IDPs take over food distribution and WASH activities in 25 camps during the COVID-19 pandemic

Food distribution respecting social distancing rules. ©HARP-F partner

Food distribution respecting social distancing rules. ©HARP-F partner

One of HARP-F national partners is working with IDPs in the Kachin and Northern Shan states of Myanmar since April 2009 to support their safe and dignified return and resettlement. The project has been providing food, cash assistance and safe and equitable access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services to over 24,000 IDPs in 25 camps in Kachin and Northern Shan.

But beyond this immediate relief, the project is incorporating strategies to reduce IDPs’ dependency on food aid and build their resilience – an approach that has proven particularly valuable during the COVID-19 outbreak.

In both Kachin and Northern Shan states, IDPs and other communities affected by conflict have limited means and support for sustainable livelihoods – in fact, the vast majority of the populations supported by the project remain reliant on aid and subsistence farming for their food. This precarious situation is compounded by the COVID-19 restrictions, especially in the non-government controlled areas, and travel limitations enforced on the China side of the border, which have considerably complicated aid transport and delivery in Kachin and Northern Shan states, and hampered access to the camps.

Yet, despite no access to the camps in non-Government controlled areas, and limited access to those in areas controlled by the Government, our partner has managed to adapt its project and keep its food distributions, hygiene campaigns and WASH activities going.

Building on its work to promote community engagement and ownership of the response, our partner has reformed the camp food committees through 2020 to put them in charge of food distribution. Members of the committee – at least 50% of whom are women and representatives from other vulnerable groups – attended training on warehouse management, food quality control and beneficiary registration through 2020. By the end of the year, the food committees in each of the 25 camps had gradually taken over the responsibility to organize food distributions, with our partner monitoring the process through social media and daily check ins by community facilitators.

Our partner started a similar process wit the camp WASH committees, strengthening their capacity to conduct hygiene awareness sessions and run the WASH maintenance activities. With COVID-19 restrictions banning public gatherings, it installed a sound system in all camps where it is running WASH activities, to convey hygiene and COVID-19 prevention and protection messages twice daily. Again, social media – WeChat, Messenger, Facebook and Skype – was the communication channel of choice to engage committee members, with community facilitators following up.

Throughout the project, and even more so since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, our partner has focused on keeping clear, regular communication with the WASH, food and camp management committees to be able to build their capacity. At the project closure in December 2020, this de-facto remote management had paid off, with the food committees reporting more community engagement and a stronger ownership of the response. The project continues to strengthen this practice of empowering food and WASH committees in the 25 camps it is working with in 2021.

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