Much more than masks: linking emergency assistance, resilience building, and COVID-19 prevention

One of the re-usable masks

One of the re-usable masks

A HARP-F NGO partner in Myanmar is locally sourcing and distributing 108,000 reusable facemasks to vulnerable villagers in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships, in Northern Rakhine State, where facemasks remain difficult to access and unaffordable.

As of end of October 2020, an estimated 93,0001* people have been displaced by the armed conflict in Rakhine between the Arakan Army – a mostly Buddhist ethnic Rakhine insurgent group – and the Myanmar military, and are in need of humanitarian assistance. Access to these conflicted-affected populations is limited and has been further reduced by COVID-19 restrictions. The strict stay-at home order which has been enforced in most of Rakhine State since end of August to stave off the second wave of COVID-19 has disrupted procurement, further complicated transportation to the northern townships, and limited non-emergency activities. As a result, communities, particularly the poorer rural households, are left unable to afford facemasks or struggling to access markets to purchase them.  

Our partner’s initiative suggests a sustainable way for communities to protect themselves from contracting the COVID-19 virus, while also supporting the local economy. Part of the 108,000 cloth masks are made by professional tailors in Buthidaung and Maungdaw markets, providing them with a livelihood at a time when income opportunities are limited. They are also sewing children-sized masks, recognizing that most of the non-reusable masks distributed by humanitarian agencies are single-sized and unsuitable for children. The rest of the masks (88,000) is procured from the local market, in an effort to boost the local economy and ensure masks are available. 

A total of 54,000 villagers are receiving two masks each, together with information on how to wash reusable masks and keep them clean.  

This initiative supporting livelihoods is part of a broader project designed to provide relief response, improve food security and strengthen community resilience in Northern Rakhine State. Our partner has been providing conflicted-affected families and communities in Northern Rakhine with emergency assistance  – in the form of food and hygiene kits distribution – since August 2018. More recently, it has also focused on strengthening community resilience trough awareness raising sessions on social cohesion, hygiene and COVID-19 protection, and the introduction of home gardening kits. The facemask production and distribution is the latest activity in a series intended to help communities remain in their villages despite the scarcity of local resources.  


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