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COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Response


The COVID-19 pandemic is threatening communities and households across the globe in an unprecedented way. For the most vulnerable groups, social sustainability and inclusion programs are playing a critical role in the World Bank's response to the crisis. These programs adopt a socially equitable approach, recognizing that the most vulnerable groups often lack the essential services they need to prevent an outbreak – groups including migrants, the disabled, women, the elderly, LGBTI, indigenous peoples, and other racial and ethnic minorities.

We are engaged in helping vulnerable and marginalized people in multiple ways, including the Environmental and Social Framework (ESF), community-led approaches, analytical work that includes high frequency data collection, and new citizen engagement techniques. Our response emphasizes the need to build resilience within communities, especially those at the center of fragility or social unrest.

Communities at the Front Line of the Response

The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest global economic and social crisis in generations. Trusted community leaders and local governments face enormous demands during a crisis of this scale. In times like these, they turn to well established systems for emergency support and rapid assistance. A number of organizations, including the CDC and the World Health Organization, recognize the critical role that communities play in responding to pandemics.

Community-driven development (CDD) programs, which puts citizens at the center of designing their own solutions, provides a fast and flexible way to deliver cash and basic services to the poorest and most vulnerable. In response to COVID-19, these programs play a critical role in slowing the spread, mitigating impacts, and supporting local recovery.

  • In the Horn of Africa, we are scaling up the Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project (DRDIP) to help mitigate the social and economic risks of COVID-19. Under the Uganda DRDIP, the operation 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.
  • The national CDD program in Guinea (ANAFIC) is distributing essential medical kits across 157 health posts. The agency’s network of local-level facilitators across 337 communes is being mobilized for communication campaigns on prevention as well as for local-level monitoring of COVID-19 responses using a mobile-phone based online forms.
  • In Indonesia, we are helping the Government improve the effectiveness of their own block grants ($7 billion annual transfers) across all 74,000 villages (120 million Indonesians) and 8,000 urban wards to respond to COVID-19 and provide income support, health information, and remote area monitoring for the poor and new poor.  The activities include leveraging the cash for work program, mobilizing village human development workers, improving poverty targeting, and establishing a poverty and social impact monitoring system at the village level.

Ensuring an Inclusive Response

This pandemic has exposed deep inequalities that demand a more inclusive approach so that response and recovery efforts consider everybody, regardless of ethnicity, income, geography, gender, disability, religion, or sexual orientation. As the World Bank targets resources to address the pandemic, we are using every available platform to provide support to the most affected, including the most marginalized. 

Persons with Disabilities

As COVID-19 continues to have wide-reaching impacts across the globe, it is important to understand the differentiated impact the pandemic has on persons with disabilities and their families. For example, many persons with disabilities have additional underlying health needs that may make them particularly vulnerable to severe symptoms of COVID-19, if they contract it. Persons with disabilities may also be at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 because information (or the lack thereof) about the spread of the disease, the symptoms associated with it, and how to prevent getting it are not provided in accessible formats. In many jurisdictions, public transport systems have been reduced or interrupted due to the pandemic leaving persons with disabilities who rely on these modes of transport unable to travel, even for basic necessities or critical medical appointments.

The World Bank is evaluating the impacts of the pandemic on persons with disabilities, including in the area of education. Pivoting to Inclusion: Leveraging Lessons from the COVID-19 Crisis for Learners with Disabilities, an issues paper launched by the World Bank’s Inclusive Education Initiative, highlights the emerging social and educational needs, barriers, and issues experienced by children with disabilities According to estimates by the World Bank, the COVID-19 pandemic, at its peak, caused more than 180 countries to mandate temporary school closures, leaving 85 percent of the world’s learners out of school. COVID-19 has led to a sudden shift in the role of the parent/caregiver to act simultaneously as their teachers, in addition to exacerbating the digital divide between learners related to access to equipment, electricity, and the internet. The education crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity to build stronger, more inclusive systems and reflect on the role and purpose of education in the 21st century.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI)

The unparalleled disruption of public life due to COVID-19 in countries around the world is having devastating impacts on the delivery of services and the ability of already marginalized LGBTI people to access necessary services. The challenges this presents are both immediate and longer term, as the impacts on the economy as well as on service delivery are likely to be felt long after the virus is brought under control. There is still very limited information on the specific risks and impacts LGBTI people face due to COVID-19 and so the World Bank can play an important role in generating relevant data and analysis.

These challenges include:

  1. Access to health services: We know from the available data that LGBTI people often face significant barriers in accessing health services.  In the context of COVID-19, these barriers are likely greatly exasperated and preventing LGBTI people from getting the healthcare services they need.
  2. Impacts of Social Distancing and Isolation Policies: Many LGBTI people rely on community organizations to receive essential services (i.e. psycho-social support, HIV testing, etc.), access to which might be significantly impacted during the COVID-19 response. Especially older LGBTI people often lack family networks and rely heavily on these community services, putting them at greater risk while these services are suspended during the pandemic.
  3. Potential increase of existing disparities: There is risk that existing inequalities in education, employment, and health for LGBTI people will deepen as a result of the COVID-19 response.
  4. Government negatively targeting LGBTI people: Some governments are using the response to COVID-19 to roll back rights of vulnerable populations, including specifically targeting LGBTI people.

Indigenous Peoples

There are 476 million Indigenous people from over 90 countries representing 5,000 different cultures and 7,000 languages. They make up roughly 6 percent of global population but about 15 percent of the poorest. In every country across the globe, Indigenous Peoples are poorer, have worse access to basic services. and enjoy far fewer social and economic opportunities.  They often live in inaccessible or remote areas, their territories are rarely prioritized for public investments or basic services, and their opportunity to have voice in national policymaking spheres have often been limited. This legacy of inequality and exclusion—which has made them more vulnerable to crises, including outbreaks such as COVID-19—is one that the World Bank is trying to change.

To better understand the impacts of the pandemic on Indigenous Peoples, the World Bank has leveraged ongoing dialogues with Indigenous Peoples’ organizations in Latin America and East Asia and the Pacific. The Bank has coordinated with partner organizations to carry-out surveys with their base organizations and communities, with the goal of assessing the impacts of COVID-19 on indigenous communities and establishing priorities for an inclusive response and recovery. These draft studies were carried out for Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, and Peru in Latin America and for Nepal, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand for East Asia and the Pacific.

Social Impact Monitoring

Based on primary and secondary data sources, we have started to monitor the social impacts of the pandemic in real time to allow governments, communities and civil society to address potential drivers of conflict. Rather than predict potential outbreaks of tension or poverty, the objective is to understand the causes and to address these in government responses. 

The first report highlights that not only LGBTI people, but refugees, migrants, persons with disabilities and women are groups who have been stigmatized or experienced increased violence during the pandemic.  

Citizen Engagement

Engaging citizens is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic; it can provide insight into how the crisis affects communities and can enable real-time course correction on rapidly evolving situations.

As the World Bank targets resources to address this pandemic, we want to ensure that we hear the voices of those most affected.  With the benefit of timely ideas and feedback from citizens, responses to the crisis will be more effective and better informed about the ever-changing situation in each country. For example, in Guinea, we are supporting the government and CSOs with online monitoring tools that track the use of COVID-19 related resources with data and photos that are helping them make critical decisions on the ground in a transparent way.

The World Bank is also ensuring stakeholder consultations through the Environmental and Social Framework throughout the COVID-19 surge, despite restrictions. To address limitations on face-to-face interaction and public gatherings, some projects have begun to incorporate more electronic platforms for communication into their design. In Kyrgyz Republic, for example,  a comprehensive online platform is being rolled-out to enable outreach and real-time community engagement during social distancing and travel restrictions as part of the Additional Financing for the Third Village Investment Project, which aims to support communities to rebuild livelihoods in 250 subdistricts.

Last Updated: Mar 24, 2021


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Laura Ivers