COVID-19 (C-19) continues to hurt economies around the world. Several developed economies have announced large economic stimulus and recovery packages as they find their way out of this crisis. However, most of the rest of the world, and particularly fragile and conflicted affected countries, have had to face this pandemic with limited resources, using poorly-funded public infrastructure.
Take Somalia for example. Although the number of official cases and deaths reported have been low (in keeping with the trend across much of Africa), the economic impact has been significant. The World Bank’s latest economic update projects that Somalia’s Gross Domestic Product will contract by 2.5 percent in 2020, with the pandemic compounding the damage caused by floods and locust attacks on an economy that had just started recovering from previous environmental disasters and a prolonged spell of political uncertainty. The agriculture sector is expected to decline by at least 15% and Somalia’s poorly funded social safety nets have come under further strain at a time when remittances and traditional livestock exports have fallen sharply.
ASI has been working in Somalia since 2012. We work closely with a range of government and non-government institutions in Somalia, across multiple sectors. From the onset of the pandemic, across its different programmes, ASI has supported the Federal Government of Somalia and Federal Member States with analysis to assess the extent of the damage and the resources that would be required to chart the country’s recovery out of the crisis.
Designing a response to the pandemic
ASI manages the Somalia Stability Fund (SSF), a multi-donor fund that implements a wide variety of stabilisation initiatives across the country. The broad mandate of the Fund meant it was well-placed to respond to the emerging medical and economic challenges posed by C-19. Building on SSF’s work to promote stability in Somalia by reducing political and communal conflict, we were able to design interventions aimed at improving the protection of communities and enhancing collaboration between communities and government. The response was a combination of new interventions and modifications to existing ones.
SSF designed six new specific interventions to face the C-19 challenges Somalia faced. The investments aimed to better inform communities of the health risks and strategies for mitigating the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. These included the provision of: a) personal protective equipment (PPE) for communities, healthcare workers, and prison staff; b) medical support and equipment for healthcare institutions and professionals, c) support to local governments to increase their response capacity; and d) the provision of economic support in response to the unique challenges posed by the pandemic in this area.
For instance, SSF funded Care International to work across Galdogob and Bursalah to prevent the spread of C-19 through distribution of PPEs and hygiene supplies, and establish an isolation facility within the Galdogob Referral Hospital. In addition, they addressed economic impacts by engaging with the community and diaspora to use the Sokaab Platform to raise funds. They also supported the Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA) group members with small grants so they could continue their livelihoods activities.
SSF’s portfolio already included projects focused on communications, such as the Africa Voices Foundation-led Imaqal investment. This project leveraged a radio platform normally focused on raising awareness of challenges women faced and the importance of representation for women and minority groups. This provided SSF with an existing platform to reach and influence large numbers of people with reliable information, in a context where misinformation around C-19 was rife. The combined effect of this intervention, alongside new interventions by ADESO, City University and Somali One, was that SSF was able to reach a large number of Somalis through a variety of media – radio, TV, stadium dramas, messages at soccer matches, billboards, social media, and distribution of t-shirts/headscarves.
The messaging on the use of hygiene measures to prevent the spread of C-19 was critical. By rapidly scaling up its communications interventions, SSF was able to spread accurate information on C-19, while empowering women’s groups to lead on further dissemination of these essential messages.
Overcoming challenges to delivery
SSF faced several challenges in delivering programmes as a result of C-19. Many SSF infrastructure investments were disrupted as global supply chains slowed down, forcing implementers to identify alternative sources of materials. Elsewhere, several SSF programmes that relied on community engagement faced delays, as they were unable to bring people together due to physical distancing requirements. Furthermore, many SSF investments were delayed by travel restrictions in Somalia, which posed a challenge not just to direct implementation, but also to monitoring and verification activities.
SSF was also quick to respond to the emerging challenges of delays to supply chains. SSF pre-emptively procured materials to construct Dhusamareb government buildings and deliver them to the construction site, which enabled work on the buildings to continue even as supply chains began to close down.
Across its programmes, ASI has also responded to challenges that emerged with the transfer of funds into Somalia. As restrictions were placed on the movement of money within Somalia by our primary banking partner, SSF identified new approaches to disburse funds to our partners. Through a mix of diversification of SSF’s banking options in Somalia, and engagement with partners to shift some payments to Nairobi, ASI avoided the potentially damaging prospect of delayed payments to suppliers, which would have been particularly disruptive at the time of this pandemic.
The factors that enabled SSF to deliver a broad range of interventions, as well as adapt its delivery model to respond successfully to C-19 in Somalia, offer key lessons for governments, donors and implementers:
- At times of crisis, often the most cost-efficient option is to leverage existing platforms which are in a position to adapt to meet new requirements. SSF’s donors were able to leverage an existing platform that is well-established in Somalia and has consistently proven to be good value for money.
- Similarly, well-embedded programmes often have extensive networks of people, partners and suppliers which can be rapidly deployed to meet new and evolving requirements. The network of implementers and robust procurement and risk and assurance processes that SSF has built up over the years meant that trusted partners could be rapidly identified and deployed to implement response mechanisms.
- At times of public health crises, when misinformation is rife, programmes which have the trust of the local population are crucial in achieving impact. With a strong reputation of being a non-partisan and credible programme, SSF has the trust of the people as well as governments (at national and sub-national levels). This is a crucial factor in its ability to design and implement programmes that responds to areas with the most need.
We are over nine months into the C-19 pandemic. As the world awaits a vaccine for the virus, some of the poorest countries around the world have had to deal with the economic and public health impact using the limited means at their disposal. Implementing programmes on the ground has become even more challenging. Programmes like the Somalia Stability Fund, which are trusted by local communities as well as by government agencies, play a small but important role at this critical time, supporting countries such as Somalia in mitigating the devastating effects of the pandemic.
Kipp Clarke, Camilla Herd and Suvojit Chattopadhyay
The Somalia Stability Fund is funded by the UK, European Union, The Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.