"The community was not her usual boisterous self" - a first glimpse into a Covid-affected rural community in Nigeria

In the past 2 – 3 years, I have had several opportunities to travel to Itagunmodi either to pay a courtesy call on some stakeholders, gather information, or collect data.  Itagunmodi is a rural community located at Atakumosa West Local Government Area, in Osun State in Nigeria, known primarily for the extraction of gold deposit, hence the name City of Gold, albeit the general feature of the community does not depict the name. The road to the community is tarred, curvedly narrow, and descends the hill, making it impassable for two vehicles to drive side by side at the same time.  The trips to this community gave me the pleasure of watching nature at work: the different species of trees and shrubs that dominate both sides of the roads, farmers holding their cutlasses and hoes walking briskly to their farms, and the transporters known as ‘Okada’ (motorcycle) plying the road on high speed while conveying their passengers to the mining sites.  My trips to the community usually take place either early in the morning or in the evening, a period which guarantees that the proposed meeting will take place.

Things had changed within the last couple of months that I last visited. The community was not her usual boisterous self and I wondered what had happened!

Recently, I visited the community in the company of other project members, with the aim of  introducing a new member of the hub to stakeholders in the community, and to collectively inform the traditional ruler of the approaching Whose Crisis Project that will require the participation of members of the community. I assumed that my trip will be similar to the ones I had made in the past years, and I was keen to know how things had been with members of the community during the locked down, and the coping strategies members of the community adopted.

Characteristically, the entrance into the community was always thronged with people, both old and young petty traders selling and hawking, with loud music coming from the various kiosks opened by the roadside. As we drove towards the community, I noticed that the road was not as busy as usual, only two or three Okada riders drove past us. Neither was the entrance of the community clustered as I expected, only a few kiosks were opened when we arrived. Things had changed within the last couple of months that I last visited. The community was not her usual boisterous self and I wondered what had happened!

I wondered why there was a drastic reduction in the populace. We moved slowly towards the house of the community secretary, that is, the right-hand Chief of the community. He was going to act as our host, since the traditional ruler was not available for the meeting. The community secretary was glad to be informed about the Whose Crisis Project and promised to assist any time it starts and to as well relate our message to the traditional ruler.  A closer observation showed that members of the community were not adhering to any of the preventive measures of the COVID-19 virus – no social distancing and no wearing of facemasks! This we plan to investigate further when the Whose Crisis project takes off.


Whose Crisis Launch Webinar

Whose crisis?: COVID-19 from the perspectives of communities in Africa

Thu, 12 November 2020, 15:00 – 17:00 GMT


COVID-19 and Rethinking the Unsustainable “Normal”

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, Co-Director, Sustainable Futures in Africa

Reconsidering Development Pathways: What is the “New Normal”?

“Sustainable Development”, that often overused term in development work, calls us to action to end poverty, protect the environment and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. However, our development pathways have been far from that ideal. With rising inequality, increasing carbon emissions, pollution, wildlife crime, and the exploitation of natural resources and environmental degradation, we have continued our immoral growth beyond the carrying capacity of our earth. COVID-19 may be a wake-up call to humanity to stop this self-destruction of our home planet, lest our actions eliminate us as a species.

Reflecting on the status of the world

With the majority of us under lockdown in our homes, this is a good time to pause and look at our lives, our countries’ priorities, global development and the meaning of sustainability. While we have advanced our knowledge about green economic models, good practices for reducing extreme poverty and the use of technologies to promote wellbeing, we still have 700 million people living on less than $1.90 a day. Our consumerism and continued emissions are compromising our chances of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, and our global health care inequalities have come to haunt us.

Should we go back to “normal”?

Many of us can’t wait to get back to the same “normal” that got us into this predicament. COVID-19 has revealed that this pathway of unsustainable consumption, growth, ecological degradation and inequality simply cannot continue. In an increasingly interconnected world, the pandemic has taught us that none of us is safe unless all of us are safe. Business-as-usual may not be the “normal” we want to return to.

Economic slowdown may not be all that bad

This is also a good time to reflect on what life looks like when we slow down economic growth. With air travel grinding to a halt and a large number of people working from home, we are seeing the prevalence of digital conferences and meetings taking off, making us wonder why working remotely and meeting locally wasn’t already a norm? With the lockdown, the burning of fossil fuels has dropped, causing air quality to improve significantly, triggering social media posts of beautiful clear skies and views of mountains kilometres away. With humans locked in, animals and birds are courageously stepping out and enjoying their newfound freedom. The earth is healing.

We can work together

All sectors are working hand in hand to tackle this pandemic: funds are flowing from various sources; the private sector which hitherto cared mostly about profits is stepping in and helping the health sector. Governments are realising that spending on key sectors such as health and education is more important. Scientists and doctors are collaborating for the greater good, development partners are giving NGOs flexibility to divert their funding to COVID response, and each of us is checking in on our friends and family. It took this pandemic to ignite our sense of community, to get us to make sacrifices, recognise our priorities, work for a common purpose and cherish solidarity. We now realise that we’re all in this together and we can work together.

Three lessons learnt

Three things have become clear since the emergence of COVID-19. First, we are an interconnected world and only if all of us are safe, will each once of us become safe. In that regard, the virus is an equaliser because it does not discriminate. Second, although the virus has impacted every country, regardless of wealth or power, it has also made us realise how unequal our society is. There will be many who will not be able to recover at all or recover as fast as some others. Our global interconnectivity should wake us up to our responsibility for ensuring that each and every country recovers from this shock (not just our own country). We can no longer afford to be selfish, we have to broaden our minds and assume a global identity.

Finally, the unsustainable “normal” that has caused so many challenges to the world is a social construction; that means, we can change it. We, as a society, have been able to come together and make drastic changes to our lives and economy to respond to COVID-19. This proves that it is possible to take action to create a changed future for the better. After the pandemic ends, we must not slip back to the old normal, but consciously strive towards a “new normal” that is more sustainable, climate-proof, equitable, compassionate and humane.

What is your idea of the “new normal”?

How would you envision this “new normal”? Drop your answers/comments below.


Translation into arts

By Vanessa Duclos and Reagan Kandole

Reagan Kandole, Executive Director of ECOaction, an NGO based in Kampala, Uganda, shares with us how the current worldwide crisis coverage inspired him to translate information into arts – channeling the doubts during the lockdown into creativity. If you want to get in touch with the artist, you can do so here.


The Twin COVID-CLIMATE Crisis

By Deepa Pullanikkatil, SFA Co-Director and Chair of Tourism and Economic Recovery Team – Unlocking Climate Finance for COVID response (Eswatini)

Adversity is the mother of progress” Mahatma Gandhi

Our world is facing extreme adversity in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, with severe effects on economies and human wellbeing. Globally, Governments are busy setting up stimulus packages and recovery plans to get the economy back on a growth trajectory post COVID. COVID-19 and economic recovery dominates the global news today. But just a few months ago, the news reports were about Australia being on fire, near record melting of ice in the Arctic, millions of school children striking on the streets and about the extinction rebellion movement gaining momentum. The United Nations has declared that this is the decade of climate action to have a 50% chance to preventing catastrophic climate change by keeping emissions below 1.5degC below pre-industrial levels. Just a few months ago we realized that “our house is on fire”, and 28 countries declared a climate emergency. But today, amidst the attention given to the COVID emergency, the climate emergency seems to have faded away. Today, our priority is to save lives and bring the economy back to life. We will overcome the COVID-19 crisis eventually, but will we overcome the climate crisis?

The political moment is now, for taking the right actions for a green recovery path. COVID could be a catalyst for greening the world and thereby averting the climate crisis. Instead of unsustainable industrial expansion, we need to include into recovery plans, environment friendly growth, creation of green jobs and actions to take us on low emissions pathways. This could include greening of investments in critical public sector areas, expanding clean energy, moving away from fossil fuels and polluting practices, encouraging transportation that is less polluting and building sustainable infrastructure. Already some countries have started expanding infrastructure for cyclists, companies have announced more work-from-home options for workers and industries such as the Royal Dutch Shell said they would aim to reduce their emissions to net-zero by 2050.

During the lockdowns we have experienced what it would be like for the world when greenhouse gas emissions drop from reduced industrial activity and reduced traffic with humans under lockdown. Beautiful blue skies, clean air and thriving wildlife were some of the signs of a healing earth that we have seen during the lockdowns. There could be a double win coming out of this twin crisis. Governments can help their economies recover, at the same time help solve the climate crisis and achieve their climate commitments faster.

This is the time to transform our thinking.  This adversity can be turned into an opportunity.


COVID-19 Pandemic Realities and Imaginaries

By Dora Nyirenda, Research Administrator, Malawi hub

Waking up in the morning with COVID-19 pandemic you are flooded with messages from various media that hits you in the face creating confusion. The Malawi Government through it’s official pages and legal radio and TV stations talk about scientifically proven ways in-line with World Health Organisation recognised management principles of the pandemic, for example, social distancing, washing of hands frequently, wearing of masks and coughing in the elbow or handkerchiefs and if a person has signs and symptoms of the corona virus infection or exposure, one does not go to the hospital or visit a physician but call a toll-free number so that a person is assisted from where they are. These are straight forward practices to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. These are practices at individual level, at country level, measures include closure of all schools, working from home for non-essential services, working in shifts and only those providing essential servicing report for duties on a regular basis while observing personal hygiene and social distancing.

However, the social media is awash with additional information that at best brings disarray to the normal procedures. Here we see the entrance of confusion, misinformation and muddying the clear waters of the pandemic if at all the pandemic is of clear water. Messages like taking hydroxychloroquine or aspirin as medicine, boiling garlic together with lemons and drinking the juice and boiling neem leaf together with pawpaw leaf, lime orange, garlic, ginger, guava, mango leaves and lemon grass, drinking the solution three times per day, are available in various media  spoiling the broth just like too many cooks doFor example, see one of the messages below;

One incident that caught my mind happened in a public minibus in which one passenger whispered boldly that ‘just sniffing raw onion you will be cured from corona virus,’ he said this whilst holding a raw onion in his hand. Are all these messages that have been roaming around really about managing and reducing the number of deaths or increased registered cases due to COVID-19 or an addition to the mess about the pandemic?

The Malawi Communications and Regulatory Authority through the Malawi Computer Emergency Response Team warned citizens against sharing fake news about corona virus on different social media platforms, that the public is, advised to refrain from committing these acts. But does it have the tooth and capacity to intervene? Because on the ground, the messages keep on coming.

All hope is not lost. Citizens are informed to use trusted sources like Government websites for up-to-date, fact-based information about COVID-19. Radio and TV stations in Malawi are broadcasting ways of preventing the spreading of corona virus. In addition, many artists and singers have performed songs educating citizens about the virus and one of our SFA partner Art and Global Health Centre Africa’s’ (ArtGlo) Make Art for Sustainable Action Youth Squad members developed a song, and video called TipeweCorona (prevent Corona), using artistic styles they believe will appeal to their peers to share information on COVID 19. Held a dance challenge on social media for youth to share dances to the song, giving a fun, creative way to engage. More info is at https://www.artgloafrica.org/our-stories


AWOC distributes 1,353 learning packages to vulnerable youth

By Dalton Otim, Research Administrator of the Uganda hub

Through AWOC, the Uganda hub secured a small grant/donation from a member of Gutau’ Catholic Parish in Austria, in response to Education Support during the COVID-19 lockdown. This was meant to serve target beneficiaries from primary schools (1,150 pupils) and secondary schools (475 students) in marginalized communities of Alebtong District, Uganda. During the COVID-19 lockdown, unlike learners from urban areas in Uganda, learners from rural communities can’t access the online learning material produced by the Ministry of Education through National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC)The grant allowed AWOC’s team to:

  1. Procure working tools to schools (laptops, printers, cartons of paper, hand washing facilities and other office supplies);
  2. Print, photocopy and distribute self-study materials to the students (Sciences and Humanities packages);
  3. Mobilize learners through radio announcement pinned class schedules in public places.

Within one month, a total of 1,353 learners were given self-study material packages. Out of 1,353 learners 55% were males and 45% were females – 70% of all learners were from primary school and 30% were from secondary school.

Achievements

The required working tools were delivered as planned allowing the production of self-study materials at the beginning of June 2020. The team managed to control the number of learners attending the sessions by making a schedule for the distribution of the materials to learners. The schedule was enforced after the team received a police warning as enthusiastic students were not following the government directives of people gathering and social distancing.

Mobilization of learners was effective through radio announcements and pinning sessions schedules in public places. These methods ensured that learners from all the district came to the distribution centre. Learners signed agreements with the organisation – they pledge to make good use of the self-study material.

Challenges and lessons learnt

  • Making sure that students and parents would follow government guidelines to restrict COVID-19 spread during distribution sessions;
  • The team did not have data about the number of students and their respective grade who would come to the centre to acquire the self-learning material. Therefore, some packages were printed in excess.
  • Some learners complained that their parents were not giving them enough time to read their books. They had to engage in domestic and garden work.
  • Candidate classes came in big numbers compared to other Classes.
  • Learners were not interested in attending teaching sessions over the radios. Some students who might have been interested in those sessions were not aware of these radio sessions (communication challenges).
  • Learners are waiting for the second term packages so there is urgent need to produce and distribute them.

To minimise the impacts of the lockdown on the education of the rural youth, there is need for AWOC to continue supporting them. Their enthusiasm and appreciation of the efforts made by AWOC is heartwarming and attest of the importance of social equity in terms of crisis. There was no other alternative due to the COVID-19 lockdown apart from the materials they received from the centre. AWOC will continue to manage and overcome the challenges associated with the current context, and the team hope to secure funds to be able to keep supporting the learners and conduct follow-up visits.


COVID-19: Green Recovery through Tree Planting

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil*, SFA Co-Director and Founder of Abundance

 

Multiple benefits of Tree Planting

Recently, a senior policymaker in Eswatini shared with me a video of mass tree planting in Pakistan as a COVID-19 recovery and climate action project. Construction workers and others who lost jobs due to COVID-19 were given $3 per day to raise seedlings and plant trees while following safety measures of wearing masks and maintaining safe distancing. Pakistan’s tree planting project is inspiring; and is part of the country’s 10 Billion Tree Tsunami programme. The origin of the project was before the pandemic, when in 2018, Prime Minister Imran Khan launched this ambitious 5 year project to counter the impacts of climate change; rising temperatures, flooding, droughts and other extreme weather. Their ambitious goal is to plant 10 billion trees across the country in 5 years.

In Africa, a similar ambitious tree planting project was implemented by Ethiopia. The highlight was a single day in July 2019, on which people across the country turned out to help with planting 350 million tree seedlings. Recently, in the UK, the Committee on Climate Change wrote a letter to their Prime Minister urging for increased tree planting to be at the heart of the green recovery. As part of COVID-19 recovery, there is need to create thousands of jobs in a short time, which does not require specialist skills and can provide income to the most poor and vulnerable, while at the same time allowing for social distancing. Tree planting ticks all the boxes and additionally, offer the best returns for government spending while moving closer to reaching net-zero emissions. Furthermore, a greener country attracts more tourists and tourism recovery plans are part of post COVID-19 strategies.

Zoonotic diseases and Deforestation

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light that zoonotic diseases that spread from animals to humans and is a sign of how interconnected health of humans and health of ecosystems are. There is a direct correlation of pandemics to deforestation and the health of our ecosystems. For example, the Ebola virus disease; in which bats were the carriers of the virus, spread to non-forest human inhabited areas due to forest fragmentation (which reduced habitats for bats). Deforestation is likely to increase frequent contact between infected wild animals and humans, increasing the threat of pandemics in the future. Hence, it is essential that we protect our existing forests and not encroach into them for expanding our agricultural farms and human settlements.

Forests and Climate Change

Globally, we lose trees at a rate of 50 soccer fields per minute. The forests in our world are some of the most valuable resources we have; besides providing oxygen, cleaning our air, providing a source of food, construction material, and habitats for biodiversity to thrive, most importantly, they are important line of defence against climate change. The United Nations have stated that we have about ten years to prevent irreversible damage from climate change. Tree planting is the easiest, cheapest and most effective climate solution.

However, we need to be careful and not look at tree planting as a panacea for everything. Planting trees in the wrong ecosystems could have adverse impacts for biodiversity and human well-being. Trees emit complex chemicals, some of which warm the planet and the dark leaves of trees can also raise temperatures by absorbing sunlight. Hence, before embarking on tree planting projects, a thorough, detailed, ecological understanding is critical for conservation and reforestation efforts to succeed.

Tree planting and post COVID recovery

Trees are a symbol of life and as we move towards a post-COVID-19 world, tree planting is likely to be part of the mix of projects that countries will implement. The attraction towards tree planting cannot be denied as they support green recovery pathways while providing multiple wins of job creation and resilience building for climate change. However, we need to look at recovery plans holistically, be informed by science and ensure that when we do tree planting, it is the right tree, at the right place for the right purpose.

 

* Dr Pullanikkatil is chairperson of the National Committee (Tourism and Economic Recovery Committee; Unlocking Climate Finance)  set up by the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs in the Kingdom of Eswatini that supports post COVID-19 recovery. The ideas in this article were inspired from discussions with committee members.