The Role of Civil Society during COVID-19 Pandemic

Ponum Humza

COVID-19 has remained the foremost global health challenge over the last year and has hit all spheres of life. It is envisaged that developing countries have been and will continue to be hit harder by the pandemic because of limited health care capacity and inadequate infrastructure along with difficulties to maintaining social distancing. Apart from its direct health consequences, Covid19 left economic fallouts in communities globally. The World Bank estimates that about 120 million people have been pushed into poverty due to spread of COVID-19 in the last year. Moreover, it has significant social impact on vulnerable communities, as it has exacerbated the existing inequalities in these vulnerable communities.

While the entire world was caught by havoc, Pakistan was no exception. The pandemic is still consistently posing threat to people’s lives and national economy. Moreover, national health system is also much overburdened owing to exponential rise in COVID-19 cases in each wave. People’s livelihood has also been at stake because of precarious situation created by the pandemic. Reports shared by renowned organisations working in the development sector suggest that this situation, overall, has severe adverse impact on subtle areas of social life. For instance, existing gender inequalities have increased, social exclusion has become very common, marginalisation of peripheral socio-economic classes has increased and voices in decision making have also diminished.

Within the context of Pakistan, the adverse effects of the pandemic have been observed to be severe in remote valleys of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral. The disease has added much to the existing miseries posed by the remote geography and harsh socio-economic circumstances in these regions.

Fortunately, these regions are home to many civil society organisations. Thanks to these civil society organizations that the people in these remote areas have been able to sustain the socio-economic fall outs and are on the path of recovery. Prominent among these civil society organisations are the local support organisations (LSOs), Village Organisations (VOs) and Women Organisations (WOs) who have offered tireless services to the communities of the remote valleys.

During the pandemic, despite limited capacities and resources, these civil society organisations joined hands with other development sector organisations and high-profile civil society organisations, to channel the aid and deliver it to the most deserving of the affectees.

These grassroot community organisations have proved that civil society is an essential building block of the development. In this fragile time, they have played more significant role by providing services, alongside government departments. Amid the pandemic LSOs/VOs/WOs took on the crucial role of providing essential services when there were gaps in healthcare provision and psychological support. They became the right hand of the Government, NGOs, and philanthropists in providing edible items, personal protection equipment (PPE) and essential sanitary items to some of the remotest part of GBC.

Examples of exceptional efforts of these grassroot civil society organizations during the pandemic are wide scattered. Just to mention very few, Ayun Valley Development Programme, a grassroot CSO, facilitated mobile vaccination team of Department of Health (DOH) in running door-to-door vaccination campaign. The campaign aimed at bringing people out for vaccination in Chitral. Similarly, another LSO TALSO has supported local health department in Terich valley in Chitral on similar patterns by leading vaccination campaign.

While working at grassroot level, it was felt by these organisations that limited capacity was the main hurdle in providing full-blown support to government as well as communities. Furthermore, COVID-19 has exhausted certain civil society organisations. Acknowledging this area of need, European Union has stepped in along with the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme to address the capacity gaps within the civil society in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral. In the coming four years the duo of the organisations will focus on enhancing the capacities of these grassroot organisations so that these organisations will be more capable to serve the communities in a more effective manner.

In a nutshell, role of civil society is plausible in all times. Its role in times of crisis is even more crucial – evidence observed in the time of pandemic. Capacity issues emerge from time to time, which need serious attention. Resources can be channeled to build the capacities of such organisations, like in case of the above stated project.

The contributor is affiliated with the development sector in GB.

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