Première Urgence Internationale is working at the frontline to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Syria

On the 15th of March 2020, the Syrian crisis entered its 10th year. A week later, the first confirmed COVID-19 case was reported in Syria. The 9 years of conflict have already left the country battered, but the COVID-19 pandemic has presented yet another challenge for an overburdened and fragile social protection system. Against this backdrop, Première Urgence Internationale was one of the first organizations that responded quickly to address the emerging urgent needs in Syria. With the support of partners, the NGO has worked across its sectors to contribute to common efforts working on preventing a spiraling COVID-19 outbreak in Syria.

Empêcher la propagation du COVID-19 en Syrie

© Première Urgence Internationale – April 2020.

Overtaken by need

The crisis in Syria has been labelled time and again “the biggest and worst humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century”. In spite of a significant reduction in hostilities in late 2018, the needs of the Syrian people remain extensive. According to the 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview, 11.7 people are in need of multi-sectorial humanitarian assistance and 5 million people are in acute need. A number of priority concerns were expressed by affected communities in Syria such as economic opportunities, basic services, safety and protection, drinking water, health care, and education opportunities.

In 2012, Première Urgence Internationale has obtained the authorization to provide humanitarian assistance to Syrians and has since been one of the few international organizations in Syria working at the frontline to alleviate the worst effects of the crisis. Première Urgence Internationale currently operates in 10 governorates adopting an integrated approach to address the population’s needs in water, sanitation and hygiene, education, shelter, infrastructure and livelihoods.

Despite ongoing humanitarian response efforts, the needs in Syria remain immense and more importantly diverse in terms of scale, severity, and complexity. Consequently, Première Urgence Internationale works in two concrete and mutually-reinforcing ways: by providing life-saving emergency assistance focusing on the rehabilitation of collective shelters for internally displaced people and access to water and sanitation. At the same time, Première Urgence Internationale works on implementing programs that are more geared towards early recovery and longer-term resilience to allow people to meet their basic needs by themselves. This includes the rehabilitation of water and sanitation networks, and damaged apartments for returnees in addition to enhancing the access of children to education and improving the livelihoods of the most vulnerable people. Since 2012, Première Urgence Internationale has reached millions of Syrians with timely and appropriate interventions.

A double emergency

In light of the rapidly evolving COVID-19 outbreak, Première Urgence Internationale strategically decided to utilize all efforts and resources available to scale up its response for the emergency. As a result, an emergency response plan has been set in motion at the beginning of April, in order to coordinate the programmatic response during the COVID-19 crisis. As Première Urgence Internationale does not usually work directly in the health sector in Syria, a multi-sectoral response was implemented to contribute to efforts working on preventing an outbreak.

The emergency activities were divided into 4 phases:

  • Stage 0 – Protection of the staff
  • Stage 1 – Adaptation of regular programming
  • Stage 2 – Limit the propagation of COVID-19
  • Stage 3 – Life in the time of COVID-19
  • Stage 4 – Progressive return to normality

Protecting staff and ensuring a safe workplace

Internal measures were set up to protect all staff members and the people with whom they will be in close contact including beneficiaries.

Hygiene and cleaning procedures within Première Urgence Internationale facilities and vehicles were introduced. All staff members were provided protective personal equipments and sanitation kits. IEC (information education communication) materials were distributed and hung around all Première Urgence Internationale facilities. Lastly, all staff members were trained on preventive measures and on how to manage related stress.

Enabling the continuation of regular programming

Modified measures were enacted to reduce risk of infection for staff and beneficiaries while ensuring the continuity of regular programming. For instance, Première Urgence Internationale has taken specific measures to ensure the safety of its beneficiaries. For economic recovery activities for example, the teams restructured a part of the process by doing phone interviews and sending text messages instead of face to face visits.

Similar modified procedures and enhanced safety practices were adopted for all other programs.  Measures of safety and hygiene discipline were also integrated within every single activity implemented on the field.

Targeting high-risk populations to limit the spread of the virus

In coordination with line ministries, and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), Première Urgence Internationale has identified a number of internally displaced people collective shelters, and has fully rehabilitated 2 collective shelters (one in Homs and one in Hama) and completed light repairs and WASH-oriented maintenance for 9 collective shelters in Homs. Kits of cleaning materials were also distributed to all the residents in those shelters. In total, Première Urgence Internationale reached 419 internally displaced families.

The NGO has also completed light repairs and rehabilitation of a quarantine unit in Dara’a city and another quarantine plus isolation unit in Der Ez Zor city (with a capacity of 50 and 40 beds respectively). Furthermore, in partnership with UNHCR, Première Urgence Internationale is currently working on rehabilitating additional collective shelters in Lattakia, Tartous, and Damascus.

Taking action for children

Awareness sessions on COVID-19 were held in a total of 17 centers in Damascus (6), Aleppo (5), Rural Damascus (5), Homs (1). So far, Première Urgence Internationale teams have reached over 2,000 vulnerable children – unaccompanied or abandoned children, street children, and children with disabilities or juvenile delinquents.

Première Urgence Internationale has also completed light repairs and maintenance on a number of those centers as needed in addition to distributing cleaning supplies and personal COVID-19 protection kits for the residents and staff working within the facilities; adjusted depending on targeted group specificities.

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