International Development Committee
Inquiry, Humanitarian crises monitoring
Impact of Corona virus
From Comfort International SC030369
Comfort International is a small-medium sized Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SC030369) with a turnover of around £450,000 per annum. It was founded in 1999, registered in 2000, began work with genocide survivors in Rwanda, and now works in Rwanda, DRC, Burundi, South Sudan and Uganda. The charity works with various vulnerable groups, including child soldiers, street children, vulnerable mothers and babies, rape survivors, genocide survivors, pygmies and displaced people.
Covid – 19
Covid-19 is present in all the countries we work in. Lock-downs are in place to varying effect. In Rwanda the lockdown seems to be implemented in a more cohesive manner but there are still people flouting the rules there. The rise in numbers infected does not, albeit to my untrained eye, appear to be rising exponentially as it has in Europe. Numbers are still generally low in all the countries we work in, although as of today Africa has over 16,000 recorded cases. It is unclear whether this is a result of one or all of three factors:
Because of the low-ish numbers at present the greatest impact appears to be indirect, i.e. as a result of lockdown procedures. Our partners report immediate and severe hunger issues resulting from lockdown. A large proportion of the population have no savings and no food larders. Being confined to home means income from labour is cut off and hunger begins immediately. Large numbers of the population have migrated back to rural locations from the cities where they have land to farm. Testimony commonly tells us that people are prepared to risk covid infection rather than hunger. Health care systems are likely to be inadequate to cope if the infection gathers pace. Comfort International built and now supports a small hospital near Goma, DRC, and investigations indicated 2-3 ventilators in the whole region and one person with correct skills to operate.
The above issues mean that demand for food support for vulnerable groups and equipment (oxygen concentrators and ventilation points) has escalated quickly and considerably.
The UK response overseas has not been highly visible
Lessons identified, risk of transfer – unsure and unclear.
There are some signs of civil unrest at a low scale, including escape of ‘isolated’ people in South Sudan, individual clashes with police in Rwanda. There are some concerns that state apparatus is using the outbreak in Burundi as an excuse to exert greater political control over the population.
In DRC there has been a resurgence of rebel activity. A pastor working with the charity’s partners has been killed.
The charity’s charity shop has been closed but costs of rent, water rates etc continue. This is a serious drain on the charity’s resources, although the 80% funding of staff is helpful.
Fund-raising events are cancelled, although some people have developed stay at home fundraising options.
Visits to groups which the charity regularly engages in, especially to churches, have been cancelled.
Sponsors on the charity’s sponsorship programmes are liable to cancel due to drop in income. So far this effect has been minor but may grow.
The increased demand outlined above allied with the reduction in fundraising activities and presence of shop overhead costs puts the charity’s cash flow and ability to meet the needs of some of the poorest people on the earth in jeopardy.