As COVID-19 affects every country around the world, your prayers and generous support enable Catholic Relief Services to respond to the impact and risks in the most vulnerable communities. The pandemic is making it even more difficult for families at risk of hunger and malnutrition to access food, good nutrition and basic necessities. During this pivotal moment, innovative approaches prevent the spread of COVID-19 and ensure families and communities still receive the support they need to survive and thrive.
The combined impacts of desert locust swarms and rising COVID-19 cases pose a considerable threat to communities’ access to food across East Africa. In much of South Sudan, hunger and lack of food have already been major concerns, particularly in remote and vulnerable communities. CRS, in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Food for Peace and the World Food Program, has been working to improve food security and help communities build up resilience to shocks such as drought, flooding and conflict-driven crises.
Even before South Sudan had documented its first case of COVID-19, CRS was already adjusting our work to address new challenges posed by a potential outbreak in the country.
“Catholic Relief Services is adapting its programming to ensure we prevent the spread and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission,” says John O’Brien, the CRS country representative in South Sudan. “We’ve adjusted our distribution activities to safeguard staff and participants.”
New safety measures include increased hand-washing, risk communication and physical distancing. Extra food distributed to individual households helps families and communities cope while travel and public gatherings are suspended.
With schools closed across Guatemala due to COVID-19 restrictions, thousands of students who receive what is often their only meal of the day through school food distribution programs now lack access to critical nutrition. To address this issue, CRS is working with the Guatemalan Ministry of Education to provide take-home rations of rice, corn, vegetable oil and black beans to more than 50,000 students through the USDA-funded McGovern-Dole Food for Education project.
Normally, these ingredients are incorporated into healthy meals prepared at school by parents and community volunteers. Providing this food for families to take home while schools are closed will support thousands of children who are at risk for chronic malnutrition.
Local communities are following safety guidelines while distributing food during the pandemic. By sharing information such as hand-washing and sanitization protocols, how to prevent large groups of people from forming during distributions, and how to safely form lines using physical distancing techniques, communities can protect and support their members and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In the Philippines, CRS is supporting people with disabilities and workers in the informal economy as the community quarantine continues to affect their livelihoods and access to food.
“We are focusing our efforts on assisting the most vulnerable populations who bear the brunt of the lockdown and are at the greatest risk from the spread of COVID-19,” says Matthew McGarry, the CRS sub-regional country representative for the Philippines. “Beyond the dangers of the disease itself, the current situation makes it virtually impossible for many families to meet their most basic needs.”
CRS helped a residential facility for people with disabilities secure a one-month supply of food and other necessities that the residents themselves selected during remote consultations. Supplies include fresh vegetables and fruit, rice, eggs, canned goods, soap, toothpaste, bleach and other items.
Working with Caritas in the Philippines, CRS has also provided cash grants to 150 informal workers so they can buy food and other supplies.
“I used to earn seven dollars a day, but since the lockdown I have been relying on my siblings’ help to feed my three children,” says Pablito Velasquez, a motorcycle taxi driver who received a cash grant. “With this money, I will be able to buy rice and food supplies for my family.”
We are living in a pivotal moment. As the spread of COVID-19 exacerbates the plight of our sisters and brothers who experience hunger and malnutrition around the world, we must lead the way as prophetic advocates to achieve a world without hunger.
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