How to rebuild trust with Communities in Sebha even in times of COVID-19
Responding to COVID-19 pandemic
When the threat of the Coronavirus outbreak arose in Libya, authorities took a set of decisions to tackle it in all regions and cities of the country. They includeddisinfection campaigns of public spaces, allocation of isolation rooms for people affected, and partial or total lockdown on movement of the population.
In Sebha, a city located in the southern part of the country, 772 km from Tripoli, many residents are not entirely aware of the symptoms of Coronavirus due to the lack of reliable medical information available to the public. They often rely on information from relatives or friends who are not medical professionals.
''When the first persons who contracted COVID-19 in Libya appeared, media outlets began taking photos of them and posting on social media in a rather humiliating way. In reaction to this, many people are reluctant to go to hospitals even if they feel they have symptoms to avoid being shamed publicly,'' said Ms Bushra Alhodiri, President and Operations Manager of Fezzan Libya Organization (FLO), a local peacebuilding organization based in Sebha.
''Our organization has taken risk mitigation measures to ensure the safety and health of our staff, partners, and the community we serve. We started working remotely since mid- March due to regulatory lockdowns,'' declared Bushra.
Led by national and municipal Libyan institutions and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Stabilization Facility for Libya (SFL) partnered with FLO in Sebha to work on community stabilization, peacebuilding and social cohesion.
In close collaboration with Sebha municipal authorities and the Rapid Response Team of the National Center for Disease Control, FLO launched an online assessment tool (www.sncd.ly) in mid-May 2020 to contribute to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“Health authorities are having difficulties to locate possible areas where there are confirmed cases of COVID-19 and therefore cannot send the needed medical supplies to the most needed cities or towns, explained Bushra. ''We launched this platform to help people in Sebha assess their symptoms, check on their health, and get recommendations on what to do next, '' she said.
The tool is helping health personnel to monitor the evolution of the pandemic in the city.
Two weeks after its launch (end of May 2020), 2381 people had already used it, of which 79 were identified as needing medical attention.
After the announcement confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Sebha, others in northern cities of Libya started stigmatizing their compatriots from the south. In a bid to contribute to stop the phenomena FLO joined the UN in Libya campaign #stigmaaway, and launched a zero stigma social media campaign on its Facebook page with hashtags: #Stopstigma and #Covid19Campaign.
Enhancing social cohesion at local level
''We are working closely with local leaders and stakeholders to reduce gaps and build trust between all social components in Sebha, '' said Bushra.
Sebha, and the Fezzan region in southern Libya in general, had been affected by different crises that struck the country since 2011. With an estimated population of 210,000 among whom 35,000 migrants, 15,000 returnees and 8,390 Internally Displaced Persons in 2018 according to a rapid city profiling conducted by UNFPA and UN Habitat, the municipality experienced many challenges.
Due to conflicts, the social fabric was destroyed, tribes were fighting each other, while citizenship was denied to others. Other issues included limited access to potable drinking water, to better health care, and to quality education, as well as the sewage network not working properly.
''Our organization is working to bring together different sectors of our society. We discuss with local elders, and local authorities how peace and tolerance can be valued and promoted. This is the main road to development for all, '' Bushra explained.
FLO carries out training sessions on conflict reduction, conflict management and advocacy that target different layers of society, including youth.
With support from SFL, the organization will soon launch an online training that targets youth. Participants will acquire knowledge on various topics such as leadership, lobby and advocacy, and project management.
As SFL delivers equipment and renovates infrastructures to enable local elected authorities to provide better services to their people, FLO is working with local stakeholders to ensure fair access of all to the support. ''We work with the community to identify their needs, and to help them access the new services available through the SFL support, '' she explained. ''We facilitated consultation meetings where representatives of different spheres of the society and local authorities hold discussions and identified priorities for the municipality. Then, we conducted town hall meetings with local elders from different neighbourhoods. And finally, we organized focus group discussions with women, youth, teachers and academics. This helped to achieve a common understanding of what is needed to bring stability to Sebha '' Bushra added.
SFL renovated two schools, Nussibah School, Al-Quds School, and the Sterilization Department at Sebha Hospital. The Facility has also delivered various equipment including 35 submersible pumps for water sector, 30 generators for water sector, mortuary freezers for Sebha health sector, an ambulance for Ghadwa clinic, 12 submersible pumps for sewage sector, and 2000m High Voltage power cables for Sebha Airport.
Future support will include rehabilitation of six medical facilities, seven schools, one library, one stadium, installation of solar streetlight system, supply of sewage suction trucks, supply of sewage suction pumps, and construction of a water well.
FLO intervention in Sebha with SFL support brought a new approach where different components of society participate actively in the identification of challenges that are hindering development and developing ways to overcome them.
''People participation in the decision-making process along with their leaders creates a conducive environment for rebuilding trust and minimize the gap between legal authorities and residents they serve,'' Bushra said. '' I am looking forward to a prosperous city. I know it is not easy to achieve that stage and this requires a lot of effort. If we succeed to stabilize our society and maintain the integrity of the city, Sebha will be prosperous,'' she concluded.