Here in Trinidad and Tobago, the impact of Covid-19 on society’s most vulnerable is evident.
The Covid-19 pandemic is poised to become one of the most defining events of the 21st century. Before it began, global citizens revelled in the ease of access to foreign destinations due to increasing and more affordable travel options and fewer visa requirements. Many could not fathom an interruption to this new level of global interchange.
However, by March 2020, the coronavirus was declared a pandemic by the WHO Director-General, and from there began a challenging transition to a formidable and uncertain future.
Globally, 176 million cases of Covid-19 have been recorded, with over three million deaths and 200 million job losses. Research conducted by the International Labour Organisation shows that women are disproportionately affected by unemployment.
Here in Trinidad and Tobago, the impact of Covid-19 on society’s most vulnerable is evident. Persons in lower socioeconomic groups, including women, children, refugees, and migrants, have emerged the most adversely affected by the necessary lockdown measures.
Business, school and border closures, and restricted opening hours for essential services exacerbate already precarious socioeconomic and domestic situations. Many children are still unable to join virtual classes due to a lack of electronic devices and/or internet connectivity and have therefore been placed at a severe disadvantage. Added to this, the Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago has indicated an increase in child abuse reports since the onset of the pandemic and accompanying stay-at-home measures. Similarly, incidents of domestic abuse are on the rise.
The Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) report published annually by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) shows a parallel between local and refugee/migrant communities. An alarming 25 per cent of migrants interviewed indicated that they witnessed physical and sexual violence during their time in Trinidad and Tobago.
Twelve per cent of respondents were aware of physical and sexual abuse cases against children within the migrant community. These communities also face food shortages and evictions, as lost or furloughed jobs mean they can no longer afford to provide basic necessities for their families.
What can be done to support the vulnerable effectively and sustainably until the situation improves?
If nothing, then what has the pandemic taught us?
The restaurant industry quickly pivoted to a more streamlined delivery service using online apps; educators have learned how to adjust their curriculum to online mediums, and companies throughout the country have adapted to work-from-home scenarios that did not exist just over a year ago. These changes have not been without their growing pains. Still, they demonstrate how crises can create opportunities—a chance to reinvent old systems that no longer fit the context and redefine new structures to better serve us all.
The response to this crisis cannot be borne by one entity only. The Government, civil society actors and corporate bodies are all affected by limited resources. However, there is certainly room for all these actors to collaborate and strategically address the needs of vulnerable communities throughout Trinidad and Tobago.
Working in silos is not effective as it limits the organisation’s reach and can result in duplication of efforts. Instead, solidarity and creativity are needed to ease the burden of those at higher risk of prolonged hardship brought by the pandemic.
Listening to the voices of vulnerable people is critical at this time, and open and constructive dialogue is the only option. We must include these voices and consult with those most deeply affected.
Vulnerable populations should rightfully have a say in the solutions meant to address their concerns and make meaningful contributions to how their needs should be met.
In this vein, refugees and migrants should also be included in national recovery efforts, not only as recipients of assistance but also as individuals who make valuable contributions and possess incredibly rich resources just waiting to be harnessed. Globally, migrants contribute positively to building the socioeconomic and cultural fabric of their destination countries.
Let us ensure that our resilient nation emerges from this pandemic stronger and more unified. This can only be achieved if we work together selflessly and include all the voices of our cosmopolitan nation.
This op-ed was first published in the Trinidad Express on June 23, 2021