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Market assessment and consultation in Navotas City. Photo credit: SAFER

A series on localization: How the Philippines is quietly implementing a more localized COVID-19 humanitarian response (Part 1)

Over the last decade, the Philippines has been at the forefront of mainstreaming a more localized humanitarian response. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has put a spotlight on the need to further accelerate this process. The pandemic fundamentally underscores not only the central role played by civil society organizations, local governments and at-risk communities themselves but also how the international humanitarian community must adjust to the challenges that lie ahead. With the social and economic consequences of movement restrictions imposed since early March being keenly felt, it has become imperative to support localized action to protect the most vulnerable communities and beat the spread of the virus.

From the United Nations Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP) to the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) position paper, and the Philippines Humanitarian Country Team’s COVID-19 operational response plan and its Call to Action, there is a commitment across all levels - global, regional and national -  to advance the localization agenda in the context of COVID-19 response, build on the agenda agreed at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit and support good practices that reinforce a local-first approach in the provision of aid.

It may be easier said than done, as it is not something that can simply be turned on or activated overnight. These urgent calls for greater localization need to articulate how support and resources can be efficiently operationalized to meet various challenges in the country. This goes beyond enhanced humanitarian leadership and coordinated response action as local governments will each respond according to their context and affected people will likely need the combined support of both government and other agencies.

But through the years of responding to various emergencies and capitalizing on existing in-country capacity, the humanitarian community in the Philippines has sought to embrace a localized approach. The experience gained points to the benefits of collective action. There is also recognition that success requires the sharing of resources or capacities from several agencies, the direct engagement of both local governments and the at-risk communities, an openness to innovation and private sector engagement, and recognition of the imperative to consistently put front and center the affected population.

So, how can a humanitarian response be localized amid a pandemic? What is the likely impact in terms of supporting national and local resources and capacities in the long run? And how are civil society organizations (CSOs), faith-based groups (FBGs) and people’s organizations (POs) responding to the challenges of the new coronavirus and what is their experience in implementing activities across the country?

Localization in a period of disruption

Most CSOs, FBGs and POs are also affected by the impact of COVID-19 in terms of access to funding and even mobilizing people at the community level. The minimum health standards required by government and overall lockdown and community quarantine protocols present a unique dilemma, as these not only restrict access and mobility to engage people and provide the usual lifesaving support, but also put the staff and volunteers in greater danger. Most field front-line community organizations cannot afford to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE), except for facemasks which they are forced to use for two to three days due to lack of supplies and delays in delivery.

Though a constraint, this has not stopped a consortium of CSOs/POs and the massive networks of the Church dioceses across the country from keeping their programmes up and running at the community level, including those areas under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) as well as from accessing hard to reach areas or those considered as geographically isolated locations. It is their strong and established relationship with local government and the community that has enabled the flexibility and mobility necessary to engage affected people despite the stringent implementation of movement restriction protocols.

The activation of the Shared Aid Fund for Emergency Response (SAFER), a locally led fundraising platform for humanitarian response, was able to raise PhP 500,000 (US$10,000). with this modest initial amount, local humanitarian partners were able to support 1,400 informal family settlers (IFS) in Navotas City North bay Boulevard in Metro Manila. Majority of the recipients are daily wage earners severely affected by the ECQ. Despite the lockdown imposed across the country and limited time to mobilize in-country resources, SAFER was able to raise a minimum amount coming from donations from various individuals and other private networks or groups. Once additional funding is secured from core partners, SAFER will resume and look to expand its provision of in-kind donations and food kits.

“We are still in the process of continuous fundraising since our main goal is to support IFS in the National Capital Region and other affected local communities across the country. It’s really tough for us since despite what we’ve accomplished in the previous response, SAFER has to compete with big foundations and established big organizations to access funding. So, we continue to appeal to big companies, corporations and foundations to maximize our platform as we have a proven record in dealing with emergencies and maximizing partners and networks at the local level”, said Alaine Figueras, Program Director of SAFER.

SAFER is supported by Caucus of Development Non-Government Organization (CODE-NGO), People’s Disaster Risk Reduction Network (PDDRN), National Secretariat for Social Action Center (NASSA), and Humanitarian Response Consortium (HRC). For COVID19 response, it is directly working with POs based in Metro Manila such as Aksyon sa Kahandaan sa Kalamidad at Klima (AKKMA) and Nagkakaisang Lakas ng Maralitang Navoteño Foundation Inc. (NLMNF).

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