Nobody who lives in a country that is experiencing coronavirus is in any doubt about the breadth of the impact of the virus on the daily life.
Lockdown, social distancing, self-isolation: they are all terms we have become very used to.
But what is it like to experience the virus in a country that has no national health service, and that doesn’t have the financial ability to be able to provide support for people when they lose their jobs? What is it like for a nation where most people live a subsistence lifestyle, surviving on a day-to-day existence, getting work where they can and when they can?
That is the reality for most of the countries where the CRED Partners are based. Malawi, Zambia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, India – for all these countries, the infrastructure to provide ‘free at the point of delivery’ support in a crisis just isn’t there, and it is the poorest who are most vulnerable.
As the governments issue announcements about restrictions being imposed to try and halt the spread of the virus, so the people at the bottom of the pecking order are the ones hit hardest.
School closures mean that children don’t get a meal to eat, and parents lose out on the all the money that they scrimped and saved for school fees.
A ban on mass gatherings means that the markets close, and so all the opportunities to sell goods, to gain some money from portering and other informal types of labour disappear in a flash, with no chance of any financial help from anywhere to bridge the gap in income.
Churches closing mean that the one place of sanctuary that many of them cling to in the week is cruelly taken, leaving a sense of bewilderment and fear.
A ban on public transport means that those who earn money driving bicycle taxis, or matatus, or tuk-tuks etc, all lose their source of income. But it also means that for the majority of the population, who don’t own their own vehicle, they lose the ability to get around, whether it is to the shops, or to the medical clinic, or even to escape the city back to their village where they might have more chance of surviving.
When it comes to following advice on hand-washing – well, its not easy when getting water involves walking a mile or so and then carrying a jerrycan of the precious liquid back balanced carefully on the head. Or having to pay from one’s meagre income for the privilege of being able to turn on a tap to fill a container. When access to water is that hard to come by, there are a lot more things to consider regarding what that water will be used for than just spending 20 seconds washing hands on a regular basis.
As for social-distancing and self-isolating: not easy when you live in a community of over 1million people within 1 square mile. Or when you share a 3m square ‘home’ with 8 other people.
The impacts are huge, and our partners are some of those at the front line of trying to support those who need it most.
I was in Uganda for a few days as the coronavirus started to take hold, and the speed at which despair set in was alarming to see. Food prices rose dramatically, people scrabbled to get out of the cities, everyone started to become suspicious of each other and nerves ran high. And it’s the same in other countries that have so few resources and so little capacity to adapt.
I’m not for one minute wanting to undermine the impact of coronavirus on us in the UK. I know we are all feeling the effects in many ways, and will continue to feel them for weeks, months and possibly years to come in different ways.
But do spare a thought for our partners around the world, and for the role they have within their communities, as leaders, service providers, and a place of refuge and support for the poorest members. This is certainly not an easy time for them, and they need all the prayers and support that we can give.