“While governments are taking tough and much-needed measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, millions of refugees and displaced people still depend on humanitarian assistance. Aid workers should fall into the same category as medical staff, food retailers or pharmacists. If supermarkets and pharmacies can remain operational during this crisis, then so should the delivery of humanitarian aid,” said Jan Egeland, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
Humanitarian organisations have already suspended relief programmes in some countries due to government restrictions, causing uncertainty and hardship for families. Across the Middle East, restrictions have impacted NRC’s ability to reach over 300,000 people who need assistance.
“The risk of Covid-19 spreading to overcrowded displacement sites in Asia, Middle East and parts of Africa is extremely high, and will lead to a humanitarian catastrophe if we can´t protect those most at risk of infection,” said Egeland.
Two cases have already been confirmed in densely populated Gaza, where a decade long blockade has devastated the health service while the first case in Syria was reported on Sunday.
“If aid workers aren´t allowed to scale-up urgent services because of lockdowns or stay-at-home orders, vital supplies will run out and displaced people will have their lifelines cut off,” said Egeland before adding: “We are asking governments to allow us to stay and deliver so that we can assist and protect the most vulnerable before it's too late.”
Humanitarian programmes play a significant role in slowing down the spread of diseases. For example, the delivery of aid like soap, clean water and hygiene kits, can prevent the spread of coronavirus in vulnerable communities.
NRC is scaling up water and sanitation services in countries, where this is still possible, and is providing communities with guidance on good hygiene practice. It is also reviewing how its existing programmes can help refugees and displaced people cope better during the crisis.
"Aid workers are taking all possible precautions and we are imposing stringent measures to ensure we do not introduce Covid-19 to the vulnerable communities we serve,” Egeland added.
Photos of NRC's Covid-19 prevention work can be found here.
NRC has issued guidelines to staff in how to reduce the risk of spread of infection when assisting vulnerable communities.
NRC is scaling up assistance as a response to Covid-19 in the following countries:
- In Afghanistan, NRC has ramped up awareness raising activities on the spread of the virus and on good hygiene practices. NRC is present at critical border crossings with Iran and Pakistan providing information in settlements.
- In Burkina Faso, NRC has put in place hand-washing facilities at distribution points, encouraging families to scale-up hand- washing practices and awareness-raising with printed information on prevention.
- In Iran, NRC has facilitated the distribution of soap and information leaflets to raise awareness on preventive measures among 6,000 households in settlements throughout various provinces. We are also preparing for the distribution of 1,600 hygiene kits to families.
- In Somalia, NRC is reprogramming $1.13million to construct handwashing basins, soap distribution and awareness campaign in targeted IDP settlements.
- In Uganda, NRC is expanding existing programmes in water sanitation and hygiene in refugee settlements.
- In South Sudan, NRC is scaling up distribution of hygiene kits and soap alongside food distribution and is developing new ways to avoid crowding at food distribution sites.
- In Kenya, NRC is working to ensure the continuity of water supplies in Kakuma refugee camp.