Limiting the impact of Covid-19 in Syria and Iraq
Thanks to the support of the charitable wing of the Waldensian Evangelical Church – Union of Methodist and Waldensian Churches, in August UPP launched a project designed to help limit the impact of Covid-19, through the distribution of hygiene kits, awareness campaigns and psychological support for civilians. Our priority was to help women survivors of gender-based violence.
This project is expected to continue for another six months with the goal of limiting the spread of Covid-19 in these challenging situations, through information campaigns and awareness-raising activities, the distribution of hygiene kits and the provision of psychological support, with a special focus on women survivors of gender-based violence.
The first Covid-19 outbreak in the Middle East was in Iran and from there it spread to neighbouring countries. Iraq was one of the hardest hit countries with 270,000 confirmed cases by September. The situation is particularly dire in the refugee camps, in the poorest areas and in the most remote parts of the country. Cases are also rising in Syria, according to the Health Ministry: infection numbers are increasing but it is difficult to gather reliable data when war is raging.
Healthcare facilities are very fragile throughout the Middle East, after years of armed conflict and the lack of investment in public healthcare. The World Health Organisation (WHO) expects an exponential rise in infection rates in the coming months, potentially peaking towards the end of the year. UPP launched their response to this potential pandemic crisis in North-East Syria and Iraq in March 2020 by going house-by-house to provide support for civilians, with an information campaign, distribution of food and hygiene kits, as well as providing financial support to local healthcare facilities.
However, the measures that limit the spread of the virus are having a serious economic and psycho-social impact, especially in terms of violence against women. According to data gathered by local organisations in Syria and in Iraq, gender-based violence and domestic abuse increased during and after lockdown. This is happening in a context of long-term crisis: there are still 70,000 IDPs in North-East Syria following the Turkish invasion in October 2019; and Iraqi camps are still sheltering thousands of refugees who fled from conflicts in the region.
Thanks to this new project, funded by the charitable wing of the Waldensian Church, we are striving to contain the impact and mitigate the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in both countries, by providing civilians with psychological support, protection from violence, awareness-raising campaigns and the distribution of basic aid.
In Raqqa, North-East Syria, we have established a call center to provide psychological assistance for people in need. We are launching special information campaigns on preventing the spread of Covid-19 and training local staff on ways to limit its spread. Our goal is to train 30 local psyco-social field-workers who will cover Raqqa and the largest IDP camps where we are already active.
In Iraq, our focus is on the central and northern areas which were particularly hard hit by the virus, including the poorest neighbourhoods of Baghdad and the Arbat refugee camp for Syrians in Sulaymaniyah. By August, we had already distributed 160 family hygiene kits, reaching 771 people, including some of the most vulnerable including the chronically ill, elderly and disabled.
Our local field-workers explained prevention methods to 2,000 families through our house-to-house information campaign, which by August had reached a total of 9,000 people.