When COVID-19 made it to one of our longest-standing partner communities, Guindacpan in Talibon, Bohol, in August, no-one was prepared for what would happen next. In a desperate measure to contain the further spread to vulnerable coastal villages, local authorities locked down the island barangay (village), restricting all access onto or off the island. Police and the Coast Guard were deployed to enforce the restrictions, and people were not allowed out of their houses. Already reeling from the death of a key member of the community, the villagers quickly had to work out how they would survive on an island that does not have it’s own source of fresh drinking water or food. The local authorities did their best to provide food and water supply, but severely stretched by the pandemic and with very limited resources, this was never going to be enough.
Unfortunately it is not the first time that we have experienced having to try our hands at disaster response. The Bohol Earthquake and Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 both hit our partner communities, forcing us to quickly reverse supply chains in order to deliver essential aid. But this time was different. It was not physical challenges of broken roads and collapsed buildings that stood in our way, but an invisible disease and proper quarantine measures and equipment required to make deliveries. In the end, we managed to organise three deliveries of drinking water to each of the 575 families on the island. The response of the community was overwhelming.
The pandemic is driving home the urgency of supporting small-scale fishers to upscale their seaweed production. Under normal circumstances, fishers would sell the small quantity of fish that they manage to catch during a night time of fishing for enough cash to buy in sufficient inferior quality products to feed their family. However, with restricted access to wet markets, the price of fish has halved whilst the cost of commodities has increased, making this formula impossible to sustain. Meanwhile, the price of seaweed has been largely unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and dried seaweeds do not have the urgency to reach market as fresh fish.
Sixteen of our earliest ecological seaweed farming adopters are located in Guindacpan. Unfortunately most of these farmers lost their crops because of the six week lockdown. Seaweed needs regular tending, so their seaweeds simply overgrew and broke off or died before they were allowed back out. However, whilst this loss is significant it is possible to claim against insurance that we support seaweed farmers to enrol in, something that cannot be done for lost fishing time. Now we are aware of the possibility of such lockdowns we have been working with authorities to put in place contingency plans should movement be so restricted, particularly by “buddying up” between nearby communities in our network. This means any such loss in future will be mitigated. However, the threat of such outbreaks and associated lockdowns looms large in everyones mind, and for now we just have to pray that it does not come again.