Working remotely through COVID-19: Protecting our most vulnerable

Working remotely through COVID-19: Protecting our most vulnerable

Global restrictions that have been imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic have created many challenges around continuity of work.

For our team working in the international humanitarian sector, the most difficult one has been working quickly to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable people through disaster planning.

In 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya people fled their home country of Myanmar to escape the horrific ethnic cleansing they faced for being Muslim. They settled in the southeast of Bangladesh, joining 250,000 Rohingya already living there. Now, more than one million Rohingya inhabit the largest refugee camp in the world, with no sign of a return home in the near future.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is concerned about the impact that a natural disaster might have on the settlement. The area where the camp is located is particularly prone to natural disasters. Bapon Fakhruddin, Tonkin + Taylor’s (T+T) Natural Hazards and Disaster Risk Resilience expert, and his team worked with UNDP to develop a disaster impact model. The aim of this model was to understand the number of people that might be affected in a cyclone and what level of damage might occur. Our team modelled cyclones for different categories, including a Category 4, and the models included possible cyclone-caused land slips and storm surges from the ocean. This data helps UNDP to look at ways to be better prepared, reducing the impact through different disaster resilience strategies.

This project was completed in March 2020. The timing of the project was challenging due to the different restrictions that were imposed across countries in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Because of these restrictions, we were unable to complete site visits or in-person presentations.

However, our team still worked remotely to meet the project’s deadline, presenting results and recommendations online. Time zone considerations were a big factor to manage when setting up meetings, as meeting times had to suit everybody without being at unearthly hours.

Our T+T Disaster Risk Resilience team worked in unprecedented conditions to get the project completed on time. UNDP noted our efforts, saying “Many thanks for all the hard work put in. It has been challenging for all of us in different locations and having not been able to meet you in person. Thank you for your excellent piece of work and looking forward to working together again.”