The pandemic has reinforced our partnerships | Enabel - Belgian Development Agency

The pandemic has reinforced our partnerships

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Even though the rapidly deteriorating situation took everyone by surprise, Enabel and its partners were prompt to react. The swift and coordinated response is a tribute to the way partnerships have evolved over the last years.

Liana Hoornweg, Director sectoral and thematic expertise
Sven Huyssen, Director of operations

When the pandemic was confirmed by the WHO, Enabel realised it was facing a hitherto unknown situation. The priority was to ensure the safety of our teams in all countries. Staff in Brussels was able to work from home even before the government published its first measures. Our country directors in Africa and the Middle East followed up the situation to make rapid decisions according to the local context to secure our personnel and their families.

Same pandemic, different measures

Based on early evidence from China and Europe, African countries quickly put in place prevention and control measures to try to curb the spread of the virus. These measures and their degree of flexibility differed from country to country. Early on Morocco, Rwanda, Uganda and the Palestinian Territories implemented a strict lockdown throughout their territory. They closed their borders, ordered the closure of nonessential businesses and schools, suspended public transport and prohibited all nonessential movement outside of home. Burkina Faso, Guinea, Senegal, Mali, Benin, Niger, Mozambique and DRC opted for more moderate prevention and control measures to preserve their economies. Tanzania and Burundi put lighter control measures in place.

Field experience in partner countries

As far as dealing with the pandemic itself was concerned, a lot of partner countries were already familiar with sanitary emergencies. When the pandemic started, the Democratic Republic of Congo was still dealing with an Ebola outbreak. So were Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone and Liberia the years before. Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Chad and Ethiopia had also paid a heavy tribute to Ebola. And let’s not forget the impact of diseases such as malaria, measles, dengue and sleeping sickness. These epidemics have made countries in West and Central Africa better prepared and equipped for detection, contact tracing and epidemiologic monitoring. For example, in DRC and neighbouring countries such as Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, Rapid Intervention Teams (RIT) trained in contact tracing and communication about risks were already active and ready to act against recurring Ebola epidemics. They could deploy rapidly to help the fight against Covid-19.

In other words, those countries already knew what to do in such crises, and, in most cases, they already had plans and good practices in place. And that is when the world truly realised once again there was no ‘Third World’ and ‘developed countries’, as before. The world was indeed a village where everyone was facing the same problem, and some had valuable experience to share. We learned a lot from the response in our partner countries. Some enacted lockdowns very quickly. Rwanda, for example, put in place a strict national lockdown only seven days after the first case of Covid-19 was recorded in the country. Testing in airports was also deployed surprisingly fast, as were some vaccination programmes. We even had situations where partner countries were more effective in their national vaccination programme and even proposed to vaccinate our staff as well.

Not help, but support

This shift became more obvious when our partner countries asked for our contribution: They knew what to do, and they had very specific questions and demands. Could we provide them with vaccines? With respirators? Sometimes, we worked together to repurpose structures we had already put in place. For example, we used the networks we built for spreading information for the ‘She Decides’ programme (a programme fighting gender-related violence) to help with raising awareness about safety measures such as washing hands and avoiding close contact.

Building a Community of Practice

Another question that arose very early was how to support the population during lockdowns. Moving essential goods around, making sure everyone had enough food, and so on. Since every country was facing those questions, we decided to organise ‘communities of practice’ (COPs). During these online gatherings, people working in our partner countries could exchange ideas, information and best practices so that everyone could benefit from the lessons learned. These communities worked for months. The last COP on Resilience was organised in September 2020, and the last COP on Health was in August. After that, every country was on its way and able to work effectively.

Another question that arose very early was how to support the population during lockdowns. Moving essential goods around, making sure everyone had enough food, and so on. Since every country was facing those questions, we decided to organise ‘communities of practice’ (COPs). During these online gatherings, people working in our partner countries could exchange ideas, information and best practices so that everyone could benefit from the lessons learned. These communities worked for months. The last COP on Resilience was organised in September 2020, and the last COP on Health was in August. After that, every country was on its way and able to work effectively.

Still running our programmes

Another reason to be proud is that Enabel did not really have to stop any of its programmes, even if some of them have slowed down a bit due to the circumstances. What happened is that we sat down with our partners and decided how we could keep things going. For example, training and coaching programmes switched to digital, which also led to some savings. In this and other instances, we discovered new ways of working that will allow us to be more efficient in the future. Some programmes were inevitably slowed down, but we were able to move faster on others. In Rwanda, for example, the building of new hospitals was inevitably delayed, but on the other hand, the delivery of fifty ambulances, another part of the same programme, happened faster and was instrumental in managing the crisis there.

Towards a new normal?

The Covid-19 pandemic led to a crisis that eventually created countless opportunities for Enabel and its partners. In 2020, habits were changed, spontaneous partnerships were established, and beautiful innovations were created.

In 2021 and the following years, it is important that we do not rest on our laurels, but rather keep on building on this new dynamic. After all, it is important to ensure that the world is sufficiently resilient to face the next global challenges in the future. Because challenges will remain and crises may appear again in the areas of human mobility, social and economic inequalities, climate change, peace and security, and urbanisation, to name just a few. ‘The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.’

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