Exploring co-benefits: Community-centred resilience building in times of Covid-19

As Covid-19 continues to affect communities globally, humanitarian and development organizations need to adapt our way of working. This case study from the Red Cross in the Philippines shows how programmes can be adapted to respond to communities’ acute needs regarding Covid-19 while maintaining a vital focus on flood resilience.

Communities’ needs increased as the pandemic hit the Philippines

Surely, people around the world will remember 2020 for a long time and the Philippines are no exception to this.

The Coronavirus, associated restrictions on mobility and face-to-face engagements, and the pandemic’s socio-economic impacts have also hit the Philippines and the communities in Pangasinan where we work as part of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance hard.

Recognizing the need to address these impacts and prepare communities for the pandemic, our Philippine Red Cross and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies team adapted our workplan, interventions, and activities in response to the current crisis.

While doing so and being responsive to the communities’ immediate needs and concerns, the team did not lose sight of the programme’s focus on flood resilience.

Identifying and implementing interventions with co-benefits

Instead, we explored and implemented interventions that have co-benefits for both pandemic preparedness and flood resilience.

For this, the team leveraged insights gained from the Flood Resilience Measurement for Communities (FRMC).

They had already identified health, hygiene, and sanitation as key areas for intervention based on the FRMC results and plans. Considering the acute need for pandemic preparedness and response we decided to implement these activities sooner and adapt them to feature Covid-19 specific messages and practices.

Psychosocial support for community health workers

After activities in the target communities of the Alliance project were put on hold for three months due to the Enhanced Community Quarantine declared by the government, the local Red Cross team in Pangasinan returned to communities at the beginning of July to re-start our flood resilience work.

The team used this opportunity to address the psychosocial impacts of crises.

The virus, lockdowns, and secondary impacts on for example livelihoods create uncertainty and distress. This can lead to panic, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. To tackle such impacts the Red Cross team organized psychosocial support sessions with village heads, members of village councils, and people who are at the frontlines fighting the pandemic.

While the sessions aimed at helping people cope with the current situation, raising awareness about psychosocial problems and how to address them will also benefit health workers and community members when they face similar crisis situations in the future, for example during floods.

Psychological Support Programme session for the frontline respondents in community in Mangatarem, Pangasinan. Photo by: Philippine Red Cross

Hygiene promotion and distribution of hygiene kits

At the end of August, the flood resilience team returned to communities to distribute almost 1,200 hygiene kits to vulnerable households and families. The distribution was accompanied by awareness raising and hygiene promotion activities like demonstration of proper hand washing to prevent spread of Covid-19 and other diseases.

“Building a culture of good hygiene practices amidst the pandemic will save lives and combat the virus. The situation is a reminder that being healthy starts with cleanliness. We can eliminate microorganisms that may harm our body through hand washing, proper food handling, environmental sanitation, and proper waste management.”

Local Programme Coordinator

This is not only applicable to Covid-19 but can help curb the spread of communicable water-and vector-borne diseases such as cholera or dengue, whose transmission can be increased by floods.

Training for community-based volunteer groups

Already in the beginning of the 2020, community-based volunteer groups called RC143 Volunteers were established as part of the flood resilience programme.

These networks of volunteers are meant to strengthen social cohesion, build social and human capital, and empower communities to self-organize during disasters. Once they are well-established, trained, and fully functional, they can be mobilized to build flood resilience and to respond to other crises like the coronavirus pandemic.

During the second half of the year, volunteers who signed up for the RC143 programme received first aid training to increase their knowledge and skills in responding to emergencies. A total of 181 volunteers were trained by instructors from the Pangasinan chapter of the Philippine Red Cross.

RC143 Volunteers practicing their newly acquired knowledge and skills in first aid. Photo by: Philippine Red Cross

Creating co-benefits and building social cohesion

Clearly, most communities face not only one but compounding risks as the pandemic illustrates. Even before Covid-19, communities in the Philippines faced multiple risks from for example typhoons, floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. While the Alliance’s focus is on floods, these often times serve as an entry point for interventions and activities that build resilience to multiple hazards.

The examples above show how interventions and activities of the flood resilience programme help communities prepare for and respond to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic while also addressing gaps in flood resilience that were identified through the FRMC.

First aid knowledge and skills, increased awareness of psychological problems and how to address them, and improved hygiene practices are critical for fighting the coronavirus and can also be leveraged by community members during floods and other disasters.

Beyond these immediate co-benefits, these interventions also support a core component of our flood resilience programme: social organization and cohesion.

Particularly, in times when physical distancing can lead to social distancing, building social capital through joint activities and the establishment of community-based volunteer groups is important.

Psychological Support Programme session for the frontline respondents in community in Mangatarem, Pangasinan. Photo by: Philippine Red Cross

Working closely with people and communities is not only about the delivery of goods and services but also about compassion and caring.

Disasters, whether pandemics or floods, leave people worried and anxious.

This makes it even more important to build trusting relationships. If people and communities feel that organizations are there to support them during their distress, this will benefit the community, your team, and the programme’s objectives in the future.

This blog was written by Jonathan Ulrich and originally published on the Flood Resilience Portal of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance. Please find the original story here. Find out more about the work of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance in the Philippines here. You can also learn how the Red Cross team in Mexico have used digital tools and methods to support communities remotely during lockdowns in this blog.

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