An overview of general challenges and how CICED, our partners and projects are doing.

By: Johnny Baltzersen, CICED, chair 

While all the headlines for weeks have been about the coronavirus in our own backyard, the focus is now also on the challenges that the world’s poorest countries may face during a massive outbreak of COVID-19.

With the support of all Danish parliamentary parties, except the Danish People’s Party and Nye Borgerlige (!), the government is ready with a DKK 650 million aid package. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs presents the agreement as follows:

Four main tracks are proposed in Denmark’s aid package for Africa and neighboring areas totaling DKK 650 million. The main tracks are based on which of our partners are best placed to address the different dimensions of the crisis. Across these tracks, we emphasize that our partners focus on the most vulnerable, refugees and displaced people, women and girls. At the same time, we must already now consider the longer term in our crisis response, so that we ensure efforts for democracy and human rights, and work for climate and green solutions. Our goal is to:

  • Prevent disaster from erupting among the 70 million refugees and displaced people in the world’s major refugee crises through a significant contribution to the major UN organizations and the International Red Cross. They have the mandate and capacity to get the job done;
  • Reach the most vulnerable communities with preventive efforts through Danish NGOs’ local partners and presence;
  • Mitigate deep poverty, unemployment, social unrest through a solidarity-based, coordinated and timely global response to the long-term effects of the COVID-19 crisis with the UN in a global lead role.
  • Reach the most vulnerable communities with preventive efforts through Danish NGOs’ local partners and presence;
  • Show solidarity and partnership with the Danish priority countries in the Sahel and Horn of Africa, which are particularly vulnerable. And where a long-term Danish presence provides the opportunity to act quickly and close gaps in areas such as health, water, social safety nets, etc.

The big ones….

Of the DKK 650 million, DKK 150 million is earmarked for the work of Danish NGOs in light of the corona crisis.

The large organizations, the so-called partner organizations to Danida (such as DanChurchAid, Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke/Action Aid and IBIS/Oxfam) receive 125 million with ‘full flexibility’.

This allows organizations to adapt ongoing programs to counter the spread of the coronavirus and/or postpone a number of activities without partner organizations and projects collapsing to the detriment of the poorest and most vulnerable.

In addition, there is an extra DKK 25 million for the Danish Emergency Relief Fund (DERF), which supports civil society organizations that are not part of the partnership program.

Although the government’s move is timely in the current situation, unfortunately, it does not mean additional funds for development work. The DKK 650 million has been made available through reprioritization of existing funds allocated to humanitarian work and aid projects.

The economic impact of the coronavirus crisis is already massively felt in northern climes, but the long-term costs could be even worse for the poorest countries in the south.

The UN Economic Commission for Africa, UNECA, predicts a halving of the region’s economic growth by 2020, and the commission is asking the international community for an emergency aid package totaling around DKK 650 billion.

A significant portion of this amount can be financed by deferring or forgiving interest on debt. Interest on African countries’ public debt alone will amount to DKK 305 billion in 2020. There are now massive calls for debt cancellation from both Danish and international development organizations.

UNDP (United Nations Development Organization) warns in a press release on d. March 30 about a situation where ‘[vi] without the support of the international community risks a massive loss of the development achievements of the last two decades and the loss of an entire generation, if not in lives, then in rights, opportunities and dignity.’ In Africa, the horror scenario is that up to 55 million jobs will disappear during the corona crisis.

The UNDP also points out that millions of people in the poorest countries do not have access to sufficient water and soap, which is a prerequisite for anti-corona hygiene.

At the same time, hundreds of millions of people rely on daily sources of income that require social contact in markets, workplaces and public spaces. Both factors are the source of a runaway coronavirus outbreak in poor countries around the world.

…and the little ones…including CICED

The corona pandemic is also affecting the smaller players in Danish development and aid work.

At CISU, which on behalf of DANIDA administers the NGO funds for development and emergency aid, and which has most smaller and small organizations as members, they have created a specialCOVID-19contingency plan that increases flexibility in getting projects adapted, extended or postponed.  

Globalt Fokus, another of the umbrella organizations of which CICED is a member, has collected corona-related information from the Danish aid and relief organizations and provided a preliminary analysis of the situation in a open letter d. March 27th to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. An open letter that was clearly listened to in the ministry, as several of the ministry’s initiatives within the 650 million framework align well with the recommendations from Global Focus.

In the letter, Global Focus points out that ‘small civil society organizations often have a very high degree of self-financing, for example through private donations and thrift stores. Their livelihoods are under extreme pressure in this situation, as their revenue base is gone. This is extremely critical for both their partners in developing countries and for the popular engagement in Denmark around development work’.

And what about CICED and our partners? And what’s the status of our ongoing and upcoming projects?

If the existence of many small civil society organizations in development work is truly threatened, then we at CICED are among the lucky ones. We have no significant operating costs. We have no employees and no rent. We have built our finances on the administration fee that is mandatory with development projects. These funds are mainly used for extraordinary efforts to benefit our partners and projects.

To strengthen our internal and external communication, we have subscribed (DKK 85 per month) to a platform for virtual meetings and conferences. We have weekly contact with our partners in Bolivia, Exile Tibet/India, Mongolia, Nepal and Tanzania. We continue to send out CICED NYT, update our website and Facebook without interruption. Within the board, we meet regularly in cyberspace.

Corona status with our partners

There are still only relatively few registered corona infections in the countries where CICED has projects in collaboration with local partners, i.e. Bolivia (115), Exiled Tibet/India (1636), Mongolia (14), Nepal (5) and Tanzania (20). The numbers in brackets indicate the number of infections according to WHO 2.4.2020 – The number of infections should be taken with a grain of salt, as very few have been tested in the countries in question. For example, in Nepal, with a population of 30 million, only 1000 tests have been conducted.

While Mongolia seems to have a pretty good handle on the situation and has had it since the outbreak started, both the numbers and the situation in the other countries are more uncertain. In both India and Nepal, millions of poor people rely on day labor jobs or otherwise depend on social contact to secure a few daily ‘crumbs’.

Also in Bolivia and Tanzania, millions of poor people will have to choose between nothing and a tiny bit of something that can only be obtained through traditional markets and other forms of social contact.

Although all countries – and their neighbors – have launched large-scale attempts to contain COVID-19, it is, as UNDP also points out, precisely the poor social conditions for millions of poor people that contain the seeds of corona outbreaks that can get out of control in conditions where health systems are already in very poor condition.

Bolivia and COVID-19 

Bolivian society is shut down and the population quarantined. For the time being, the quarantine is valid until d. April 15, but there is already talk of an extension.

The quarantine means that all institutions are closed, and the children in the project’s schools have also been sent home.

Only one person per family, aged 18 to 65, can go out between 7:00 am and 12:00 pm and only to make strictly necessary purchases.

To spread even the necessary purchases among people throughout the week, an ingenious distribution system has been introduced. The person shopping must bring an identity card, and the number on the card determines which day you can shop. On Mondays, people whose cards end in 1 and 2 can go out; Tuesdays, 3 and 4; Wednesdays, 5 and 6; Thursdays, 7 and 8, and Fridays 9 and 0. On Saturdays and Sundays there is a total curfew.

In the project, which focuses on education for indigenous people in 4 areas in the Potosí region, CICED’s partner AAE uses Messenger, WhatsApp and email to keep in close contact with local partners in the communities.

And luckily, not all project work is on hold. The preparation of training material for teachers and teaching materials for the children in the schools continues and will be ready the day Bolivia is reopened.

The Tibetan community in exile/India and COVID-19

Our exiled Tibetan partners in Dharamsala and schools across India are of course included in the three-week shutdown of the Indian community announced on Tuesday. March 24.

All schools and kindergartens are closed. The same goes for shops, offices and restaurants. The exiled Tibetan administration in Dharamsala continues to operate, but with only half of the employees working. Those who live farthest away and can work from home do just that, while the rest come into the office in shifts to ensure distance.

For the project, which primarily focuses on quality improvement in the exile Tibetan primary school, the closure means postponement of planned courses and school visits with monitoring and supervision. We expect to make up most of the lost ground when society opens up again.

A wide range of other activities, such as curriculum and teaching material development, new scientific terms in Tibetan and other computer work, continue fairly undisturbed.

It is currently unclear how schools will handle final exams and tests. In some areas the school year ends in April and in others in early May.

In private life, you are only allowed to go out between 8am and 11am to make the most necessary purchases, and otherwise you should stay at home and keep to yourself. So far, our partner reports no infections.

Mongolia and COVID-19

In our new online magazine ViSTA at the beginning of March, we provided a very >comprehensive description of Mongolia’s response to the coronavirus, particularly the use of TV education and internet and phone-based tutoring and homework help.

In the meantime, the Mongolian government has announced that all schools and other educational institutions will be closed until Thursday. April 30. After that, it will gradually open up and schools and universities will have to teach on Saturdays until mid-June to compensate for some of the lost teaching time. After the summer vacation, universities must also start classes on d. August 15, which is two weeks earlier than usual. Schools start as always on d. September 1.

We should have had two courses in March that were important for the development of two core project activities. A course for boarding school department teachers to get started working towards more care and attention, more home-like conditions and better extracurricular activities in rural school boarding departments. The second course should have been for the teachers who will be the local key persons in the preschool efforts for the nomads’ children.

Both courses are postponed to June-July, when schools are closed for summer vacation. In the meantime, our Mongolian partner MAPSSD is working on collecting and analyzing questionnaires regarding the situation in the nutrition departments, as well as data for preschool children and first contacts with families. We’re still aiming to roll out all the activities that were supposed to be rolled out after the summer holidays.

Nepal and COVID-19

Nepal was shut down without warning on d. March 24. The reopening date is set for d. April 8, but it will depend on the development of the number of infected people. So far, there are only 5 confirmed cases, but with millions of people relying on daily social activity to ensure even the most basic survival of their families, the situation is perilous. Not least in light of the very modest 120 intensive care beds that hospitals currently have for a population of 30 million.

As part of the lockdown, hundreds of thousands of Nepalese have been forced back to their villages. That is, if they left on time. From western Nepal, , for example, reports hundreds of Nepalese day laborers stranded on the Indian side of the border after Nepal lowered the border barrier as early as January. March 22.

Together with our partner JUST Nepal Foundation, we will soon start a new project Helambu Youth-Taking Their Place. The project focuses on supporting the establishment of the first youth cooperative for everyone in the region, as well as basic technical and vocational training for young people in the area.

The project starts on April 20, so Gopal Lama, the head of JUST Nepal and the two young project workers Nirajan and Anu are busy contacting all the young people who participated in the previous project with youth camps and youth festival, which laid the foundation for the cooperative and the upcoming activities. Many of the youth have returned to their villages in Helambu, while others are trapped in Kathmandu.

Unless the coronavirus gets out of control in Nepal, we expect the project to start as planned.

Tanzania and COVID-19

The authorities in Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar have not yet shut down the country. You can still travel in and out, but anyone arriving from a country with COVID-19 – now 204 countries – must undergo 14 days of self-funded quarantine in a hotel designated by the authorities. If you haven’t developed symptoms during the two weeks, you can leave the hotel.

With only 20 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection so far, authorities are focusing on containing the spread. All public events have been canceled and schools and universities have been closed. The population is encouraged to limit travel activity, both locally and internationally. TV and radio stations broadcast general information on how to limit the risk of infection on a daily basis.

In relation to CICED’s partners CHAVITA – the organization of the deaf and TASLI – the organization of sign language interpreters, it is precisely the information work that is of concern. Firstly, many deaf people in remote areas are cut off from daily information via TV. Secondly, the lack of sign language interpreters means that there is not as much interpretation as there should be when communicating COVID-19 related information.

Therefore, we have just submitted an application to CISU for emergency assistance to the deaf organization in Tanzania. The ambition is to develop COVID-19 information materials during April and develop strategy and methods to reach as many deaf people as possible, as quickly as possible.

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