Humanitarian Response

Who takes care of vulnerable displaced persons during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic intensifies an existing humanitarian crisis for the 41.3 million people living in internal displacement across the world. Many people living in displacement have fled armed conflict, violence, or human rights violations and have had to deal with poor access to healthcare, poor nutrition, and low income. Their living spaces are over-crowded with poor infrastructure and a lack of essential sanitary and hygiene items such as soap and clean water. These factors limit their ability to effectively follow preventive measures such as frequent hand washing, engaging in social distancing, and self-isolation. For displaced persons, the COVID-19 pandemic creates an additional layer of vulnerability, leading to greater fragility. 

Speaking to the camp leader in one of the IDP Camps, she said, “We don’t even have soap or hand sanitisers. Our people have to go out to find work and eat.”

In a situation where basic needs are unmet, proactive, and urgent measures have to be put in place to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 in camps. The modes of relief distribution and support would also need to be modified to protect this vulnerable group. Humanitarian responses should prioritise the availability of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) facilities. Measures should also be put in place to manage the delivery of relief items such as food by reducing the concentration of people at distribution points per time, promoting safe distances, and calm during the distribution process. Visitation to the camps at this time should be strictly limited to relief distributions, and access for health workers with adequate monitoring of all instances to minimise the possibility of importing cases of COVID-19 into the camps. Ensuring access to food and other essential items limits the need for the displaced to leave the camps. Health workers and humanitarian support teams should also be provided with personal protection equipment. Information and awareness campaigns should be run in the camps to teach them how to minimise the risk of infection. Effective and trusted camp leaders should be enlisted to disseminate information and ensure compliance. This will improve the acceptability of the messages. 

While the practical implementation of these measures may be challenging in many camps, these are necessary measures for the prevention of COVID-19. It will be harder to contain the disease in over-crowded camps as the spread is likely to be rapid and devastating. Prevention, at this time, is a more effective option. 

To respond effectively, governments should work with local, regional, and multilateral institutions to formulate a coordinated response to ensure that humanitarian services continue to be provided in camps. Governments should take the lead, recognising that these are people displaced within their own country and should, therefore, be provided with the same health, social, and financial protection measures available to the general population. Internally Displaced Persons should be included in the National Preparedness and Response Plan for COVID-19. 

As travel restrictions and supply bottlenecks persist with countries trying to stop the spread of the virus, humanitarian responses across and within borders will be significantly hampered, and this should be reflected in the response plan. 

When the dust settles, lessons must be learned as we move forward, recognising that camps and informal settlements are intended to be temporary measures and not permanent solutions. The issue of protracted displacement must be addressed by supporting displaced persons to achieve self-reliance aimed at rebuilding their lives. Given the right resources and support, displaced persons can leave the camps, contribute to their communities, and be reintegrated into the wider society with dignity.

Dignity

Creating a Multisectoral and Coordinated Camp Management System for Internally Displaced Persons

IDP Camp Management_Diagram_JPEG

The on-going insurgency and displacement situation indicate that we need to evolve from providing spontaneous solutions to deliberate and well-structured plans. The increasing number of displaced persons puts pressure on existing facilities, negatively affecting living conditions and causing avoidable ill health amongst the people.

Ideally, camps should be temporary settlements until people are resettled in their areas of origin (“return home”), within local communities (“local integration”), or in other states within the country (“outside integration”). However, many people have been living in camps/camp sites for over two years because they are not resourced, skilled or adequately equipped to move on even when the security situation has improved in their areas.

Currently, a solution gap exists between the early phase of displacement and long-term rehabilitation. I believe that Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), need to be prepared while in camps on how to create and sustain life outside the camp. They need to be equipped through counselling, psychosocial programs, education, skill acquisition and training – they need to develop sustainable means of livelihood, as well as regain their dignity. This can be achieved with a structured camp management system which involves:

  • Creating a coordinated working system within the camps. Humanitarian, governmental, non-governmental, and social organisations, have complimentary roles and will need to adopt a harmonised approach to executing operations that will help achieve early-phase settlement and long-term rehabilitation. This will reduce inefficiencies, resource mismanagement, duplication and wastage.
  • Governments defining a framework, providing durable structures, and infrastructure within which other organisations can effectively work together to achieve stated objectives.
  • Creating a process that links early phase settlement to long-term reintegration needs.
  • Carrying out a comprehensive, collaborative, and multi-sectoral needs assessment to identify the full range of requirements and gaps. This will support the implementation of a “needs-driven” response.
  • Defining core priorities and identifying the lead actors based on their expertise and mandate – social and humanitarian workers, health workers, counsellors, security agencies governments, psychologists, etc.
  • Assigning clearly defined responsibilities to agencies/organisations to improve accountability.
  • Regular meetings/feedback process involving all organisations.
  • Monitoring, evaluation and impact assessment.

Camps should be run by groups of dedicated agencies and professionals who understand the nature of the crisis, pulling on their collective strength and experiences to help create an effective system within which IDPs can effectively and more efficiently, go through the phases of displacement and reintegration.