Cross-border traders, mostly women, have been severely impacted by lockdown measures in Rwanda. Photo: UNDP Rwanda

Like many governments across the globe, the Government of Rwanda took early action after the first COVID-19 case was reported mid-March, halting all incoming commercial flights, closing borders and imposing travel and movement restrictions across the country. As an important outbreak management strategy the country was put into lockdown.

While these measures are important to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have had and continue to manifest severe devastating socio-economic effects on the most vulnerable such as day laborers, smallholder farmers, women, youth, rural dwellers, cross-border traders (mostly women), and persons with disabilities. In particular, the lockdown paralyzed all forms of casual livelihoods activities.

In most urban and peri-urban areas, subsistence casual workers have lost their normal employment opportunities. These include cleaners, masons and masonry aids, small vendors/traders, handcraft producers, organized and informal potters, hawkers, cyclists, motor taxis operators and other casual workers in the informal sector remain, most of whom remain with no source of income.

Most of these low-income earners have no social safety nets and no protection against extreme shocks. Ongoing lockdown measures such as the closure of borders have deprived many of them of the opportunity to earn a daily income which in most cases constituted the sole source of revenue for their households. As a result, many of them are currently unable to cater to basic needs such as food, beverage and hygiene items. In terms of cross-border trade, particularly at the Goma and Bukavu borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo, the lockdown has resulted in shortages of basic food items that were being traded mainly by women crossing the borders.

Based on a preliminary socio-economic assessment done by the Government, it is estimated that GDP growth, which was projected at over 8% in 2020, will decline to 3.5% or lower depending on the duration of the crisis. According to a DFID study, the lockdown will reduce earnings/consumption for the most heavily impacted groups by almost 100%. This involves 60% of the population (in both urban and rural areas). According to this analysis, the most heavily impacted groups are not entirely the same as those who suffer from extreme/chronic poverty normally; those reliant on casual wage labour and household enterprises for large portions of their income will be the ones mostly affected.


Mitigation and social protection measures

In the face of this crisis, UNDP, like the Government and other development partners, has been swift to respond. Immediate steps were taken to mobilize additional resources and re-orient portions of the available programme budget towards supporting national efforts to respond to the pandemic while preserving the development gains recorded so far and facilitate smooth recovery. More specifically, UNDP Rwanda is working with partners to support efforts in epidemiological surveillance, infection prevention and control, case management, risk communication and community engagement, and socio-economic support to the most vulnerable. For example, UNDP Rwanda earmarked a portion of its COVID-19 resources to provide financial support and food to 11 residential centers for persons with disabilities (PWDs) and to economic cooperatives established by PWDs. This support was also extended to ex-combatants and UNDP is helping to install handwashing stations and providing PPE in the 8 poorest districts to help these areas resume economic activities.

UNDP has also supported the establishment and operationalization of 14 quarantine centres, training of district health officials, and capacity strengthening of local government authorities and the Rwanda National Police to conduct case tracking and management. PPE and other assistance was also provided to the Rwanda Biomedical Centre to help frontline health workers and non-health personnel combat the pandemic.

Additionally, UNDP is supporting the Rwanda Correction Service which accommodates 75,490 inmates and is among the most populated detention facilities, to put in place Covid-19 preventive measures. The covid-19 infection risk is high for this vulnerable group.


Ngira Nkugire Management System

Another key area of support relates to the Ngira Nkugire management system. Ngira Nkugire is a Kinyarwanda word meaning “Having each other’s back”.

In an attempt to support the Government’s efforts to coordinate and mobilize resources for the poor and most vulnerable, the UNDP Accelerator Lab (AccLab) partnered with the Ministry of Innovation and ICT, the Ministry of Local Government and the City of Kigali to design and operationalize an automated platform that would help identify and register persons affected by the lockdown measures, with the aim to manage and distribute aid during the lockdown, and track delivery and receipt.

Previous consultations with a range of development partners, private sector companies and NGOs had confirmed the need to urgently have a systematized and transparent system to pool resources for social protection and to direct those resources to the vulnerable.  The Ngira Nkugire management system came in handy. Under the overall leadership of the Government, the UNDP AccLab team participated in the technical working group meetings on Ngira Nkugire and provided the funding to develop and operationalize the system. The system is now in use by the Government.


Leaving no one behind

The system will capture the contributions from the private sector and donors and show how these resources were distributed and to whom. This system will be regularly producing snapshots showing the mobilized resources and how the resources are being used daily. It will also enable households that have received support to send an acknowledgement through their mobile phones.

Leaving no one behind calls for a strong and efficient social protection and economic recovery strategy. Within the UN, UNDP is leading the development of the One UN joint programme on social and economic recovery and UNDP and World Bank co-chair the broader development partner group on social and economic assessments and recovery planning to support the country undertake a multi-sector, multi-dimensional analysis of the impacts of the pandemic.

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