As we start to see lockdown restrictions ease across Europe, developing countries are bracing themselves for the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a desperate race to get information out to the most marginalised communities and provide them with essential items like soap and masks, aid workers from organisations like Plan International are working around the clock to try to limit the impact of the virus, but the window of opportunity is closing in.
Alarmingly, there is another threat coming which could significantly derail efforts to protect those most vulnerable, and it cannot be underestimated.
While many in the UK are glad of the nice weather during lockdown, many countries are preparing to enter seasons of extreme weather conditions. This week, the Philippines was battered by Typhoon Vongfong. Nine vital health centres – essential for treating coronavirus and saving lives – were damaged, and tens of thousands of people had to evacuate their homes for shelters, making social distancing next to impossible. The Philippines is no stranger to natural disasters, but what makes it all the more frightening is the need to not only respond to these emergencies, but also react quickly to the pandemic.
Large scale disasters
The sad reality is that the countries worst affected by cyclones, typhoons, hurricanes and earthquakes tend to be home to some of the world’s poorest people. Already faced with inadequate health facilities, food insecurity and a challenging economic climate, developing countries recovering from large scale disasters will buckle when coronavirus hits.
We’re especially concerned about children and their families living in crowded conditions like refugee camps. Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh, is home to the world’s largest refugee camp. One million Rohingya refugees live there, many in desperate conditions.
Large families live together in small structures covered with tarpaulin, there is no running water in their homes and so to get water, use the toilet or bathe themselves, they must join others at communal facilities. The health facilities in the camp are incredibly limited. At the moment there are no intensive care beds, with the nearest ones in a town about an hour outside the camps, and they don’t have the ability within the camps to test large numbers of people.
Over the past 10 days, two things have happened. The refugee camps confirmed their first two cases of coronavirus and now have 86 people in quarantine, and then, less than a week later, a cyclone made landfall in Bangladesh. Whilst the worst impacts of the recent cyclone weren’t seen in the main refugee camps this may not be the case for upcoming cyclones. Working with the Bangladesh government and other partners, Plan International has produced a preparedness plan that includes the refugee camps and the refugee population, so we’re ready to respond as and when we need to. We also have a number of lifesaving kits ready to give to families should a natural disaster hits, which includes blankets, buckets and soap. These will prove vital as the cyclone season stretches through until October and will be delivered alongside messages on safe hygiene practices related to coronavirus.
While our teams on the ground are working incredibly hard to continue their work to prepare and respond to coronavirus as well as safeguarding children and girls from ongoing challenges such as gender-based violence, navigating heavy rain and winds can make their work next to impossible. Also an internet ban within the camp means it’s very difficult for information to be shared quickly about the virus, along with upcoming weather alerts, and means staff have to go from home to home in full PPE to spread the word.
The coronavirus crisis is having a devastating impact on family lives all over the world. Plan International staff are working in over 75 countries to respond to the crisis. Now more than ever we must come together as a global community to support those most vulnerable to this pandemic.
We urge the UK public to please donate today and help support families across the world face this unprecedented crisis.
By Bethan Lewis, Head of Disaster Risk Management at Plan International UK
To find out more about Plan International UK’s coronavirus appeal visit www.plan-uk.org/coronavirus