While all of us are affected by the novel coronavirus, we want to update you on how the crisis is affecting our partners and their communities. We are deeply concerned as communities throughout El Salvador and Honduras are not only facing a rapidly approaching public health crisis, but they are also heavily impacted by the quarantine measures put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19. Our partners are in a position to provide critical support to those who need it most. They are providing vital resources for their communities by keeping people properly informed, ensuring vulnerable families can protect themselves and apply for government assistance, and helping small farmers access the supplies they need to fight food insecurity.
But they can’t do it alone – they need our support. For that reason, we set up an emergency COVID-19 Response Fund to ensure they can continue to provide much-needed relief at this time.
El Salvador has closed its borders and is under a full quarantine that allows only one person per household to leave for necessary tasks, like buying food or medical supplies. In Honduras, the government has closed its borders and declared martial law. Security forces have been mobilized, and a strict, complete lockdown is being enforced.
Honduras and El Salvador rely on precarious healthcare infrastructures and lack the necessary medical supplies to combat large-scale outbreaks. If the virus takes hold as rapidly as we have seen elsewhere, the healthcare system will collapse as needs will vastly overwhelm existing resources. This problem becomes even more troubling as many communities lack consistent access to clean water, making it difficult for families to protect themselves from the virus through regular handwashing. Many communities also experience overcrowding and lack the freedom to practice social distancing.
As is the case with natural disasters, the hardest-hit sectors are the most vulnerable. For those who work in the informal economy and depend on a daily income to provide for their families, remote work and paid time off are not options. Market vendors, field workers, factory workers, and other day laborers can no longer do their jobs and do not have savings or social safety nets to fall back on. Farmers and fishers have been greatly affected; they can no longer sell their goods, supplies are either too expensive or unavailable, and many are facing harassment from the local police as they venture outside to maintain their crops and livestock. In Barra de Santiago, people who depend on tourism are struggling to make ends meet. Without the ability to work, the food security of thousands of community members is at risk.
Human rights abuses and corruption seem to be on the rise. In El Salvador, quarantine centers have been opened, but many lack food, water, basic sanitation, and adequate medical care. We’ve heard reports of local officials registering only members of their own party for government relief programs. Reports are coming in of increased militarization and abuse by local police, denying citizens access to vital activities such as cattle grazing and tending agricultural fields. Due to close quarters, economic uncertainty, and frustration with this difficult situation, domestic violence is expected to increase, and women will have limited access to seek help. Children are especially vulnerable as they can no longer rely on school lunches – a vital part of their daily food intake – and their education has been suspended indefinitely.
To protect their communities in the face of this unprecedented pandemic, the Mangrove Association, AMBAS, and Red COMAL are adjusting their focus to rapidly respond to the crisis. Their emergency response strategy focuses on accurate information, food security, public safety and education and include the following actions:
- Use community radio (Radio Mangle) to inform over 200 communities about the virus and the measures in place to reduce impact, battling the rampant misinformation spreading in the region so people can make educated decisions during this chaotic and confusing time.
- Protect fundamental human rights by documenting and reporting abuse at the hands of security forces to the Human Rights Defender Office.
- Staff working from home are points-of-contact to deliver accurate information and help people apply for federal assistance programs.
- Conduct food security surveys of families affected by the COVID19 emergency in order to deliver aid to the most affected families.
- Assist small farmers to ensure they can access needed supplies to maintain their farms, such as compost and seeds.
- Ramp up production of vegetable seedlings to distribute to community members so they can start their own vegetable gardens.
- Coordinate with farmers and distribution companies to guarantee basic consumer goods reach homes in rural and underserved areas.
- Purchase and deliver personal protective equipment, such as face masks and soap, to families at greater risk (older people, pregnant women, people with disabilities and people with pre-existing conditions). If supplies are unavailable, produce DIY masks and hand sanitizer to give out to those most vulnerable to the disease.
- Support community-led public health education and monitoring efforts that include disinfecting and hand-washing stations and community patrols to inform people of regulations and best practices.