Burkina Faso: soap production | © Yacouba Lankoandé
Zürich – 19. May 2020

Helvetas Response Goes Beyond the Coronavirus Crisis

© Yacouba Lankoandé

The consequences of the coronavirus pandemic hit people in developing countries particularly hard. The crisis exacerbates existing problems. The Swiss development organization Helvetas provides emergency aid on the ground while at the same time promoting the local economy and development after the coronavirus crisis. This way the support has a lasting effect.

Because of COVID-19, many poor countries are heading for an economic and humanitarian crisis. Even before the pandemic, developing countries had to contend with water and food shortages and inadequate health systems, among other things. The virus now threatens the health of the poorest people. But the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis will be even more serious: more people will suffer from hunger and the consequences of an economic collapse than from the virus itself. Especially those who need their daily income to survive, for example day laborers or market operators, are threatened by hunger. At the same time, prices for basic foodstuffs have risen in many places.

Opportunities on the local market, digital training, support for small farmers

Helvetas is currently supporting around 20 countries in their fight against the immediate and medium-term consequences of the coronavirus. This is not just about information and education work, or the distribution of hygiene articles or food. As an experienced development organization with a strong local presence, the Swiss NGO combines this acute emergency aid with sustainable support that has an impact far beyond the coronavirus crisis. Some examples:

  • A sustainable supply of water: Helvetas not only distributes emergency kits, but also works with local partner organizations to support the establishment of mobile hand-washing stations in health centers, schools, markets and community offices where they will remain post-COVID-19 - for example in Burkina Faso, Nepal and Pakistan. Helvetas also works closely with local communities to help them renovate or expand existing water systems so that people can benefit from better water supplies in the long term.
  • Local production and marketing of hygiene products: Helvetas not only distributes urgently needed hygiene articles, but also initiates and supports the local production of soap and disinfectants in many places, which is much more sustainable. For example, in Haiti, Benin and in Tanzania, where young men and women have taken rapidly developed courses to learn how to produce liquid soap and disinfectants themselves and sell them on the local market. With the proceeds, they can feed themselves and their families. In other countries in Africa, such as Madagascar, Helvetas supports young adults in the local production and sale of face masks, an extremely rare commodity. The production, marketing and sale of hygiene products are also economic stimuli.
  • Digital teaching and learning methods: Helvetas is using digital methods to ensure that the coronavirus crisis with school closures does not become an educational crisis. In Tanzania, we have been supporting teacher training for years. Within a very short time, Helvetas has now developed online learning platforms that teachers, local government officials and school heads can use even during the lockdown. In the future, these platforms will also be used for mobile vocational training for young people who live in very remote areas.
  • Support for labor migrants: Helvetas is helping to set up quarantine stations for returning labor migrants and to provide particularly vulnerable people - such as refugees or families of returning migrant workers - with urgent food and money transfers via mobile phone. For example, in Myanmar, financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). At the same time, migrant workers receive professional and psychosocial support, for example in Bangladesh.
  • Preparing for the post-Corona period: Helvetas is already helping the authorities and local people in various countries to prepare for the time after the crisis. Among other things, the aim is to preserve the jobs of the poorest people and keep the services at the community level operational. One example is in Kyrgyzstan, as part of an SDC project.
  • Support to small farming families: Helvetas and its local partner organizations support smallholder farmers around the world who are hit particularly hard by the lockdown because they can no longer sell their produce. These include small cocoa farmers in Peru and Honduras and banana farmers in Burkina Faso. At the same time, Helvetas distributes seeds in areas where families can no longer afford to buy them because of the collapse in income. This helps prevent them from missing the next growing season, which is essential for their food production and family income.

Donors in Switzerland show solidarity with people who are less privileged and make these projects in the global South possible.

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