By Lydia O’Kane
This week, the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) in the UK launched a Coronavirus Appeal to raise funds to help vulnerable communities who are at risk, as the coronavirus pandemic spreads in countries already dealing with instability and conflict.
The DEC Appeal is focusing its attention on six fragile states: Yemen and Syria; Somalia, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The appeal also takes in Afghanistan, as well as the world’s largest refugee camp, in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
One of the charities that is part of the DEC Appeal is the UK based Catholic Agency For Overseas Development, or CAFOD.
Since 2012, the agency has been working on the crisis in Syria, one of the vulnerable countries hit by both conflict and the Coronavirus.
Last week the mainly rebel-held province of Idlib in the north-west of the country registered its first coronavirus case. This confirmation has raised fears of an overwhelming situation in crowded camps.
So far, the country has recorded 477 cases and at least 22 deaths from Covid-19.
Sarah Burrows is CAFOD's Emergency Response Officer for Syria. Speaking to Vatican Radio, she said, “Syria is one of the countries where there’s been conflict for many, many years, and now on top of that they have the Coronavirus”.
Before the spread of the pandemic, more than 12 million people had been forced to leave their homes, “either displaced within Syria, within the borders, or they’ve fled the country.”
She also pointed out that even before the pandemic, 11 million people there were in need of humanitarian assistance.
“Needs are especially high in Syria and other areas where there are refugee camps and in countries that are suffering conflict”, said Ms Burrows.
One of the priorities, she said, “is to make sure that the displaced families and refugee families are protected; that they have access to clean water, to soap, to handwashing stations and also that they’re able to receive the information they need to know how to keep safe”.
Another need at this time, she pointed out, is that people don’t go hungry, “because so many people have lost jobs, their income and their livelihoods”.
At present, CAFOD is working with local aid experts on the ground in unregistered camps for people displaced inside the country. The Emergency Response Officer explained that they are constructing hygiene and sanitation facilities, as well as distributing PPE’s to prevent further spread of the virus.
Over the last number of months, millions of people around the world have been adhering to lockdown and social distancing measures. But, as Ms Burrows pointed out, many people in Syria don’t have a home, and social distancing is almost impossible if you are living in a refugee camp.
“One of the amazing things about the Church”, she underlined, “is that it’s global and so we’ve got this huge global community network which CAFOD is part of.” “We’re able to reach people in some of the most remote and war-torn parts of the world… we’re also able to reach people quickly, and we can do this because of those Church networks”.
Burrows also noted that Church leaders and other faith leaders play a really vital role in emergency response, and are very much a part of the community that CAFOD is supporting.