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FEATURE STORY May 19, 2020

Community Responses to COVID-19: From the Horn of Africa to the Solomon Islands



  • Community-driven development (CDD) programs, which put people at the center of designing their own solutions, are a critical part of the World Bank’s response to the global COVID-19 crisis.
  • The Bank is supporting countries in Horn of Africa and in Solomon Islands through CDD programs that are delivering cash and basic services to the most vulnerable.
  • To tackle a crisis of this magnitude and scale, countries need an equitable, whole-of-society approach, which lies at the heart of CDD programs.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have devastating impacts on people, with a disproportionate impact on the poor and the vulnerable, who are faced with job and income loss, uncertain food supply, and disruptions in health and education programs. The most vulnerable, including migrants, persons living with disabilities, women, the elderly, LGBTI, indigenous peoples, and other marginalized groups lack the coping mechanisms and essential services they need.

During such a crisis, trusted community leaders and local governments face enormous demands with limited administrative and financial capacity. In this context, community-driven development (CDD) programs, which put people at the center of designing their own solutions, are a critical part of the World Bank’s efforts to provide quick and largescale support to tackle this crisis.

In a crisis of this scale, no single intervention is enough, and countries need to use every available platform and tool. CDD programs often complement traditional safety net systems by delivering cash and in-kind transfers as well as basic services such as water and sanitation in urban and rural settings. They do so through programs that involve hundreds of thousands of communities, local civic leaders, and local governments. CDD programs frequently provide support to vulnerable communities and groups, including women, indigenous peoples, displaced persons, persons with disabilities, LGBTI people, and the elderly.

While this pandemic has the potential to fracture societies, it is the resilience, solidarity, strength, and ingenuity of communities that will help overcome this crisis. Here are a few examples of operations are that using community-based approaches to get vital resources to people in the Horn of Africa and Solomon Islands.


Horn of Africa: Uganda, Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia

As the countries of the Horn of Africa were scaling up their responses to a displacement crisis triggered by conflicts and droughts, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In response to the displacement of over four million refugees, the World Bank has supported Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda with the Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project (DRDIP), which aims to improve  access to basic social services, expanding economic opportunities, and to enhance environmental management for communities hosting refugees. Supported by the IDA Regional Integration Window, the DRDIP is a US$428 million regional operation that has reached more than 1.5 million beneficiaries in four countries to date, including host communities and refugees. Today, this community-led platform is being adapted to meet the social demands brought on by COVID-19.

The relationship between host communities and refugees can often be fragile and complex. False or misleading information on COVID-19 has the potential to exacerbate tensions and contribute to the stigmatization of refugee populations.

The disruption of informal sector livelihoods, which are a mainstay for refugees and host communities, is a further cause of social tensions.  Since the introduction of lockdown policies in in several countries, there has also been a marked increase in instances of gender-based violence (GBV) and violence against children.

The World Bank is scaling up the DRDIP project to help mitigate the social and economic risks of the pandemic. Under Uganda’s DRDIP, social and water conservation and land clearing activities are being implemented in small groups of five people working in rotation and following new social distancing protocols. The operation in Uganda is helping community organizations share prevention and basic hygiene messages through radio, short message services (SMS), and other digital means. The focus has also shifted to providing support to health centers, Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) related investments, and increasing funding to support livestock trading, cage fish farming, and grinding mills for women and youth. Furthermore, the operation will also monitor information on GBV and violence against children and support rapid and adequate referral of cases. Approximately 3 million beneficiaries will be reached across the DRDIP countries.


Photo by Tom Perry / World Bank

Solomon Islands

Like many Pacific Island nations, the Solomon Islands is home to a strong community-based culture known as the wantok system. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the existing CDD project has been adapted to tackle immediate needs. The World Bank-financed Community Access and Urban Services Enhancement (CAUSE) project has been designed to improve the delivery of basic infrastructure and services by providing skills training, short-term job opportunities, and income generation for vulnerable people, including unemployed youth and women.

To offset the risk of violence and social unrest from the pandemic, the CAUSE is scaling up short-term employment and training activities for vulnerable groups, especially women, youth, the urban poor and many workers in the informal sector who may have lost their main source of income – often small roadside stalls or markets. In the capital, Honiara, the CAUSE is also supporting efforts to increase prevention and awareness efforts through the sanitation of public areas, construction of public hand washing stations, and training workers and communities on key symptoms and prevention measures.

This project is also supporting COVID-19 prevention efforts by helping to reinstate critical roads and access for frontline workers. It is also delivering additional strategic investments to help stimulate the local economy and protect the livelihoods and incomes of some of the most vulnerable. The project is expected to provide benefits to approximately 84,000 people. It currently covers the capital city, Honiara, and five additional urban centers in Guadalcanal, Malaita and the Western Province. Together, the three largest provinces in the Solomon Islands represent more than 60 percent of the country’s entire population.

These are relatively early days in the World Bank’s efforts to help Governments respond to COVID-19. The operations are drawing lessons from previous pandemics, including the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak, which highlight the importance of community level efforts programs in crisis relief and recovery to complement medical efforts.