Sierra Leone SDI Alliance Response to Covid-19
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Nearly three months since the first case of Covid-19 was reported in Sierra Leone, the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDURP) and their support NGO the Centre for Dialogue on Human Settlements and Poverty Alleviation (CODOHSAPA) reflect on actions taken to date and the challenges that still lie ahead in taking action against this pandemic.
This report provides narrative on how FEDURP has been involved in the fight against COVID-19 in their localities within Freetown Municipality, which is the epicentre of the pandemic. Their involvement has been driven by the institutional response strategy developed in collaboration with Freetown City Council (FCC). This strategy was generated using feedback and experiences of FEDURP and community volunteers actively involved in various activities to help prevent and mitigate the spread of the virus in their respective localities.
In early April 2020, FEDURP and CODOHSAPA consulted and put together a COVID-19 response plan as the pandemic was close to getting its way into Sierra Leone from the two neighboring countries of Liberia and Guinea. This plan constituted the following thematic pillars:
- Leverage existing partnerships with local authorities, such as Freetown City Council, to establish clear roles and responsibilities and clear lines of communication between government and communities;
- Adapt and deliver initiatives formulated within the national policy framework;
- Monitoring of community dynamics, including livelihood activities and movement of people in and out of their settlements; and,
- Enhancing contact tracing of suspected or positive cases within their communities.
To ensure that our strategy was better informed and relevant, it also capitalised on FCC’s COVID-19 response framework with three strategic pillars, namely;
- Behavior change messaging,
- Behavior change support, and,
- Isolation and containment support.
These two foregoing strategic pillars incidentally aligned with the strategic objectives of the SDI network with respect to Covid-19, namely;
- To provide community owned and validated settlement profile and mapping data to inform co-developed preparedness and response plans including logistics;
- Settlement level enablement of co-owned humanitarian assistance responses by means of leveraging existing social and political capital as a way to build two-way trust between providers and affected populations; and,
- To engage in monitoring and advocacy activities at settlement and city level in order to minimize threats of evictions and counterproductive closures of essential informal services during periods of lockdown or protracted national emergency.
Hence, the actions of FEDURP included; i) mobilization of community volunteers to focus on case and incident reporting; ii) development of sensitization messaging materials such as posters, handbills, and videos; iii) engagement in community sensitisation through direct community outreach and using various social media platforms to share videos and radio discussion; iv) provision of veronica buckets (for hand washing) and face masks; v) work with settlement-based local chiefs to enforce government regulations and practices; and, vi) engagement with state and local authorities to enhance government response to needs of informal settlements.
- Development of behaviour change messaging and information, education and communication (IEC) materials:
FEDURP and CODOHSAPA consulted various messaging materials developed by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS). The contents of these materials were customised to reflect the realities of slums and informal settlements. The messaging materials developed included visuals (posters and handbills) and audio-visuals (videos). This was done in collaboration with FCC and community health workers working in community health centres located in the informal settlements. The videos were done by the KYC TV team. One of the videos was done with the mayor in one of the slums (Susan’s Bay) emphasing the importance of handwashing and social distancing.
- Provision of handwashing facilities:
Five communities were supported with veronica buckets and soap which were located at strategic locations within communities. These provided facilities for handwashing, which helps to stimulate and enhance behaviour change in communities. Given that hand washing is the most basic practice to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the provision of these items has increased people’s awareness about handwashing practices as an important element to preventing the spread of the virus. These stations are monitored by young community volunteers to enforce the practice for passers-by and to replenish the water and soap.
- Production and provision of face masks:
1,250 face masks were produced by tailors who are members of FEDURP. 250 were directly distributed to community volunteers and 1,000 contributed to the 60,000 mask target set by the FCC to support vulnerable population in slum and informal settlements.
- Community sensitization and propagation of messaging:
Community volunteers drawn from the community-based disaster management committees (CDMCs) and FEDURP key participants engaged in community outreach activities, organising community and one-on-one sensitisation drives and distributing the posters and handbills containing customised messages that respond to the realities of slums and informal settlements.
- Working with FCC to reach out vulnerable population with food items during lockdown:
The federation worked with FCC to support a community kitchen targeting three extremely vulnerable communities namely, Cockle Bay (in the west end of Freetown), CKG (central), and Old Wharf (east end) targeting people with disabilities, the elderly, orphans, pregnant girls and female headed households with multiple dependents. This is to mitigate hunger for these categories of people who are limited to sourcing livelihood opportunities. Without such support, they are exposed to reinforced marginalisation and increase their exposure to contracting the virus and/or decreasing the chances of survival if they get exposed to the virus.
- Engagement with authorities to enhance support to informal settlements:
The situation of slums and informal settlements remains largely ignored by state institutions in responding to COVID-19. FEDURP volunteers have been engaging particularly with the Disaster Management Department of the Office of National Security (ONS) in which they responded by providing materials to these localities. Nevertheless, FCC has been quite responsive to the needs of slums and informal settlements. With focus on COVID-19, the engagement has also brought into view environmental disasters as the rains that are about to start, which often leads to massive seasonal and tidal flooding, rock or mud falls, landslides and more. There are speculations that if preparedness actions are not taken now before the rains set in it may beset the preventive measures and escalate the spread of the virus. Hence, the federation is pushing for environmental disaster preparedness. Another issue of concern is the militaristic approach to effecting quarantine actions in slums and informal settlements compared to formal or built up neighbourhoods. This has resulted in resistance and mistrust between communities and law enforcement. FEDURP therefore found it critical to encourage the relevant authorities to adopt more humane and civil methods.
- Development of case monitoring app (Freetown Informal Settlement Covid-19 Data – Fiscovidata)
This app has been initiated to ensure that incidents and issues emerging in slums and informal settlements are captured and reported so that their situation are not sidelined and to serve as the basis to inform key stakeholders about the realities of these localities. This was done in consultation with FCC capturing the perspectives of all parties. It also provides opportunities for the participants to improve data collection skills and sensitivity to the needs and realities of their settlements. (See the link: https://datastudio.google.com/reporting/e5255d5d-6553-49fa-b286-e46c49d296a4)
- Case and incident reporting:
This initiative constituted 126 data collectors spread across the 68 slums and informal settlements in which 48 are attached to the FCC ward-level community engagement structure using the aforementioned app, Fiscovidata, to collect and report cases and other incidents. Two levels of data analysis are done, i) community level data analysis that reflects the 68 settlements; and, ii) ward level in which incidents from these communities and other neighbourhoods within a ward are compiled to reflect the ward for sole purpose of FCC. Collecting and reporting on the cases and related incidents is important to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, as it helps to inform stakeholders of necessary actions that may address the needs of slum dwellers and informal settlers.
- Networking with State and Non-State Agencies
The fight against COVID-19 requires collaborative actions to build synergies and maximize the use of limited resources in the face of this global pandemic. The Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS) has been responsible for designing appropriate IEC materials as well coordinating the provision of health services nationwide, including COVID-related mitigation and curatives. As such, messages we customized were derived from the approved MoHS resource base. At the same time, development and enforcement of protocols, procedures, and practices are undertaken by the Emergency Operational Centre (EOC). This has remained quite centralized, even though attempts are being made to decentralize its operations, making it difficult for CSOs to efficiently interact with the centre.
Collaboration with FCC has continued in order to maximize the provision of services and support. FEDURP/CODOHSAPA undertakes community mobilization and organisation as well as providing necessary data to inform FCC’s actions and service provision. This synergy tends to reinforce the recognition of slum and informal settlements as part of the municipal constituents, which by all indication precludes any foreseeable forced eviction in the course of the current situation.
FEDURP’s engagement with ONS saw additional provision of hand washing facilities in a few settlements and involved discussions on how both partners can begin to work on the actions to mitigate environmental disaster as rainy season is just setting in now.
A consortium including CRS, FCC, FEDURP/CODOHSAPA, CARITAS Freetown and Sierra Leone Red Cross has been constituted to seek funding from EU. By all indications, there is the possibility to win this grant which will target the slum dwellers and informal settlers, and special trade and socio-economic groups such as Traders and Market Women Council, Bike Riders Association, Tricycle (Kekeh) Drivers Union and Motor Drivers Union.
We are also working with ARISE partners to finalise and roll out the concept on our collaboration on the fight against COVID-19. This will focus on the following objectives:
- Improved community capacity to respond and mitigate the spread and contagion of COVID-19 in slums and informal settlements in Freetown;
- Enhance government’s COVID-19 response and mitigation priorities to reflect the needs of slums and informal settlements; and,
- Improve structures and practices for the collection and documentation of experiences and learning of COVID-19 response and mitigation interventions in slums and informal settlements
Some of the challenges we have faced include the following:
- The centralized approach poses the challenge of efficiently engaging with Emergency Operational Centre (EOC);
- There are huge needs, particularly in slums and informal settlements, but limited funding to respond adequately;
- Mixed messages has resulted in the emergence of myths and misconceptions in communities and the society generally about the Covid-19 virus;
- Periodic full and partial lockdowns seriously affect the livelihoods of slum dwellers and urban poor communities, as most are daily wage earners living on a hand-to-mouth basis. This is reinforced by the increase in the cost of food stuff caused by the ban on inter-district vehicular movement, which in turn affects movement of local food stuff from the rural areas where local food stuff are grown and at same time affect the marketing stock of the market women sellers.
Some of the lessons learned include:
- Our experiences from the Ebola outbreak was a capital for the government and local actors to draw from to design and plan for the fight against COVID-19.
- Ebola attracted a lot of funding from international partners, but the emergency of COVID-19 as a global pandemic attracted less support globally, which is an indication that nations across the globe were busy fighting their own scourge.
- The need for community participation has become even more important, as restriction on movement and enforcement of social distancing precludes others from directly supporting local actions.
- COVID-19 has stimulated ingenuity and creativity, such as the local fabrication of hand washing stations and face mask.
- COVID-19 has registered the urgent need for our government to invest in our health and other essential infrastructures as the ban on international flights has limited all of us (rich and poor, governors and the governed) to use our local health facilities as they have no second option of traveling abroad.
As the Sierra Leone SDI Alliance, we have identified the following as critical next steps:
- Focus sensitisation on myths and misconceptions.
- Data collection and incident reporting continues.
- Continue engagement with partners to seek other funding opportunities.
- FEDURP and volunteers to strengthen community monitoring efforts in collaboration with respective resident local chiefs.
- Continue engagement with state and non-state actors to strengthen synergies and enhance support to slums and informal settlements
Ebola Response from the Sierra Leone Alliance
By Samuel Sesay, CODOHSAPA
The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the most severe outbreak of the disease in history and has now resulted in over 4,960 deaths and 13,268 cases as of November (WHO, Nov. 2014) across the 6 affected countries (Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Spain, United States of America). In Sierra Leone, the second hardest hit country, there have been 4,862 cases and 1,130 deaths (WHO, Nov. 2014). The country of Sierra Leone declared a state of public health emergency on 30 July 2014 and plans to continue enforcing three-day lockdown from time to time as part of government effort to reduce the spread of the virus.
The outbreak is affecting development activities, humanitarian programmes, and the healthcare infrastructure throughout the country. It is also inhibiting local and international investments in Sierra Leone. There is a continued lack of trust in external and Government interventions aimed at reducing the transmission of Ebola. The Sierra Leone Federation of Urban and Rural Poor (FEDURP S/L) and their support NGO, Centre of Dialogue on Human Settlement and Poverty Alleviation (CODOHSAPA), are vital to supporting the Government and other agencies to reduce and ultimately prevent the spread of this outbreak given their position and trust within slum communities across Freetown and other cities. FEDURP has suffered 2 fatalities in the city of Makeni where 2 FEDURP members died of the Ebola virus. One of the fatalities was the first collector from when the Federation process was introduced in Mankeni.
FEDURP Core Team preparing for Ebola sensitisation trainings
Given the continuing impact of Ebola on communities in Freetown and other cities, FEDURP and CODOHSAPA developed an emergency response project together with consultation from other development partners.
105 FEDURP and non-FEDURP community volunteers have been identified and trained, and together they form the Welfare Community Disaster Management Committee on Ebola (WCDMC). These volunteers teamed up with other community stakeholders to establish a community coordinating team (CCT) with the responsibility to enlist community support and cooperation in responding to Ebola.
Margaret Bayoh, a trained and qualified nurse and head of the FEDURP Welfare Committee demonstrates proper hand washing techniques in Makeni
These volunteers and CODOHSAPA programme staff received training conducted by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation on Ebola response pillars (social mobilisation, community sensitisation, surveillance, case management, psychosocial support, and contact tracing) developed by the Government of Sierra Leone through the Emergency Operation Centre (EOC), now the National Ebola Response Committee (NERC).
FEDURP and WCDMC volunteers accompanied by officials of the Ministry of Health showcasing the use of personal protective gears such as gloves, facial mask
FEDURP S/L National Chairperson, Yirah O. Conteh, handing over sensitisation equipment to community volunteers to be use in Ebola education
We have customised (with FEDURP, CODOHSAPA, and SDI logos) and produced our own IEC materials from the Ministry of Health and Sanitation. These IEC materials are currently being distributed in all areas of Freetown and Makeni as part of our sensitisation exercise in hand washing, avoiding body contact, and safe burial practices.
Veronica hand washing buckets, chlorine, soap, and sanitizers have be provided and strategically placed in key places within target communities and managed by the volunteers.
From the initial target of 37 slum communities in Freetown to roll out this project, 16 slum communities have been reached. The remaining communities are either sealed off (hotspots of Ebola) or are packed with security personnel due to houses being quarantined. In these quarantined or sealed areas only health workers and food distribution team are allowed.
In Makeni, the Federation was hit the hardest when a few FEDURP members lost their lives and some were in quarantine. Currently, Makeni is still under lock down. Therefore, a one-day training session was done and distribution of hand washing materials was given to the communities.
A volunteer demonstrating hand washing during the training in Makeni
The volunteers or peer-educators of WCDMC meet weekly to update CODOHSAPA and the FEDURP core team on the community status and response to the Ebola outbreak in each community. In few new communities, the FEDURP core team has been able to establish new groups during the sensitization trainings.
Regional Learning from the West Africa Hub Meeting in Sierra Leone
By Mara Forbes, SDI Secretariat
Thousands of people living in informal settlements lack security of tenure placing them at high risk for forced evictions. In the past few months many SDI affiliates in West Africa have faced evictions – Badia East settlement in Lagos, Nigeria, Adjei Kojo settlement in TEMA municipality in Accra, Ghana, and Kroo Bay in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Most of the SDI affiliates in the West African region began in response to the need to organize communities to stave off eviction threats. In 2003, the SDI methodologies for fighting eviction through community-based data collection were introduced to community members in Old Fadama, the largest slum in Accra. The community was able to organize itself and conduct an enumeration that indicated that over 79,000 people lived in the slum, a number that had been grossly underestimated by government. The federation used enumeration findings to negotiate with government to find alternatives to eviction. The Federation has gained recognition and legitimacy as an organized network of poor communities that work with local government towards pro-poor development strategies. The response in Old Fadama can not only help other settlements in Accra and the rest of Ghana but can also serve as a learning experience to other newer affiliates in the region.
From the 10-14 of February this year, SDI delegates from West Africa – Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Togo, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso met in Freetown to for their regional hub meeting. The hub meetings provide a platform for regional affiliates to create and strengthen links across the region, to share and learn from each other, as well as support newer affiliate countries in developing their own local processes. West Africa, the youngest of the SDI regions, is still developing how to best strategically use this space to strengthen and support the region. This meeting focused not only on deepening the SDI rituals that are crucial for federation development, but also key issues facing the region such as forced evictions. Delegates of the meeting were able to see first hand the challenges Sierra Leone is facing. Not far from where the meeting was convened is Kroo Bay, a settlement that has faced multiple evictions over the years and was the site of a recent eviction.
Kroo Bay is one of Freetown’s waterfront slums. Slums such as Kroo Bay are situated on land in which the occupants have engaged in the process of land reclamation by slowly adding soil and sand to build up and create new land on the coast. Although this is done with the slum dwellers own resources and time, government frequently claims ownership of this land. According to Freetown City Council (FCC), Kroo Bay is prime land and Government has the mandate to take back the land at any given time. A section of Kroo Bay settlement is built along the boundary of the most prestigious schools in Freetown, The Prince of Wales Secondary School for Boys. This is a school in which many previous officials or those with influence have attended. On Saturday, 25th January 2014 the Alumni Association of Prince of Wales used its influence to hire police, military and other individuals to vandalize and demolish the houses in this area. The action was undertaken on the assumption that this strip of land belongs to the school. However residents assert their claim to this land through the land reclamation process and that their presence has protected the school from flooding and rising sea levels.
As part of the hub meeting delegates participated in a field visit to Kroo Bay. During this time delegates were able to talk to community members and gain a better understanding of the challenges they face. Following these engagements, discussions at the hub focused on how best to move from a reactive response to evictions to proactive strategies that engage local government.
Sierra Leone, as host of the regional meeting, was able to use this platform as a means to strategically capitalize on its engagement with government. In December 2011 the Sierra Leone affiliate began negotiations with local government over the provision of a piece of land for a community-led housing demonstration project to benefit the slum dwellers of Kroo Bay. A series of engagement sessions were held and site visits were conducted. Given the high demand for land within the city centre, government through the Ministry of Lands could not identify a piece of land within the city center and ended up allocating a piece of land (2.5 acres) in Grafton community for the project. After multiple attempts to engage with local government over this piece of land the process had stalled. By hosting the hub meeting the Sierra Leone Federation of Urban and Rural Poor (FEDURP) and its support NGO, Centre of Dialogue on Human Settlement and Poverty Alleviation (CODOHSAPA) were able to demonstrate to local government the power and strength of a network of organized slum dwellers, not only just in Sierra Leone, but also across West Africa.
The Deputy Minister of Lands, Country Planning, and Environment, Hon. Ahmed Kanu, paid a courtesy visit to the hub meeting where he expressed a recommitment to the project on behalf of government and the Ministry of Lands. He expressed his delight to be part of the movement and shared how it fits into the country’s “Agenda for Change” program that aims to alleviate poverty, in which affordable housing is a key output. Additionally to show his support a meeting was held the following day to discuss the piece of land as well as an ongoing partnership with FEDURP and CODOHSAPA. A smaller team from the hub attended the meeting with the Deputy Minister and two surveyors to solidify the commitment from the Ministry. At this time the affiliate presented the Ministry with a communiqué calling on the Municipality to support pro-poor policies and practices by working with the federation as well as fulfill its promise and materialize its commitment by providing a piece of land for an affordable housing project. Media personnel were also present and captured the engagement, which ran on the evening news as well as in the local papers.
This momentum has opened doors to the Ministry and they now need to deepen and strengthen the relationship through continual engagement, not only around the piece of land but to strategically include the Ministry as a partner in other projects. Having an ally in the Ministry can allow the federation to scale its activities and projects from a settlement level to a citywide level.
Conversations are currently being held in Sierra Leone to think through how to strategically use this piece of land to promote a pro-poor urban development agenda. How this piece of land and housing demonstration project can be used not only to push the their agenda but to also be a precedent setting project that allows the federation and government to invest in similar upgrading projects across the city as well as in other cities.
Through platforms like the hub, communities are able to share challenges and lessons learned to develop strategies that are responsive to their own local context. More established affiliates such as Ghana and their experience of engaging government around alternatives to evictions can be a tool to others who are still developing their own strategies. Crucial to this meeting was understanding how communities must evolve from short term reactive responses (providing relief after eviction) to a long term proactive strategies to engage and negotiate with government prior to evictions and develop pro-poor inclusive alternatives.
“Strong and full of energy”: an update from the Filipino exchange to Sierra Leone
Pictured above: Sonia Fadrigo (center) talks with members of the Sierra Leone Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor in Kroo Bay, Freetown.
Editor’s note: From 22 to 26 September, the Filipino federation visited Freetown, Sierra Leone, to work with the seaside slum communities there on strategies for alleviating the effects of natural disasters such as flooding, as well as to secure tenure. Sonia Fadrigo, who was part of the Filipino delegation, sent a quick update to the SDI family, which is reproduced below. A report, published by IIED, on the Filipino strategies for dealing with natural disaster can be found here.
By Sonia Fadrigo, Homeless People’s Federation Philippines
Our visit to Freetown was very good, not to mention the 20 hours flying time and some problems in the connecting flight. We stayed there for 5 days and were able to visit communities where savings program was already in place. The communities were very strong and full of energy, they were pointing to us the flooding marks and how they were badly affected. The communities were aware that there is an ongoing plan for the government for them to be relocated, some of the communities like the Susans Bay and Marbellas Bay was not habitable and considered as high risk areas. In the case of Kroo Bay, we saw that as potential for upgrading as well as reblocking and explore other schemes for land ownership (land sharing) can be applied.
We were able to show them the videos from the Philippines and the situation that is similar to theirs, including the climate (wet and dry) typhoons,rains and floodings. They appreciate it and were able to ask questions. We had a very good interaction with the Freetown City Council, City Administrator, the Planning officer and some Disaster committee members and Lands officer. And we recommended for some exchange visit to the Philippines and learn the process of relocation as well as disaster intervention.
I will make a detailed report with pictures highlighting our recommendations as we have already discussed these with Francis and the team. For a quick intervention, we would suggest for an exchange visit to the Philippines for the following reasons:
- To strengthen the savings mobilization that relates to disaster and relocation.
- Local governments to learn what are the challenges in the issue of relocation vs. upgrading
- Communities participation in all issues of shelter and disaster.
- Communities to learn to engage and build federations and networking.
We recommend a multi representation that includes, YMCA, federation leaders, local government (city administrator, mayor, city councilor).
On the other note, our concern was the expensive cost of exchange visits to the Philippines, base on our latest incurred airfare expenses when we go there. If there are similar experiences in other SDI country/affiliates it will be fine.
I am very positive on the scaling up of memberships of the federation in Freetown as the issue that confronts them becomes visible now and need to be dealt by the communities together with the government. They only need guidance and examples to be in the right track if possible. Our short visit was just to see from the outside, and we know that there are still a lot of hidden issues
that we didnt see and feel that needs to be sort out.
This is all for now and thank you very much for YMCA team for a very good accommodation and hospitality.
In behalf of the Philippines Team,