Poto: UNDP-GEF SGP, Colombia

IKI support for indigenous groups in coping with COVID-19

Confronted with the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, the world is now facing the greatest health, economic and social challenge in the recent times. For communities living in “indigenous peoples and community conserved territories and areas” (ICCAs), COVID-19 poses grave health threats since they already experience lack of access to healthcare, essential services, sanitation and other key preventive measures, and have significantly higher rates of communicable and non-communicable diseases.

Moreover, the communities’ traditional lifestyles that are a source of their resiliency, entail large gatherings that is a challenge at this time in preventing the virus spread. As lockdowns continue in many countries, they are confronted with significant challenges in access to food, thus exacerbating food insecurity and chronic poverty already faced by many.

What does ICCAs mean?

ICCAs stands for "indigenous peoples and community conserved territories and areas". Find out more on the website of the ICCA Consortium

Hygiene products and closed borders as first protection measures

As a response to communities’ urgent requests for personal protective equipment (PPE) and hygienic and sanitation products to prevent infections, the IKI project Global Support Initiative to indigenous peoples and community conserved territories and areas (ICCA-GSI) distributed masks, sanitizers, soaps and disinfecting/cleaning products to the project sites.

Many indigenous communities also closed their borders and enforced restrictions on mobility and group gatherings inside their territories to help prevent the spread of the virus. These, however, have negatively affected food supply and their livelihoods, and created awareness gaps on the pandemic amongst the indigenous communities.

Below are some examples of ICCA-GSI’s on-going responses across regions from Belize, Ecuador, Malaysia and Senegal.


Food security and livelihoods

In Malaysia, while some indigenous communities had abundant supplies of produce with no buyers due to the shutdowns, other communities faced notable food shortages. As such, local project partners (i.e. Non-Government organizations (NGOs), Community-Based Organizations (CBOs), indigenous organizations) were linked, and together they purchased produce from the communities with ‘abundant supply’ and distributed them to communities facing food shortages.

Despite the low number of COVID-19 cases (a total of 18 cases and 2 deaths) in Belize, the concurrence of shutdowns, rainy season (that commenced in June) and devasting wildfires required emergency support in rural and remote indigenous communities in the central, north and southern regions. Food packages including flour, rice, beans, milk, cooking oil, etc. were distributed to provide immediate access to food. Furthermore, to generate livelihood options, create resilience and mitigate biodiversity losses, budget reallocations were prioritized for establishing indigenous seed banks, agroforestry and agroecological activities.

Similarly, in Senegal, food and agricultural supplies (seeds and equipment) were distributed to several communities to address immediate food needs and guarantee subsistence agriculture. The project has also coordinated food distribution systems between village leaders and the government, particularly in the Oulolo communities located in the Sédhiou region, where government food aid does not reach everyone.

In Ecuador, a food autonomy plan ‘strengthening food sovereignty’ was developed in Waorani territories, based on community capacities and food traditions (i.e. biocultural groves and diversified orchards); and in the Kichwa Native Village of Sarayaku, communities  are rediscovering natural medicines to strengthen the respiratory and immune system.

NGO member distributes food to indigenous communities in need. Photo: UNDP-GEF SGP, Malaysia

Further webstories

UNDP has published further impressions and reports on how local and indigenous groups worldwide are coping with the consequences of the COVID 19 pandemic.

Find out more  ...

Narrowing awareness gaps on COVID-19

Young people reading COVID-19 information cards in wao tededo. Photo: UNDP-GEF SGP, Ecuador

Due to communities´ isolation, the guidelines and preventive measures established at national or regional levels do not reach many of them. As such, awareness raising campaigns were held through culturally relevant channels and COVID-19 communication materials developed in local language.

In Ecuador, such initiatives are exemplified by three indigenous groups in the Amazonian region. In the Waorani territories, a prevention guide in Waorani dialect was developed and disseminated to 54 communities in the ICCA. These included a series of protocols, community trainings, videos and radio programs on the impacts of COVID-19, with extra focus on the elderly who are more compromised, and the importance of quarantining. Similarly, in Shuar Arutam Village, guidelines were distributed through the community media “The Voice of the Live Waterfalls” in the local dialect; and in the Kichwa Native Village of Sarayaku, health protocols and evacuation logistics for health emergencies was shared in Spanish and kichwa via online meetings and distribution of prevention cards.

Coordination of efforts between external organizations and indigenous communities amidst the pandemic

The project also enabled the coordination of efforts between the ICCA communities and local government officials, CSOs, private sector and national/regional indigenous organizations in securing banned entry/exit points and logistics of food transport. Together, they identified vulnerable entry and exit points, organized management committees in strategic points and ensured sufficient food availability to refrain community members from leaving their territories. Governing councils also requested food suppliers to bring deliveries closer to the territories.
These efforts were supplemented according to the various needs in each ICCA. For example, the Waorani territories are surrounded by various entities, including oil companies who are still operating amidst the pandemic. Here, village leaders worked with the companies to limit the entries of private sector personnel to essential workers.


Header photo: UNDP-GEF SGP, Colombia

Coordination of efforts between external organisations and indigenous communities amidst the pandemic. Photo: UNDP-GEF SGP, Ecuador