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ראשון, 17 מאי 2020 נכתב ע"י 

COVID19: Initial lessons and opportunities for development practitioners

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While we are still in the midst of the COVID19 pandemic and despite the uncertainty about its ramifications on low and middle-income countries, there are already a few lessons that international development practitioners may draw from recent events. Unlike the virus, some of these lessons are not ‘novel’. However, the current situation serves as a historic opportunity to emphasize values and working principles that the development arena needs to embrace in order to adapt to the new realities posed by the pandemic. These lessons are especially important amid the backdrop in finance for Development Assistance Cooperation (DAC) during the past years, growing protectionism and the subpar international role that we can expect from the current U.S. Administration.  

The following delineate three guiding principles for these challenging times:

Locality:

Working bottom-up, understanding local context and advancing community-based-solutions are only a few of the theoretical principles guiding development professionals. In fact, we still see that many decisions, especially in big international organizations, are quite centralized; local offices are staffed with internationals and significant red tape dictates day-to-day operations. Often, we witness that even technological solutions for development are copied and pasted regardless of the specific local context. The almost absolute halt of international flights is a huge logistical challenge but also a historic opportunity for capacity development of local teams. These days, international experts cannot simply pop-up in developing countries, whenever called by governments, multi-laterals or international NGOs. In fact, in some African countries, foreign development workers were accused of spreading the virus. Indeed, this “pandemic era” is the time for local teams.

The importance of local teams surpasses the reality that they are physically on the ground. Their acquaintance with local culture helps in understanding needs and designing solutions. Take for example the issue of fear.  Fear is a driving force in people's reaction to the pandemic and it also has strong cultural and sometimes religious contexts. Without understanding the local context of fear, one cannot meet people where they are – one of the most important prerequisites for commencing a community intervention. Social distancing is another popular tool to combat COVID19. For example, a local development professional will probably not suggest such a method in communities where dozens of people live under the same roof. Alternatively, she could suggest turning the local school, which is closed during the pandemic, into a local quarantine center.

Resilience and preparedness:

Resilience is the ability of communities to bounce back from crisis or to adjust easily to changing circumstances, whether environmental, social or health-related. Communities with greater self-reliance and high levels of social capital will be able to respond better to extreme situations. In times of emergency, social capital is measured by the ability of the community to link people and institutions with sources of power and influence, the bonding between members of the community thus enabling mutual support and bridging between sub- groups in the community: youth, women, elderly people as well as host and immigrant populations living in the same area.

Resilient communities need to be prepared for diverse scenarios and to improve their social capital through formal and informal arrangements. Such preparation needs to be carried out in advance to avoid further deterioration of already weak communities in times of crisis. Plans that do not effectively work on a day-to-day basis will never work during times of emergency or crisis. Villages with strong leadership will know how to communicate their needs to relevant authorities during times of pandemic; communities with emergency preparedness teams will provide medical, mental and emotional aid to people; populations where teenagers are part of youth movements will discover that, through their leadership skills, these young people are critical for alleviating tensions and distress for themselves, for the younger kids whom they work with.

Solutions in the absence of resources:

We all wish that medical services in developing countries would be accessible, affordable and of excellent quality. However, in numerous countries, such a situation will not emerge for many more years. Even prior to the COVID19 outbreak, almost 9 million preventable deaths occurred each year. Raj Panjabi from the Last Mile Health claims that to face the global shortage of health workers and infrastructures, one important solution with the potential to save at least 3 million people involves training local health workers.

We tend to associate innovation with technology, but innovation is simply the process of finding solutions to unsolved problems. Technological solutions should be simple or they simply won't work. For example, during the current pandemic we should not advocate for sophisticated hygiene solutions that are difficult to maintain and dependent on international value chains that are not available. Supply of clean water and soap should be the priority of every government and development organization. If possible, purchase goods locally and involve communities in designing and implementing solutions so they develop a sense of ownership and thus, are more likely to use them.

Some experts suggest key lessons from 2014 the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa to succeed in the fight against COVID19. Regardless of the differences between the nature of the two pandemics, in terms of scope and means of contagion, we also must take into consideration the differing global geo-political situation. Recent years have given rise to populist ideologies in many countries throughout the world, including in the U.S. These sentiments strengthen protectionism and lack of international cooperation of the sort we relied on during the Ebola crisis, when the U.S. led a coalition of 50 countries to fight the outbreak and deployed 3,000 aid workers in Western Africa. Since the current U.S. administration is unlikely to foster that sort of response and due to the continuous backdrop in finance for Development Assistance Cooperation, we recommend adherence to the abovementioned principles to optimize the COVID19 pandemic response in the developing world.

Ariel Dloomy is the chairman of the Israeli Society for International Development. He is an experienced practitioner in the fields of community development and conflict resolution. 

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