PIN's response to covid-19 in IraqNov 18, 2020
As 2020 comes to a near close, the challenges this year brought still remain. People in Need’s (PIN) work in Iraq has been focused on supporting the recovery of livelihoods, child access to education, and the improvement of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) among communities in northern governorates as the country as a whole slowly reconstructs from years of conflict. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, PIN quickly adapted its activities to better adhere to this emergency while upscaling relevant existing activities for this context.
According to a recent UNDP report, “COVID-19’s exacerbation of existing and sometimes deeply rooted political, economic, social and security challenges, highlighting its resulting impact on the country’s diverse social fabric.” Meaning: a swift and dynamic response to this emergency has been paramount to ensuring minimal impact to an already fragile environment. In Iraq, the COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis within a crisis.
While PIN is not a specialist health actor, our years of experience in emergency preparedness and in programmes such as WASH allow us to bring an added value to our humanitarian response to COVID-19. Here are some of the ways we instilled COVID-19 prevention and response in Iraq:
1. Raising community awareness
PIN reacted quickly to the onslaught of the pandemic earlier this year. In April, we launched a door-to-door campaign to spread facts and dispel myths about the novel Coronavirus and its resulting COVID-19 disease. This method proved essential as most communities we targeted are remote, with limited access to internet and reliable information as the crisis unfolded. Over 30,000 community members were reached by multiple campaigns in Nineveh, Kirkuk, and Salah Al-Din provinces.
PIN also launched two sets of awareness campaigns on Facebook, one in May-June and another in July-August. "Due to the lockdown measures imposed by the local authorities, access to some areas was a challenge. Therefore, in order to spread accurate information and awareness to as many people in the Nineveh province as possible, we decided to launch the social media campaign in parallel," explains Wael Saad, PIN’s Livelihoods Program Manager in the country. In the end, nearly 500,000 Facebook users were reached in the Nineveh area.
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2. Keeping education and business training going – from a safe distance
During normal times, PIN’s education programmes focus on providing safe access to schooling for children. When schools closed as a means to help slow down the spread of COVID-19, PIN continued working toward this goal by facilitating the move to distance learning. We helped train teachers, adjusted curriculums, and kept providing students with the materials they need to continue their education safely at home. PIN supports teachers and parents in guiding students through online classes, using social media apps to foster group discussions, assign homework, and even to share non-formal, psychosocial support activities to continue helping children cope with the trauma of growing up during conflict and/or in displacement. So far, 36 schools in 28 communities have adjusted to distant learning through PIN, impacting 14,062 children.
To support livelihoods and help kickstart the Mosul economy during reconstruction efforts, PIN implemented a business training activity to engage budding entrepreneurs with the tools and skills they need to start their own business. In order to adhere to social distancing practices, PIN made the 10-day training completely virtual for its 120 participants. In the end, 69 people were granted start-up grants to get their businesses up and running.
3. Preparing the community for a safe re-opening
The Iraqi authorities reacted quickly early on in the pandemic, closing schools and businesses and issuing a stay-at-home ordnance. Though schools remain closed, PIN prepared 10 so far for a safe re-opening by disinfecting classrooms and exam centers and distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) needed for exam days when the fall semester started. Most businesses have already re-opened, and PIN provided 30 of them in Mosul with safe re-opening kits (i.e. PPE, cleaning materials, sanitizing stands, social distancing floor stickers and posters, etc.) along with 4 vocational training centers. Our business support work also expanded as we increased the number of cash grants distributed to struggling businesses to 94, as many existing businesses hoping to grow were hit hard by the pandemic.
4. Giving people what they need to stay safe
Even before the pandemic hit, PIN programming aimed to improve sanitary and hygienic practices for school children through sanitary clubs and the distribution of hygiene kits. This activity heightened in importance with COVID-19, and was up-scaled as a result. Across 10 schools in northern Iraq, 255 children were taught proper hand-washing techniques and other health and sanitary measures by trained hygiene experts to share back home to their families and other peers. Across all our programmes, a total of 8,860 hygiene kits were distributed, containing items such as soap, hand sanitizer, detergent, nail cutters, and more.
5. Ensuring access to clean water & sanitation facilities
As a part of our existing water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) work, each of our programmes in Iraq encompasses some infrastructure rehabilitation to ensure healthy living environments. PIN constructed or rehabilitated sanitary facilities in 24 schools, as well as rehabilitated 3 water pumps and 17 water networks.
This quick and precise response to the developing COVID-19 crisis could not have been possible without the continued support and flexibility of our donors: Iraq Humanitarian Fund managed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the EU Regional Trust Fund in response to the Syrian crisis, the EU Madad Fund; Czech Republic Development Cooperation, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.