Coping with corona: how civil society organisations adapt their work

Header photo: Woman collecting crops © Erwin Mascarinas

As the corona pandemic continues to affect everyone’s personal life, civil society organisations around the world are looking for ways to support local communities and to adapt their ways of working. This article sheds a light on the situation of partners within the programme Shared Resources Joint Solutions.

In many countries, strict (militarised) lockdown situations have halted the normal lives of people, making access to communication, food and medicine the first priority. Indigenous peoples and local communities are particularly affected: as they often live in far-flung areas, access to information, markets and social services has been very difficult.

Mutual aid system

This is for example the case in the Philippines, where our local partner Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment aims to improve the health and socio-economic status of communities within its network. They work through a mutual aid system of food and nutrition relief, protective equipment provisioning, and other basic needs built on their collective capacities for resilience. In addition, they plead for a participatory, rights-based, and ecosystem-based post-pandemic reform agenda for recovery.

Communication with communities

Another example is Bolivia, where lockdown started mid-March. Mariel Cabero, senior expert environmental justice at IUCN NL, explains: ‘The lockdown in Bolivia has been strictly militarised. While some provinces have recently eased the rules, Santa Cruz, were our partners’ work takes place, is still under strict measures. People are allowed to go out only once a week (depending on the last digit of their ID).’

Emergency fund

Under these circumstances, field visits are not possible and online communication with communities and public officers is mainly to discuss emergency support. SRJS started a COVID Context Adaptation fund to help local partners to adapt their programme activities to the situation, in an effort to obtain their set objectives. In the case of Bolivia, communication with communities is improved thanks to protective measures, such as protection masks, hand sanitisers and medication and the restauration of antennas. These antennas make sure that the latest updates on the virus reach even the most remote communities, but they are also used for updates about developments that affect the programme objectives, such as new illegal settlements in indigenous protected areas.  

Radio transmissions

In Paraguay, many remote communities fully rely on news and messages they receive by listening to a local radio station. The fund supports our local partner EcoPantanal to use antennas for radio transmissions that spread environmental news, information and education. Securing this important way of communication is an investment in the long term in the wellbeing of communities.

Loss of revenue

The lockdown also affects many people’s way of making a living. In most places, tourism has come to a halt. This does not only affect the income of people working in the sector, it also means a revenue stop for many nature reserves that depend on tourism to fund their protection programmes, such as the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.  

Triple risk to wildlife

This poses a triple risk to wildlife: park rangers are less able to carry out patrols, both because of lockdown measures and because of limited resources. At the same time, more people fall back on poaching in an attempt to make money or as they need bush meat to feed their families. Without tourists or rangers around, wildlife is more vulnerable than ever to poachers.

As Tina Lain, senior expert environmental justice at IUCN NL, recently explained in Dutch scientific news outlet “If the economic value of vulnerable ecosystems decreases due to loss of tourist revenue, governments might be more inclined to authorise mining licenses. Instead, what is needed, now more than ever, is a long-term perspective that puts nature at the core of sustainable development.’  

Influx of destructive industries

Also mining, agro and logging industries take advantage of the situation. While the work of environmental defenders is being obstructed, the economic crisis caused by the pandemic leads to an influx of destructive industries as countries try to boost their economies.

In the Philippines for example, on June 10, 2020, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced mining and river dredging as part of the country’s economic recovery response. Our local partner organisation Alyansa Tigil Mina warns that the minuscule economic contribution of mining to the Philippine economy poses a bigger threat to rural and indigenous communities and the environment. They urge national government to find better, greener and more sustainable solutions to contribute in stimulating the economy under a new normal.

Innovative solutions

Despite the many challenges, our partner organisations come up with innovative solutions to cope with the situation.

Virtual visit

The Pantanal Reserve in Paraguay and its visitor’s center run by our partner organisation Guyra Paraguay have been closed since the outbreak of covid-19. To allow people to discover the beauty of the reserve from the safety of their own homes, Guyra Paraguay came up with an innovative solution: an interactive map that makes it possible to virtually walk the parks’ trails and learn about the many species that live in the reserve.

Safety of female environmental defenders

In a similar way, Fundación Plurales, together with Women’s Funds of the South, developed a mobile application to enhance the safety of female environmental defenders in Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. The app allows them to find and share relevant information, including geo-referenced data, photos and voice notes, as well as relevant news on the issues of environmental justice and gender. It will also collect complaints by defenders about threats to their environment.

Sander van Andel
Senior Expert Nature Conservation