Strengthening community resilience in times of COVID-19

Thursday, November 5, 2020

In 2020 Nepal has been hit hard by the health and socio-economic effects of the Coronavirus pandemic as well as natural hazards exacerbated by climate change. In this blog Mercy Corps Nepal share how they have helped communities cope with COVID-19 during the monsoon season, and how they support policy makers to make climate smart, risk informed decisions. 

COVID-19 and climate change: a multifaceted crisis in Nepal

COVID-19 is exacerbating difficult socio-economic conditions facing the most vulnerable people in Nepal while the impacts of climate change accelerate. So far in 2020 507 people have lost their lives in disasters, and economic losses total USD 10 million.

Three out of four people living in poverty in Nepal depend on agriculture and natural resources to sustain their livelihood. People working in the informal sector, especially in agriculture, are most vulnerable to the effects of both COVID-19 and climate change. 

Remittances, which contributed to 25 percent of the country’s GDP in 2018-19, are expected to drop by 15 to 20 percent this fiscal year. At the same time foreign tourism is projected to decline by 60 percent in 2020. This means losses of employment and earnings estimated at USD 400 million. 

Understanding how COVID-19 impacts flood vulnerable communities

To assess the situation facing flood vulnerable communities experiencing monsoon rains during the pandemic, the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance partners in Nepal (Mercy Corps, Practical Action, and IFRC) conducted context analysis of 46 community disaster management committees in 5 districts. 

Our research resulted in Avoiding a perfect storm: COVID-19 and floods in Nepal, which we shared with national, sub-national, and local governments as well as donors and peer organizations to provide recommendations on actions to address the compound risks of COVID-19 and flooding from the monsoon season.

Adapting programs to also build resilience against COVID-19 

Building on our findings, Mercy Corps designed and installed 21 hand washing stations (HWS) in the Sudurpaschim Province. We consulted local governments and stakeholders to ensure accessibility and placed HWS in places such as the municipal office, where many people come to seek emergency services, and at border posts which were busy with workers returning from abroad. 

We also installed HWS at flood evacuation centers so people would have access to hand washing facilities if they had to evacuate during a flood.

We complemented the investment in HWS with risk communications via radio through Mercy Corps’ Managing Risk through Economic Development (MRED-II) program. This ensured that people had access to knowledge on how to reduce the risk of spreading the Coronavirus, including the importance of good hand hygiene. 

Supporting COVID-19 recovery in annual planning and budgeting

Nepal’s local governments normally allocate their annual budgets in June and July. COVID-19 meant both that large planning and preparation meetings were cancelled and that local governments lacked the human and financial resources to conduct their regular planning process. 

To support the government in budgeting for activities that strengthen public health related disaster management capacities Mercy Corps developed a budget tool to calculate costs associated with sanitation and hygiene in a disaster context, including hand washing stations and sanitizers in evacuation centers, and hygiene items like soap and masks for households. The tool was shared with 11 municipality governments in the Sudurpaschim Province, and helped support their budget development. 

If you are looking to develop similar tools in your context please get in touch with the Flood Resilience Portal and we can put you in touch with the team who are happy to share their experiences. 

Successes amidst the pandemic: policy commitments and significant increases in funding for DRR/CCA

As the pandemic continues and governments respond to its health and socio-economic impacts, we must not forget the ongoing climate crises. Local governments devastated by COVID-19 impacts still need to ensure policies and programs are risk informed and include a focus on disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA). 

The Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance in Nepal has been working with the Sudurpaschim Province to strengthen policies and ensure budget allocation to DRR/CCA related activities. Our advocacy engagement and trainings led to an instrumental step in July as the province committed to allocating 5 percent of their annual budget to DRR/CCA related activities in the Province Disaster Management Plan

To build on this momentum, Mercy Corps coordinated with our partners, Nepal Red Cross Society at Kailali and Integrated Development Society (IDeS) at Dadeldhura, and participated in integrated planning meetings of three municipalities to ensure DRR/CCA was considered in their annual development and budget plans too. 

Ganesh Thapa, Program Coordinator for IDeS, explained: 

We were able to have virtual meetings with the disaster focal official at the Alital Municipality and participate in integrated budget planning meetings. During the meetings, we emphasized the need to invest in DRR/CCA, especially as we try to recover from the impacts of COVID-19 and ‘build back better’. Our efforts led to the municipality allocating 5 million Nepal Rupees for DRR/CCA activities, which is a ten-fold increase from last year. The budget will be utilized for structural mitigation activities, adaptation activities for vulnerable communities, and the municipal disaster management fund.

Similarly Dogadakedar Rural Municipality in Baitadi District also increased the DRR/CCA sector budget allocation from 2% to 4% this year. 

What else are we doing?  

It is important, now more than ever, that we work closely together with communities and governments to strengthen resilience to both COVID-19 and climate change induced natural hazards.

The progress we’ve made together with local governments this budgeting cycle shows the change that can happen when policy makers are provided the tools and knowledge needed to make climate smart, risk informed decisions. 

Going forward Mercy Corps is committing to conducting research on how the private sector can contribute more to DRR/CCA activities in Nepal. 

We will also be implementing the Flood Resilience Measurement for Communities and use what we learn from working with communities to assess and strengthen flood resilience to influence resilient policy and practice. 

Mercy Corps is also working in Indonesia as part of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, you can find out more about our work to build resilience against the pandemic and floods in our blog: Strengthening resilience of flood vulnerable communities in Indonesia during the COVID-19 crisis.

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