Development in a Global Pandemic

This post first appeared on P4H Global’s Redefining Aid blog.

As the world shuts its doors and braces for the most challenging crisis in a century, we are all getting used to a new way of life. We self-isolate, work from home, wash our hands constantly and rely on a secure social safety net to protect us from financial ruin. In the midst of a global pandemic, we are likely to lose sight of the fact that developing countries will be hit more severely and for longer duration than what most people around the world will experience.

For the nearly 10% of the world’s population that live in poverty, social distancing is impossible, the technology and economy required to work from home are non-existent, the basic infrastructure required to practice good hygiene are lacking and there is no formal safety net with which to fall back on [1].

Making matters worse, essentially all development programs (many of which play the role of social safety nets in developing countries) have to be shut down for the foreseeable future. What can we do in this difficult time? How can governments, NGOs, churches and charities be useful when we cannot be present?

  1. Do no harm [2]. Whatever your program, no matter how badly you want to help, the most important thing you can do in this moment is ensure that you do not spread the virus in the communities you are working with. This would be far more detrimental than any benefits you may bring in this moment.
  2. Know your lane. Be very honest about the skills, expertise and resources you have at your disposal. Over the coming months, many of the communities you wish to help will be dealing with a health emergency. This is not the time to play doctor, this is not the time to be a hero. If you are not a medical expert, refer to point (1). Think about how your resources can be most effective in solving the coming health crisis and look for reliable organizations that you can support in this moment (consider Partners in Health, Doctors Without Borders, or a number of other organizations run by medical experts).
  3. Be creative. While combating the spread of COVID-19 and overcoming the ensuing health crisis are essential, every facet of life in developing countries has been turned upside down. There are a number of ways that we can provide much needed relief, support and development that are consistent with points (1) and (2). P4H Global has some of the world’s foremost experts on education in Haiti. As the entire country goes into lockdown, every child in Haiti is left without access to a formal education for the foreseeable future. This will exacerbate the global learning crisis and affect an entire generation [3]. To combat this problem, we are transitioning all of our education efforts to reach students and teachers virtually. We will be providing educational programs throughout the country via radio and continuing to train teachers through our digital platforms [4].

This is undoubtedly the most challenging time that many of us have ever experienced. We are all overwhelmed by the state of the world at this moment and being asked to step up in ways we were not prepared for. While this pandemic has upended our lives, I hope we don’t lose sight of the fact that so many communities around the world are being challenged in ways we can’t imagine. As you seek to help these communities in the coming months, remember to do no harm, know your lane and be creative.

[1] https://www.economist.com/leaders/2020/03/26/the-coronavirus-could-devastate-poor-countries 

[2] https://blogs.worldbank.org/impactevaluations/impact-evaluations-time-covid-19-part-1 

[3] http://blogs.worldbank.org/education/teach-tackling-learning-crisis-one-classroom-time 

[4] https://www.facebook.com/P4HGlobal/videos/323340948628894/

Published by Scott Miller

Scott is currently earning his PhD in development economics at the University of Florida. He has worked for various non-profits and international organizations, including USAID. Scott has worked on a number of research projects around the world, including projects in Haiti, Nepal and Brazil.

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