to front liners in their response to COVID-19. These are the key workers at the forefront of the COVID-19 response, such as doctors, nurses, and other healthcare staff. For their safety, adequate PPE like gloves, gowns, shoe covers, and goggles are vital.

The CRN, in collaboration with the Philippines Red Cross, has already distributed over 1,200 face shields to these front line workers, and have set up two portable handwashing units in a district hospital and rural health unit. This was made possible through the support of the network members.

Working together to mitigate the threat

Going beyond this initial response, the CRN is now working to scale up this action throughout the four Calamianes municipalities. With the coronavirus pandemic adding a new layer of challenges and risks, communities need to be equipped with the tools and knowledge necessary to deal with a pandemic on top of a potential natural disaster.

Under this COVID-19 response project, Cordaid will support the CRN in constructing and installing portable handwashing facilities at health centres, hospitals, and boundary checkpoints. They will also support maintaining hygiene education whilst enabling the safe and steady supply and delivery of goods in public markets, ports, and terminals.

While providing physical equipment and supporting existing infrastructure, the CRN will also reinforce the government’s preventive measures by increasing education and awareness on the importance of frequent handwashing, social distancing, and good hygiene behaviour.

Solidarity is key

Building mutual partnerships and networking are about strengthening cooperation between local actors, municipal, district government and Health Offices, local CSO, universities and private sector; it is not just partnerships between high-level decision-makers, national government leaders, large scale business cooperation or WHO and Centre for Disease Control (CDC). Because finally local leaders, working with their constituents, and local health offices must be the drivers of confidence, safety, and understanding of virus prevention and preparing people to be ready for new risks.

In this way, Calamianes local government units, government agencies, local partners, and other stakeholders work collaboratively to prevent and mitigate the threat of COVID-19. In this fight with no borders, solidarity – especially between isolated regions – is key.