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How local organizations adapted to COVID-19 in their operations

Cordillera Disaster Response & Development Services Inc (CorDisRDS Inc.) is a non-government organization providing disaster response and community development services to the communities of Cordillera Provinces: Apayao, Kalinga, Abra, Mountain Province, Ifugao, Benguet, and Baguio City. Their main activities include facilitating assistance to disaster-affected communities and helping in the distribution of relief assistance, giving training and seminars to capacitate community and people’s organization leaders and their members.

Support given by CARE:

CorDis-RDS is the local partner of CARE Philippines in implementing INCREASE project in Mountain Province. INCREASE or Increasing the Resilience to Natural Hazards aims to increase the resilience of 45,000 women and men small-scale farmers and fishers, including 720 extreme poor female-headed households, to natural hazards and the effects of climate change.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, CARE Philippines and CorDis-RDS, has provided personal protective equipment to municipal local government units (MLGUs) and sacks of rice as a relief to communities in Barlig and Natonin, Mountain Province. 

COVID-19 information materials were also distributed in the areas to promote preventive measures against the coronavirus

The Problem

What has been your experience since the COVID-19 pandemic started?

The CorDis-RDS team has experienced challenges in reaching the communities because of travel restrictions. Before community quarantine was implemented, the team would spend 2 weeks in INCREASE areas where they would visit 4 barangays in two municipalities. But because of the pandemic, they had to cut their field work short to one and a half week covering three barangays. Since then, they were not able to go back to these communities.

According to Liza Lomong-ey, CorDis-RDS Field Officer, “Since the declaration of enhanced community quarantine in March 2020, it has been so stressful because the team was not able to personally reach partner communities and local government units (LGUs) in this trying time and we have not implemented activities for almost 6 months and are confined within our homes and office due to the safety protocols being implemented.”

How have you adapted operations to reach your beneficiaries?

The pandemic has heightened the importance of network-building, especially on the ground, in implementing emergency response and development projects. While faced with travel restrictions, the team has worked on strengthening their relationship with people’s organizations and LGUs so they can understand the evolving needs of the communities.

Liza mentioned, “Communication between INCREASE team and partner LGUs was sustained through constant updating and coordination via phone calls and text messages. From constant updating with MLGUs and partner BLGUs, COVID responses in Natonin and Barlig namely the provision of PPES and rice assistance were implemented. This was made possible through building partnerships with LGUs and their willingness to implement such.”

It is also important to keep the response strategy adaptive to the changing situations in the communities. For example, Barlig and Natonin are in the same province but follow different process in implementing relief distribution.

Liza shared, “The distribution of PPEs and sacks of rice were implemented by the municipal disaster risk reduction officer. Particular for the PPEs in Barlig and Natonin, it was channeled to the PDRRM office which was later fetched personally by Barlig MDRRM officer together with the PPEs for Natonin. Likewise, the rice distribution in the municipality was implemented under the supervision of Barlig Mayor’s office and MDRRM officer. In Natonin, the distribution was implemented directly by partner BLGUs.”  

COVID-19 response was delivered with the help of barangay leaders

Since face-to-face interaction was not possible for CorDis-RDS team, they have supplemented the efforts of the LGUs with localized communication materials. This way, the communities would have reference materials for long term preventive measures as a community against COVID-19.

“We were also able to reach our partners through sending a localized IEC material on reminders for COVID 19 to 6 communities in Natonin and a minimal copy of COVID flyers (long term measures) to selected LGUs in the municipality,” said Liza. 

What has been the ‘word on the ground’?

Community lockdowns were implemented by the government, limiting people’s movement and livelihood options. This has negatively affected their income as several businesses have closed either temporarily or permanently. A lot of people have lost their jobs, while farmers couldn’t reach market places to sell their produce because of the travel ban.

Liza said, “INCREASE areas in Mountain Province are affected by this COVID pandemic in terms of economic aspect. Their livelihood is affected due to protocols on public transportation and transport of goods.”

How do you think the typhoon season is going to affect operations?

Operating in disaster-prone areas, CorDis-RDS team is used to shifting to emergency response whenever it is needed. However, this means that the regular activities being implemented for INCREASE project will have to be re-strategized so it can be pushed through in an efficient manner.

Liza shared her worries about the typhoon season, “The implementation of planned activities in two partner municipalities will surely be affected this last quarter of the year if there will be typhoons that will hit Northern Luzon. Some planned activities will not be implemented, the main reason is accessibility/ road cuts given the location of Natonin and Barlig which is mountainous in nature which is also prone to landslides and erosion. In addition, Cordis will surely shift to emergency mode wherein all pending activities and office works will be set aside for the meantime.”

Do you think you can weather the storm?

The team together with partner communities must weather the storm, not literally, but to adjust on whatever the plan and activities are and to strictly follow LGU protocols in this pandemic period,” said Liza.

CorDis-RDS team understands that increasing resilience to natural hazards is much more needed in a pandemic. Preventive actions to protect self and others should be observed, while planning for or experiencing disasters. Being fully informed of these measures and strengthening the capacities of the local actors are their best way to weather the storm.

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