Al-Ezi Majed, 6, is washing his hands and face from the only water point in Souk Al-Lail camp in Amran city where more than fifty families live.

Photo: Nasser Abdulkareem/NRC

Three ways our programmes are fighting coronavirus

We all have a role to play in preventing the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19). The advice from health experts has been clear: wash your hands and limit contact with others.

But for millions of vulnerable people who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence and persecution, this message is empty. According to WHO and UNICEF, 40 per cent of the global population live without basic handwashing facilities. Some of these people live in overcrowded camps, or in areas where hospitals have been bombed and healthcare systems have collapsed.

Here at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), we are scaling up our global water, sanitation and hygiene promotion (WASH) programmes to respond to the coronavirus crisis. Here are three ways we’re fighting the spread of the virus among the world’s most vulnerable communities.

#1 Handwashing saves lives

Good hygiene practices such as handwashing are among the most effective ways to preventing viruses from spreading.

NRC is working to equip schools, community centres and aid distribution sites in several countries with handwashing facilities and soap. The provision of safe water, sanitation and hygienic conditions plays an essential role in protecting human health during infectious disease outbreaks – including Covid-19.

Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) with support of the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) supported the education program in the informal settlements in injil district of Hirat. 

Through a six-month grant from - December 2018 to May 2019, (ECHO) contributes to NRC Afghanistan’s ongoing education programme to further its reach and increase its positive impact on student beneficiaries through improved access to quality education in a protective environment. 

This program is carried out through establishment of learning spaces, recruitment and training of teachers as well as provision of education materials to facilitate the learning process.

NRC’s Herat Education team along with its WASH & Shelter program installed 20 educational tents (five tents in Shahrak e Sabz and fifteen tents in Faiz Abad) in Injil district of Herat. 

Shahrak-e-Sabz is a new location for the displaced community as the families were relocated due to land tenure related problems in December 2018. Currently up to 500 HH are living in this site. 

For each education tent, NRC provided two latrines (one female and one male), a 2,000 litters-water tank with stand, a latrine cleaning kit, and a hygiene kit. All education tents have been equipped with heaters during the colder winter months. 

During selection of EiE learners, NRC used vulnerability criteria to select priority students. This included out of school children, and children from those households that being targeted and supported through other NRC’s different program interventions. The students are mainly from Shahrak e Sabz and Kahdistan IDP settlement. Due to the high number of displaced families any more children than initially anticipated are now learning as part of NRC’s EiE proprgamme.

Currently, there are 535 (273 girls & 262 boys) students attending in 14 classes (5 tents) in 3 shifts. In each shift, there are around 38-40 students attending classes. 

Students are mostly Pashto speaking and Hirat is mainly a Dari spoken province.
Since EiE aims to empower displaced children with local language skills and to promote the social integration, NRC worked with a skilled curriculum developer to prepare a specific module of Dari conversation, stories, and vocabulary. Beside this, education has psychosocial support and BLP training to enable students to learn the stress release exercise and techniques. And assist them to be more focused and happier in their classes as well as their studies.
Some of the students were in school before the displacement and have studied as high as seven grades. Since the public school is far from the informal sites, families don’t allow their children, specially the girls, to go to the public school. Getting admitted to the public school can be difficult because the students lack identity cards and documents from the school in their place of origin. Also, thousands of families have arrived in one location and the current existing schools don’t have enough capacity to enrol new students.
Photo: Enayatullah Azad/NRC
In 2019, we provided this school in Herat, Afghanistan, with toilets, clean hand washing facilities and hygiene kits. This project was delivered as part of a collaboration between our education and WASH programmes. Photo: Enayatullah Azad/NRC

#2 Awareness is key

Promoting safe hygiene behaviour is even more important at a time like this. NRC is partnering with national health authorities to distribute information about preventing the spread of the virus.

Handwashing promotion can only work if communities are fully engaged and informed. This involves building trust and mutual understanding by engaging local people in communications and decision making.

Near the start of the outbreak, we delivered hygiene messaging to thousands of children in schools in Iran, benefitting both Iranian children and Afghan refugees. Photo: Mani Khaleghi/NRC

#3 Rumours and misinformation cause fear

It’s not just important to give correct information during a crisis, but also to dispel false information. Misinformation can spread like wildfire and cause significant damage to public health. We are working around the clock to monitor and respond to this.

Our Global WASH Manager, Ammar Fawzi, has drawn parallels with the Ebola response to emphasise the importance of tackling misinformation:

"We saw with the Ebola response that there was a lot of fear. Fear leads to misinformation and rumours, which leads to stigmatisation and people being discriminated against and denied other services. We are trying our best to stop that with the coronavirus response through a lot of community engagement."

Community engagement includes identifying the right people to engage with, whether these be community leaders, taxi drivers, schoolteachers or shop owners, to understand the situation. This is important not just in face-to-face situations, but on social media too.

In preparation for the coronavirus reaching the region, we conducted awareness-raising campaigns in Afghanistan across all displacement sites in Herat and Badghis, reaching over 80,000 people in total. Photo: Marziyeh Rafiee/NRC

NRC has extensive experience in dealing with epidemics and crises in the world’s most vulnerable areas, and we are now rapidly adapting our work to respond to the coronavirus. We need a global push to limit the spread of the virus.

You are already playing an important role in preventing the spread of the virus by washing your hands and limiting contact with others. But the only way to truly #FlattenTheCurve is by making sure that those living in the world’s most vulnerable areas can do this too.

Please support our coronavirus response today