In the UK, a survey by the Office of National Statistics reports that 4 in 5 adults feel worried about the effect coronavirus is having on their lives, with over half saying it is affecting their wellbeing. The survey also reports that over three quarters of people describe staying in touch remotely with friends and family as the most important factor helping them to cope.
But what if that lifeline was taken away? What if internet connectivity was poor or non-existent, or phone credit was prohibitively expensive? And what if obtaining food and basic medical supplies was more difficult than having to queue at the supermarket and keep two metres apart from your fellow shoppers?
Through our conversations with partners, we are beginning to understand how COVID-19 is affecting people living and working in very different contexts around the world. While the disease itself is the same wherever you are, its impact is not. The people and organisations we support are reporting a range of impacts on their lives, their families and their work.
All our partners, wherever they are based, have the same priority: to protect themselves, their families, friends and colleagues and, where they can, to help protect their communities. We share this priority with them and we are busy exploring what we can do to help keep them and their local communities safe.
In many places, basic protective equipment is difficult or impossible to come by, but the absence of vital health information available to the public also poses a significant challenge. Much of the work we support is led by people deeply embedded in their communities, in areas where access to public health information can be patchy. Many of our partners have strong voices in civil society, so are well placed to fill critical information gaps for local people in their area. Others already have a significant role in healthcare provision, for example, Fundaeco in Guatemala, which runs health clinics in the Western Highlands around its amphibian reserves, or Dynamique des Groupes des Peuples Autochtones, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which instigated construction of a public health facility in Mai Ndombé province, with funding support from Synchronicity Earth.
Synchronicity Earth partner Dynamique des Groupes des Peuples Autochtones (DGPA) plays an important role in promoting public health and mutual cohabitation in the villages of Loile (Pygmy) and Mpaaha (Bantu) in Mai Ndombé province (DRC). Image © Chris Scarffe
To support these efforts, we have provided a checklist for partners, detailing up-to-date information on protective measures such as social distancing, sanitation and self isolation. In the DRC, our partners CFLEDD (Coalition of Women Leaders for Environment and Sustainable Development), Mbou Mon Tour, Land is Life and Reseau CREF are all helping to raise awareness about the virus, and the kind of health precautions people should take. This is particularly important for groups who may be marginalised and live in remote locations, for example, Pygmy communities in Mai Ndombé province, as the health impacts on these groups are potentially devastating.
Some of our partners are also distributing supplies and protective equipment to help members of the community stay safe.
In Papua New Guinea, our partner Bismarck Ramu Group (BRG) is disseminating information and resources to help local people protect themselves against COVID-19. BRG staff have told us that there is a high level of confusion and misinformation about the virus, so they are using their networks and relationships within communities to provide accurate information to communities to help stop the virus spreading.
Protecting health is paramount, but the growing economic crisis developing in the wake of the virus is, in many cases, an equal if not greater challenge. Much of the support taken for granted in more highly industrialised countries – cover for furloughed staff, some form of economic safety net for the most disadvantaged, easy access to technology and telephone networks – does not exist. As many of our partners are also confined to their homes, the economic and logistical difficulties of running an organisation are exacerbated. They face a range of problems, including: practical difficulties paying employees (where sometimes cash payments are the only option); staff without the financial resources to pay for basics such as food, water or electricity; insufficient funds for monthly subscriptions to internet and telephone services making home working and virtual meetings all but impossible.
In most countries, the focus of government is – understandably – on reducing the impacts of COVID-19 on their citizens’ health and the economy. For partners relying on some form of government support, or involved with government agencies through their work, many initiatives and processes are on hold. Other sources of funding are also severely affected by COVID-19: zoos, which are major funders for some of the partner organisations we work with, have had to suspend many of their revenue-generating activities. Partners including the Amphibian Survival Alliance, Talarak Foundation Inc., Save Vietnam’s Wildlife, Mabuwaya Foundation and the Asian Species Action Partnership are facing significant financial challenges as much of their funding from zoos is currently on hold. At the same time, many corporate funders, foundations and individual donors are adjusting their priorities to focus on more immediate, short-term, domestic concerns.
Zoos are a vital source of funding for many conservation organisations around the world. The impact of COVID-19 is certain to impact heavily on the funding of several of our partners. Image: Pixabay
Impact on work and risks
For many of our partners, work on the ground has come to a complete standstill. In-country restrictions on travel and widespread lockdowns are severely limiting their capacity to carry out project work, and partners relying on outside expertise have had to postpone key activities. Few areas of work remain unaffected and in many cases organisations are having to adapt to suit their new circumstances in any way they can: for example, staff at Tesoro Escondido Reserve, in Ecuador, unable to go out into their communities or continue their education programmes, are using social media to disseminate information and raise awareness. We are currently looking to develop and share social media tools and advice to help them and other partners get messages out to their communities and the wider world as effectively as possible. Meanwhile, our partner Save Vietnam’s Wildlife temporarily suspended the rescue and rehabilitation of pangolins and other species for over a month, and has been focusing instead on its campaign to put pressure on the Vietnamese government to strengthen laws and regulation on wildlife poaching and trafficking.
While partners work out how best to adapt, risks to the species and areas they are working to protect may be increasing. For example, where roads are being closed in an attempt to contain the spread of the disease, the subsequent impact on supply chains can lead to increased poaching of wildlife to provide bushmeat. With authorities’ attention elsewhere, there is a risk of an increase in activities such as illegal exploitation of timber, and the resulting negative impacts that has on forest communities.
In some countries, for example in Ecuador where our partner Jocotoco works, urban lockdowns have driven more people to the countryside, where lockdowns are harder to enforce. The knock-on effect of this has been a