In just a few short months, the COVID-19 Pandemic has reached devastating proportions, touching nearly every country around the world. The situation is bad but could get decidedly worse, especially if this seemingly inexorable pestilence infiltrates more of the world’s most vulnerable populations and communities, infecting those with the most limited access to care and prevention.
There are 2.6 million displaced persons (IDPs) in Somalia living in approximately 2,000 informal settlements/camps across Somalia. There are increasing concerns about how ill-prepared these camps are in the face of a virus explosion. The IDPs live in overcrowded rudimentary camps where an outbreak of an opportunistic respiratory disease like COVID-19 could inextricably spread through the overcrowded confines and unsafe conditions typical of many camps or settlements. It is only a matter of time before the virus gains foothold in the camps. And if it spreads, it will be a humanitarian catastrophe – one that will be unabated and a tad too late to prevent – as these settlements are a hotbed for contagious diseases. A tinderbox waiting to explode at any moment.
The IDPs are among the most vulnerable. Already, their displacement leaves them disadvantaged in many ways. The impact of the epidemic both exacerbates and is exacerbated by the conditions in which they live. A series of factors make them extremely vulnerable to the spread of the corona virus.
Figure 1.1: Overcrowded Al Hidaya IDP Camp
Water, Sanitation and Hygiene also known as WASH remains a pipe dream for many people in the IDP camps. For them, accessing water is immensely difficult. Adequate water is vital to the IDPs; not only access to supply of clean drinking water but also sufficient water flow to enable proper hand washing with soap. But the glaring dearth of this is worrying in many IDP camps in Somalia. Regular hand-washing is practically impossible to follow where there is little or no running water. The clean water they have is needed for cooking, not hand-washing. More than ever, it is crucial for vulnerable people to have unbridled access to not only water, soap, shelters, but also food, education and protection.
Physical distancing is a key step towards slowing the spread of COVID-19 but it is virtually impossible in the IDP camps notably due to camps teeming with a lot of people and overcrowding. It is a privilege they can hardly afford. They live in small, overcrowded dwellings in densely populated urban areas where they face innumerable challenges in adhering to guidelines around physical and social distancing. They cannot practice self-isolation in comfort, like others are doing during the crisis, as most don’t have a home to stay in. Multiple families are often forced to share the same bathroom, the same cooking area, and the same bathing facilities – if they have access at all. Some are forced to share the same tent.
Grim conditions of health coupled with tenuous health facilities in the camps could exacerbate the already uber-stark situations. The emergence of the novel corona virus would predictably overstretch the already fragile health systems. The IDPs generally have difficulty accessing healthcare services. When they have access, it intends to be primary healthcare. Intensive care – the kind of care that COVID-19 patient need when they develop acute respiratory distress syndrome – is scarce to nonexistent, especially in camp settings. In addition, those IDPs struggle with underlying complex health conditions, including malnutrition, psycho-social stress and other infectious diseases like tuberculosis means they already have compromised immune systems and ergo makes them more vulnerable to the virus.
Last but not least, limited access to reliable information will complicate effort to respond. Misinformation, massive chasm of mistrust by authorities, absence of adequate communication networks and language barriers can all prevent accurate and far-reaching messaging. Without critical information about corona virus, the IDPs may risk spreading the infection.
This pandemic is inherently indiscriminate and must be confronted with every tool in the public health and humanitarian arsenal. Multi-pronged and inclusive national and international efforts to respond to the corona virus should be fully integrated into emergency response plans not only in Somalia, but in all conflict-affected countries. We need to insulate the IDPs sequestered in the settlements from this deadly virus, lest we start running pell-mell when the situation has pivoted inordinately.
WHAT WE DO IN CAMPS TO ADDRESS AND PREVENT COVID-19:
The COVID-19 Pandemic has made outreach more urgent and currently we are ramping up response in our valiant effort to protect the most vulnerable populations we serve. This response begins with our own field teams as they practice social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing at the work place.
NoFYL works in selected IDP camps in Kaxda and Deynille districts, Banadir region. We are actively engaged in COVID-19 awareness, prevention and information campaigns, with the help of camp leaders, community volunteers and religious leaders who mobilize their communities and raise awareness on COVID-19.
- Providing posters translated into the local Somali language that explains how the COVID-19 virus is spread and how families can protect themselves and their neighbors.
- We have intensified sensitization campaigns in settlements in Kaxda and Deynille districts. Our field teams continue informing IDPs on risks, symptoms and modes of transmissions of COVID-19 while teaching protection practices to be safe.
- We are working closely with the Kaxda and Deynille district administrations in Banadir region to prevent evictions in the camps and also to help in resettling the IDPs and the new arrivals.
- To meet the needs of the IDPs regarding COVID-19, we have set up a new toll-free hotline number (2181) that will be used by IDPs in reporting cases of corona virus.
- We have set up hand washing stations at strategic points in the camps for the IDPs. Hand hygiene is a critical step to contain the virus.
- We distributed hygiene materials to the camp leaders who carry out demonstrations on hand washing in their respective camps to contextually teach their communities proper techniques to wash hands using medicated soaps and use of sanitizers.
- Social and physical distancing is not feasible in the camps but through the community leaders, we are creating awareness on social distancing and reduce large gatherings. We are also urging the camp management committee to practice social distancing during their weekly meetings in the camps.
Figure 1:2: Camp committee members practicing social distancing while holding their weekly site level meeting at Kun Deeq IDP camp in Deynille district.
Figure 1:3: Hand washing demonstration in Ceel Hareeri IDP camp in Kaxda district.
Figure 1.4: Religious leaders spreading awareness messages on corona virus in the IDP Camps.