In 2020, IMPACT Initiatives, in collaboration with academic partners from the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute at the University of Manchester and the Humanitarian Health Center at Johns Hopkins University, developed a study whose main objective is to inform strategic and operational decision-makers in the humanitarian sector. about the impact of COVID-19 on the severity and scale of humanitarian needs. The study aims to identify:
1) vulnerability levels of crisis-affected populations before COVID-19;
2) the adoption of preventive measures against COVID-19 by populations affected by the crisis and the combination of factors likely to increase or decrease the adoption of such measures; and
3) the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic response measures on access to services by crisis-affected populations and on the severity of humanitarian needs.
The study is mainly based on an exploratory and statistical analysis of data from multi-sectoral needs assessments (MSNAs) conducted in 2019 and 2020 by the REACH Initiative in partnership with humanitarian country teams in Afghanistan, Ukraine, Bangladesh, Central African Republic, Nigeria, Iraq, and Libya, as well as general data on each country’s COVID-19 outbreak, policy measures, and related impacts on humanitarian services. It serves as a starting point for humanitarian practitioners, epidemiologists and policy makers to tailor their strategic and operational responses to address the unintended negative socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 policy measures on vulnerable households in an informed and timely manner. adapted to the context.
Pre-COVID-19 Health Care Vulnerability and Resilience
These effects have compounded existing vulnerabilities before the pandemic. Analysis of NASM 2019 data, collected before the onset of COVID-19, indicates that households residing longer distances from essential and basic services, those already living in the hardships of poverty and limited development, and households with people living with a disability or chronic illness. illnesses, were already facing serious risks of exclusion from the provision of essential services.
Multi-sector impacts of COVID-19 containment measures
Overall, the study finds clear evidence that the policy response measures adopted by governments against COVID-19, particularly those related to “lockdown and closure”, have exacerbated pre-existing vulnerabilities and the severity of needs of displaced and non-displaced communities in crisis-affected areas. populations. For example, these measures have resulted in increased food insecurity, unemployment, and gender-based violence, diminished livelihood opportunities, commodity price volatility, and reduced access to health facilities, education, as well as protection and other social services.
Adoption of preventive measures
The report also conclusively illustrates that, despite the rapid spread of the pandemic and associated policy responses by governments and humanitarian actors, the uptake of preventive measures against COVID-19 by crisis-affected populations has been variable between different population subgroups and from one crisis to another. -specific and linked to a range of interrelated demographic and socio-economic factors, displacement status, distance to health facilities and information on humanitarian assistance.
Comparisons of country responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have shown that a lack of coordination and a reduced humanitarian footprint have led to an increase in the severity of needs of crisis-affected households. Therefore, coordination between public authorities and humanitarian actors is necessary to better counter the negative secondary effects of policies aimed at curbing the spread of the pandemic. As a starting point, international aid actors, public authorities, as well as humanitarian researchers, could share information and expertise to ensure that sensitive areas with populations in severe or extreme need , are prioritized in the humanitarian response and efforts to counteract the direct and indirect impacts of political containment and closure measures. In addition, aid actors and public institutions could also reprioritize funds and programs to meet the increased demand for services.
The research findings also show that public authorities need to ensure that, despite measures restricting human mobility, vulnerable communities can still maintain adequate levels of access to essential and basic services, such as health facilities. , markets and paid employment opportunities. Increasing the availability of services closer to where communities live, or increasing transport services in a way that still allows the practice of social distancing would be a key step to mitigate the negative impacts of closure and confinement policies, without further deterioration in levels of need or an increase in inequalities of access. In particular, governments should ensure that livelihood opportunities are increased in a manner consistent with the adoption of personal preventive measures, such as reducing mobility and remoteness; that access to essential food is maintained through increased transport services or aid distribution; and that education and services for victims of protection issues or gender-based violence continue to operate.
Aid actors and public institutions should also adapt information and sensitization campaigns by focusing on the characteristics of households and the specificities of the contexts in which they reside in order to increase the likelihood of adoption of other preventive measures. They should also consider how the delivery of humanitarian aid can be further adapted to maintain social distancing measures, particularly at aid distribution sites.
The disparity in results between countries and population subgroups shows that, although there is no single solution applicable in various contexts, there are interesting avenues for public policy and humanitarian practitioners to explore on statistically representative database at the household level. Academic and humanitarian researchers therefore have a central role to play in further exploring the interrelated associations between crisis context, interacting household characteristics and humanitarian needs outcomes, in order to inform policy makers and practitioners with a solid database to consider. which factors are most likely to lead to successful interventions.
Ultimately, humanitarian and public policy responses must be based on reliable data, feedback from affected populations and field teams working to implement programs, in order to both limit the spread of COVID- 19 while meeting the existing humanitarian needs of vulnerable communities.