SI United Nations (UN) Representative, Evelyne Para, brings us the final instalment in her series of blogs about how Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. This blog focuses on Ecological Reconstruction.
“The COVID-19 pandemic, which we still continue to face, offers us the opportunity to reconsider our scientific approach, our unsustainable consumption pattern and our connection to nature. UNESCO partnered NGOs wish to exchange their thoughts in order to strengthen their commitment and better take ownership of the COVID-19 response. The three main pillars underlying this commitment are: enhanced international scientific cooperation, access to water for all, and the prevention of natural disasters.
Strengthened international scientific cooperation
According to UNESCO, science must be understood as a human right, a common good of enormous value. Faced with the COVID-19 crisis and its uncertainties, civil society has naturally turned to the scientific community as the main actor for the response to the virus. Many national scientific councils have emerged to combat the lack of access to reliable information.
At international level, all NGOs as well as the heads of UN Agencies have called together to promote the ideals of “Open Science“, in order to make science more transparent, more accessible, more participatory and ultimately more efficient, thus contributing to a more just, inclusive and sustainable world.
For example, the World Federation of Scientific Workers (FMTS), an NGO partner of UNESCO, has mobilised to strengthen international cooperation by increasing access in the medical field with tests and vaccines, and also by better understanding anti-COVID barrier gestures (washing hands, face coverings etc).
But how can you apply anti-COVID barrier gestures in a region when you have no soap or water?
Access to water for all
Access to water, adequate sanitation, and hygiene practices have been highlighted in the 2030 Agenda, and with the emergence of COVID-19, these important priorities have become even more essential and require urgent attention. Washing hands is the first barrier action to take in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus – and yet, billions of people, often in countries already facing famine, still cannot access safe and clean water.
In this context, and responding to the Sanitation and Water for all appeal, NGO partners have stepped up their efforts on the ground to respond to the challenge of inequalities associated with access to water, sanitation and good hygiene.
For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the price of a bucket of water has multiplied by five since the start of the pandemic, the NGO ATD Fourth World has taken steps with local authorities to obtain free access to water. In Sierra Leone, BPW Freetown also intervened directly at the community level to ensure free access water and sanitation facilities to improve hygiene.
Prevention of natural disasters
In 2020, the coronavirus registered itself as a crisis in a serious series of natural disasters. In May 2020, Cyclone Amphan, the most powerful cyclone of the 21st century in the Bay of Bengal with winds of 200 to 240 km/h, devastated parts of India and Bangladesh. Hundreds of coastal villages were affected, crops were swallowed up, trees uprooted and infrastructure destroyed. 2.4 million People were evacuated to shelters in Bangladesh’s coastal belt where social distancing measures were impossible. To limit the spread of COVID-19, the NGO Friendship, a member of Make Mothers Matter, set up hand washing stations outside these shelters and equipped people with masks.
Likewise, the local ATD Fourth World Africa teams active in Burkina-Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania and Togo, report that local communities are regularly confronted with numerous natural disasters – including other epidemics such as cholera, Ebola virus and measles. In this context, the COVID-19 pandemic is an additional source of difficulties.
Natural disasters linked to climate change that have affected populations, coupled with the coronavirus, are causing real humanitarian geopolitical upheavals with serious social and ethical repercussions. NGOs are convinced that this is a paradigm shift that we must accomplish – now and collectively. In order to encourage action, and taking into account the testimonies of NGOs from the field, UNESCO’s scientific reports follow one another and draw increasingly pessimistic scenarios. The latest report titled, Changing minds, not the climate, encourages ethical and humanist commitment.
Since start of the COVID-19 pandemic, NGOs across the globe have demonstrated a capacity for mobilisation and coordinated action that is proving crucial in response to COVID-19 pandemic. They will continue to fight against the danger of dehumanisation and against the consequences of a historic health, economic, social, climatic and confidence crisis. My 4 blog series, entitled “Solidarity of NGOs Facing the Pandemic“, wanted to pay tribute to these NGOs.”
(Lead image from UNESCO.)
You can read the whole of Evelyne’s blog series on the SI website:
- Part 1 on Human and Social Sciences.
- Part 2 on Education
- Part 3 on Communication, Information, and Culture