Traditional and modern ways to approach COVID-19 in Algeria

Posted On June 15, 2020

Image: LN.Vector pattern/


COVID-19 has seemingly re-written global rules spanning social, economic, political and environmental spheres of influence. No country or region has been spared from the effects of the pandemic. In Algeria, as elsewhere, many of these second- and third-tier effects are only just beginning to be grasped.

This is where UNDP’s Accelerator Lab Network comes in, as we are trying to understand unmet needs and solutions bubbling from the grassroots. The process starts by seeking out knowledge from different sources. By creating space to understand and reflect, it helps the Labs assemble a broader picture of the systems changing in real time. From reflection, we look to where, and how, action can be taken in order to help shape a better, more equitable and more sustainable future.

In Algeria, there is an interesting dynamic emerging of modern and traditional solutions deployed to prepare, respond and recover from COVID-19. Along with the real and life-threatening nature of the global pandemic, we are witnessing simultaneous transformational changes to e-commerce in economies. At the same time, in villages across the country many communities are using their traditional bonds and community structures to help defend against the spread of the disease.

Supply chain critical elements are being shaped by the democratization of delivery services. Government support of e-payments are evolving rapidly to meet citizens’ demand.

Algeria is a cash-based society. With the exception of things such as travel insurance, phone credit refills and remote bill payments we don’t use electronic payment that much. To adapt to the Algerian market, ridesharing, delivery services and marketplace merchants accept cash.

“There will be technical challenges, legal, fiscal and regulatory burdens. However, this did not stop young entrepreneurs to be frugal innovators and use cash as an alternative in e-payment,” Says Zaki Allah, a doctor and entrepreneur.

Transformational changes are not only limited to digital responses. In a village called Tifilkout, 162 kilometres from Algiers, people went into a voluntary confinement to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect their people. A crisis unit called “COVID-19 Tifilkout” was formed to prepare and manage the confinement, led by civil society and “Tajmaat”, the ancestral village assembly that usually organize, among other things, traditional celebrations, volunteering, for the cleaning and beautification of village, and fundraising for the poor and sick.

Amel Mohandi, a journalist from Tifilkout explained to me how the ancestral tradition of wise men played a key role in responding quickly to the pandemic. The “COVID-19 Tifilkout” crisis unit prepared for the confinement with food supplies, gas and goods, organized outreach campaigns to each house, placed soap dispensers by each water fountain of the village, appointed a group of volunteers to stand by each access point of the village and sanitize the cars coming from outside. Tifilkout also has a health unit and an ambulance, donated by the diaspora of the village.

While protection remain essential, the crisis unit solicited local tailors to make fabric masks. Last but not least, to limit the movement of persons and practice social distancing, a group of volunteers was dedicated to make the rounds to take regular delivery orders from households.

Not all initiatives were welcomed. Protection measures also banned any funeral ceremonies. When an elder in Algiers died of natural causes, her burial in Tifilkout had to take place without a ceremony. It was a big challenge for the crisis unit to convince the residents to not attend, given their strong cultural rituals and spirit of community solidarity.

Amel further explained this kind of collective action was funded by money previously collected during Tifilkout’s village festival, an annual event attended by inhabitants to celebrate together.

So far, no cases have been registered in Tifilkout.

Is there a blueprint to learn from Tifilkout in building resilient community structures that help provide social protection measures beyond government?

When it comes to COVID-19, we are witnessing unprecedented changes in Algeria and beyond. Solutions and adaptation are coming to the forefront in a variety of ways, old and new. I personally can’t wait to visit Tifilkout, when possible, to witness this community and their grassroots knowledge. While the public health emergency response to COVID-19 is immediate, we continue to learn more about the needs and challenges that lie ahead of us in the coming months and years. It is important to continue mapping solutions to these changes which help protect lives, livelihoods and cultures.

We’ll keep you posted!