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In many developing countries in Latin America and Asia, the number of infections is currently rising sharply. In Africa, too, around 200,000 people have become infected with the novel corona virus. Since few tests are carried out, the actual figure is likely to be much higher.
Because of poor nutrition and a lack of basic sanitation, the health of the poorest population is already precarious. The number of people weakened by chronic diseases is high. Even in times without epidemics, the public health systems of many developing countries are stretched to the limit.
Because of a lack of public welfare systems and state support in many regions, the poorest people in developing countries are facing existential hardship. Even before the health crisis, hunger in the world was growing. But now, with the virus, the situation is likely to get even worse. Already, the UN fears that the number of hungry people could double by the end of the year.
Specific activities of Caritas Switzerland in its project countries
In a first phase, Caritas Switzerland is stepping up hygiene measures in the project countries, raising awareness and providing emergency aid.
Since the beginning of April, we have been implementing emergency aid measures in the cities of La Paz/El Alto, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz and other Bolivian towns, as well as in Peru near the border to Bolivia. We are distributing food and shopping vouchers, hygiene articles and protective materials to 200 Venezuelan refugee families and 1545 particularly vulnerable Bolivians who are prevented by the curfew from going out and earning any money. The families are also provided with accommodation.
Caritas Switzerland is active within the Corona Task Force of the State of Eastern Equatoria in South Sudan. Its task is to inform the population about risks and preventive measures. This information is disseminated to remote villages via radio broadcasts, and loudspeaker systems installed on vehicles. In addition, buckets with outlet taps, and soap are being provided to 3000 households. Seven boreholes will be made operational again to improve access to clean water for personal hygiene. 30 Caritas Switzerland hygiene promoters are calling at houses to inform the people about the Corona virus and effective hygiene measures.
In Tajikistan we are providing 1350 schools with soap and disinfectant for adequate hand washing hygiene.
In Mali, we are supporting the local authorities in the Coronavirus prevention activities, including radio broadcasts that reach more than 2 million people. 3,600 particularly affected people in 31 villages receive food aid.
In Burkina Faso, we are strengthening the resilience of the rural population that is particularly at risk with preventive health measures and food distribution. More than 60,000 people benefit from this.
In the structurally weak Northeast of Brazil, where more than one third of all COVID-19-infected people in the country live, needy families receive food parcels. The food items are bought from local producers to mitigate the economic consequences they suffer as a result of the Corona crisis. We also distribute hygiene kits and provide broad information on hygiene and prevention measures via the digital communication channels, local radio and printed materials. Staff and volunteers of the partner organisation, but also the local population, are provided with protective equipment and clothing.
In Jordan, over 750 families receive emergency aid in the form of money transfers and are thus supported in securing their basic needs.
The great majority of people in the project countries of Caritas Switzerland live from day to day, have mostly unregulated working relationships and no access to a state social welfare system that would give them financial security. Measures taken because of corona, such as bans on going out, or the closure of borders, affect people very quickly and severely. The informal economy collapses, trade becomes increasingly difficult or even impossible. It is to be expected that poverty and hunger will increase sharply. Women and children will be particularly affected. Caritas Switzerland will work actively to mitigate the disastrous consequences for the weakest in society.
Solidarity across borders
Switzerland must not only focus on its own problems. ‘In order to prevent the corona crisis from becoming a global development crisis, solidarity must not stop at national borders. Especially in a worldwide health crisis, it becomes clear how important Swiss engagement in international cooperation with regard to the poorest countries is’, underlines Patrik Berlinger of Caritas Switzerland’s Development Policy Advisory Service.
Caritas Switzerland’s project work affected
The corona pandemic is also a great organisational challenge for Caritas Switzerland’s project work in around 20 countries. We are affected by national and international travel restrictions. However, we have long-standing employees on the spot who provide urgent emergency relief for those affected. ‘Wherever possible, we continue our project work for the affected population and try to quickly respond to the people’s new needs and provide emergency relief’, says Franziska Koller, the head of the International Cooperation Section of Caritas Switzerland.
Caritas Switzerland depends on donations to implement these projects.