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Alinafe Nhlane at the Muona Distribution site – Credit WFP/Badre Bahaji
Published on April 27, 2020

The UN is still delivering to those left behind despite the threat of COVID-19


Alinafe Nhlane is washing her hands thoroughly before receiving cash assistance while her 18-month-old baby patiently rests on her back - a simple habit that can save lives. On 2 April, the Government of Malawi announced COVID-19 cases had been detected in the country. A few days later, authorities announced additional confirmed cases, and the first death was recorded on 7 April.

Early action in Malawi could save lives. In line with World Health Organization (WHO) directives, the UN in Malawi has put in place precautionary measures across its operations to help prevent the spread of the pandemic, including during the provision of cash and food assistance.

As part of infection prevention and control (IPC) measures, Alinafe was part of a small group who received sensitization messages on the virus and were encouraged to practice social distancing. She was asked to wash her hands with soap before and after receiving her entitlements. In addition, staff and volunteers in charge of the distributions were using protective masks and gloves.

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Caroline Allan, District Health Officer showing beneficiaries how to properly wash their hands before the distribution - Credit WFP/Badre Bahaji

“Today I received 24,500 Kwacha (USD 33) which I will use to buy maize, cooking oil, beans and fruit for my children,” says Alinafe, 33-year old, a single mother of two, from Muona Village, in Nsanje District at the border with Mozambique.

Alinafe explained, “In March last year, floods washed away my crop field and demolished my house. As a result, I only harvested four bags of maize which only took me up to early July. Since then I’ve been doing piecemeal labour to feed my four children.”

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House destroyed by Cyclone Idai in Malawi - Credit WFP/Badre Bahaji

In the past 10 years, Malawi has experienced an escalation in natural hazards including floods, dry spells, strong winds, and disease and pest outbreaks. The resulting disasters have destroyed livelihoods and fuelled the vicious cycle of hunger. The COVID-19 pandemic is threatening millions of people who are already vulnerable due to food insecurity, malnutrition, climate change, and other disasters.

The UN is working around the clock to maintain assistance programmes despite the global outbreak and has moved quickly to develop and implement plans to reorganize distributions, adapting them to protect both staff and programme participants.

“During distributions, people are divided into small groups and asked to stay 1.5 metres apart when collecting their food. Hand-washing stations have been installed in cash distribution sites, with personal protective gear issued to staff,” says Caroline Allan, District Health Officer for Nsanje. Communities also receive an in-depth briefing about the COVID-19 pandemic and preventive measures,” Allan added.

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Personal protective gear were given to staff in all cash distribution sites - Credit WFP/Badre Bahaji

Cash transfers are one component of the UN Joint Programme: Social Protection for the Sustainable Development Goals (SP4SDG) implemented by the World Food Programme (WFP), the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and UNICEF. While WFP manages the component related to cash transfers via a shock-sensitive social protection prototype, ILO is focusing on supporting the government to transform existing social protection policies into legal frameworks, and UNICEF is providing technical assistance to reinforce financial structures to enhance the existing social protection system to leave no one behind.

The Joint Programme is funded by the Joint SDG Fund, an initiative that supports countries to accelerate their progress towards achieving the SDGs.