Within the context of this health crisis, ARDD has mobilized to utilize existing resources, expand resources, and enhance the protection of vulnerable communities in order to prevent the further exacerbation of inequality. It is important to also follow up and monitor on other countries in the region (Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Palestine) in terms of responses to the COVID-19 and provide detailed reports and policy briefs in all these countries.
This effort has started within the framework of ARDD’s Human and Economic Development Platform (HEDP). Essentially, HEDP aims to respond to the needs of the existing development paradigm through a learned, more effective and efficient discourse among the public sector, private sector, civil society, and the public at large. HEDP is primarily focused on engaging with socioeconomic issues by conducting and commissioning specialized policy studies, disseminating the findings in a sustainable manner, and lobbying for positive change via state-of-the art tools and methodologies.
In this vein, ARDD has commissioned the development of a series of country-specific publications in order to monitor the responses of countries throughout the Arab world in response to the ongoing Coronavirus crisis. This series is envisaged to take into consideration the effects of the current circumstances on diverse populations with varying needs, including youth, women, children, the elderly, migrant workers and refugees; this objective is rooted in ARDD’s commitment to highlighting the challenges and restrictions experienced by those living in poverty, and vulnerable groups at large. These publications will also consider the responses and endeavours undertaken by governmental actors and civil society organizations in this regard.
This series is positioned within a larger research project being conducted by ARDD’s Al Nahda Centre for research and is framed with reference to the capacities of social protection frameworks in the Arab region. It is also part of ARDD’s dedication to enhancing and expanding the efficacy and practice of evidence-based policy development and transformation towards more just societies.
As this first brief within the series, ARDD started its first research on the Republic of Algeria. After topping the Arab countries in COVID-19 related deaths, and registering hundreds of infected cases, Algeria is facing many threats amid civil society organizations’ demands to protect the most vulnerable groups within this crisis.
As of April 6, the number of confirmed cases in Algeria reached 103, bringing the total number of infected by COVID-19 to 1,423, while 21 new deaths were recorded, bringing the number of deaths to 173. Algeria, which is the largest African country, counts approximately 400,000 refugees on its territory, the majority of whom are from the southern neighboring countries of Mali and Niger in the south, as well as nearly 100,000 fleeing the civil war in Syria. It can be argued that the suffering of these refugees does not differ from the challenges faced by the Algerians themselves. Arab civil society organizations have warned of, the need to give refugees full attention and extend aid and assistance to them, while strengthening the state institutions with the staff qualified to interfere in the delivery of aid and know their necessary needs. Till now, no government initiatives were launched in Algeria to provide for and support poor families.
In Algeria and elsewhere, the voices of human rights advocates, as well as labor and humanitarian organizations are becoming louder and demanding that proper attention be given to vulnerable groups. This is being highlighted in light of widespread poverty, and with attention to the importance of their voices to be heard by governments and the responsible entities.
After recently publishing a study entitled “COVID: Reducing the impact of the epidemic on poverty and food insecurity in the Arab region,” the ESCWA committee indicated that “the number of poor people will increase in the Arab region, and the number of people undernourished is also expected to increase by about 2 million.” In addition to the health aspects of this suffering, there are economic, humanitarian and political aspects that appeared on the Algerian front as a result of the crisis. Like most Arab countries, the response of the Algerian state to confront the virus and protect its citizens was “acceptable” as described by Arab media outlets, despite the lack of financial means. However, in contrast, observers find that “Algeria has not been active in handling it’s [the COVID-19 crisis] effect on the life of daily workers and the poor who do not have a steady income.” Unlike Arab countries such as “Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Emirates, Egypt, Morocco and Jordan”, Algeria has not yet made any measures to support its economy, especially for small and medium-sized companies in the face of the consequences of this crisis.
In Algeria, the epicenter of fear of the Coronavirus impact is centered in the northern Algerian province of Blida. This is in light of an escalating standard of living crisis that specifically affects the elderly and women heads of household. This has been met only by government “reassurances, “without a clear mechanism to reduce their poverty and their suffering.
Observers believe that the Algerian government’s failure to take any serious measures to allocate financial aid to daily workers may raise the degree of contention and clashes with official authorities, given that this group will be forced to go out to search for sustenance and support their families. It is expected that the impact of the absence of basic social protection mechanisms in some Arab countries and the non-comprehensive protection systems there will most drastically affect the most vulnerable groups, leaving them lacking the most basic components of resilience during this pandemic. In conjunction with the World Health Organization’s announcement on March 11 of the outbreak of the “COVID-19” pandemic, Arab and international organizations have called on the government of Algeria to put in place social and health protection frameworks for affected groups.
How have Algerian youth and civil society organizations responded to this crisis?
Non-governmental initiatives to address the dangerous situation were not limited to researchers only, but have gone beyond that in order to reach the general public. Activists have taken the initiative to organize various public gatherings such as the long lines in front of post offices during the distribution of salaries and pensions by directing people to respect safe physical distancing.
Further, in light of current circumstances, a group of Algerian youth have launched the “Volunteers in the Service of the Country, United against Coronavirus” initiative to assist the authorities in confronting Coronavirus, and to support and implement measures developed by the authorities. Algerian civil society organizations are devoting their work to promoting a spirit of responsibility and solidarity among the population, offering a helping hand and assistance to them, and cooperating with government agencies to meet the needs of vulnerable groups. In the opinion of Algerian human and labor organizations, the Coronavirus crisis “necessitates a review of Algeria’s economic options, as well as the need to diversify its partners abroad.”