Situation Report
Health information session in one of the at-risk Barangays in Cebu City. Photo/FundLife
Health information session in one of the at-risk Barangays in Cebu City. Photo/FundLife

A series on localization: How the Philippines is quietly implementing a more localized COVID-19 humanitarian response (Part 5)

Considering the limitations in resources and capacities to sustain the provision of COVID-19 humanitarian assistance to the affected population in the Central Visayas Region, a convergence of Cebu City-based local non-government and civil society organizations (LNG/CSOs) is seeking urgent financial support from the United Nations (UN), International Non-Government Organizations (INGOs), donors and other Humanitarian Funding Groups and Networks (HFGNs) present in the country.

More than four months since the declaration of the lockdown and enhanced community quarantine last March 2020, the Zero Extreme Poverty (ZEP) 2030 Cebu Convergence of LNGOs/CSOs warned that COVID-19 exacerbated existing vulnerabilities of affected communities, which are receiving but minimum support and in most cases have received nothing at all. If this situation continues in the next coming months, ZEP said in a joint statement, there will be a humanitarian crisis across hard lockdown areas in Central Visayas.

As of 04 August 2020, there are 16, 145 confirmed cases in the entire Central Visayas, with Cebu City alone recording 9, 075. The spike in numbers puts Cebu City and other at-risk areas in Central Visayas as a new hotspot of COVID-19 cases in the country. Cebu City now has more cases than Manila's largest city, Quezon City, which has about 6, 880. It is also outpacing other cities in terms of the number of cases according to the Department of Health (DOH). Since July, the DOH, supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), is sending more doctors and other resources to Cebu City as many patients are on waiting lists, considering all major hospitals are close to reaching full capacity. Even big hospitals in Cebu City that handle coronavirus cases are now facing challenges in managing the surge of local transmission cases. In the last week of June, Cebu City, with a population of nearly 1 million, was placed again under strict stay-at-home orders.

The dwindling provision of lifesaving aid, limited access to financial support and other livelihood opportunities prompted seven LNGOs/CSOs and one private organization under the ZEP Convergence to call for action to support as they struggled to supplement local government’s response and recovery interventions to support isolated and affected families. The said convergence is comprised of the following organizations: Central Visayas Network of NGOs (CENVISNET), Fellowship for Organizing Endeavors, Inc. (FORGE), A2D Project-Research Group for Alternatives to Development, ImPACT, Coalition for Better Education, Inc. (CBE), Cebu University of Southern Philippines Foundation - Community Extension Services (USPF-CES), FundLife Philippines and Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Inc. (RAFI).

With a development goal of uplifting one million Filipino families from extreme poverty, the ZEP Convergence was established in Cebu last August 2019. However, early this year, the priority of the most of the LNGOs and CSOs members has dramatically shifted to the immediate provision of emergency support to the COVID-19 severely affected communities in the Metro Cebu and other urban cities in Central Visayas.

“One Bayanihan” COVID-19 Emergency Response

Anticipating that Metro Cebu will encounter the same challenges with the National Capital Region (NCR) in dealing with poor detection, isolation and contact tracing, a locally-led emergency response initiative “One Bayanihan” (Filipino’s traditional sense of belongingness) was organized by Bidlisiw Foundation, Bayanihan Mission, Glory Reborn and FundLife to specifically focus on the most vulnerable groups. With Php 1million ($20, 000) seed funding from the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), since March 2020, the initiative has reached 25,000 individuals through the provision of food relief, water-sanitation-hygiene (WASH), and health information sessions in Metro Cebu.

“We are also reaching out to global partners who are experts in distance-learning solutions as well as donors who are seeking innovative approaches that can be scaled. FundLife believes in cooperation and working in partnership with local NGOs for the benefit of children and the urban poor sectors who are disproportionately affected by this pandemic”, FundLife Director Mark Kasic said.

FundLife is in discussion with the Central Visayas Network of NGOs (CENVISNET), a local network of CSOs, for a possible partnership on recovery and rehabilitation program in Metro Cebu. Before any recovery can commence, however, the ZEP convergence also cautioned of response gaps and continuing needs in nutrition and food security, healthcare, education, child nutrition and protection, WASH as well as cash assistance to jumpstart affected local livelihood.

To support localized COVID-19 response, the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) and the Inter-Cluster Coordination Group (ICCG) reinforce their commitment to engage the LNGOs and CSOs in the Visayas Region. Bilateral meetings and possible partnerships with some LNGOs and CSOs are part of the core strategies of the in-country COVID-19 humanitarian response plan (HRP) including cluster or sectoral support for vulnerable groups and affected communities in Cebu City and other at-risk areas like the Central Visayas.

The UN and humanitarian partners in the Philippines released on 4 August 2020 the revised version of the HCT COVID-19 Humanitarian Response Plan, the largest in the country since Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Twenty-three (23) per cent of the response plan has been mobilized, so far, including support to affected communities in Central Visayas.