From 18th to 24th October 2020, UNDP Sierra Leone joined the United Nations Country Teams (UNCTs) from Sierra Leone and Liberia to jointly conduct a week-long simulations exercise at the Jendema/Bo Waterside Border. Facilitated by the Mano River Union, UNDP’s support to the border exercise has come timely to assess Covid-19 gaps that could hinder the realization of the rights of citizens especially women who are mostly involved in trade along the Liberia-Sierra Leone Border.
Attracted to the border visit are stakeholders from Liberia and Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health, national and district Covid-19 response structures, MRU Secretariat, and the Joint Border Security Units.
Recognizing member states predictable increased movements after reopening of the border, the rationale for such cross border exercise was to inform operating standards and mitigation measures elusive to ensure safe citizens’ movement amidst trade and economic interactions between the two member states and by extension, in all MRU member states.
In August 2020 MRU and UNDP in collaboration with the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Sierra Leone jointly assessed the Jendema/Bo Waterside Joint Border Unit to get first-hand information from the communities and observe the ground level situation. This assessment brought out challenges and proffered recommendations which are useful to guide possible reopening of the MRU borders.
On the 11th March 2020, the index case in the MRU was confirmed in Ivory Coast followed by Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone respectively. In the wake of these confirmed cases, Governments in member states introduced robust measures which ranged from indefinite ban on religious and social gatherings, to closure of schools and the MRU borders.
Similarly, Government regulations and restrictions on MRU cross borders trade has negatively impacted the lives of citizens in those border communities, especially among women traders who are largely the main source of income for their families and contribute to the economic viability of their communities.
It is against this background that various mission stakeholders from the two countries held discussions and interactive sessions on the Liberia and Sierra Leone border points around specific objectives; to strengthen systems and processes in protecting traders from covid-19 in MRU border areas; assess the simulation screening exercise for Covid-19 at ground level and identify gaps that could hinder the realization of the rights of citizens especially women and girls; monitor the preparedness of the security forces and border guards in addressing rights violations issues in the border; and promote community awareness on Covid-19 cross border protocols and standards on Covid-19.
Our joint border initiatives builds on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the MRU four UNDP Country Offices in November 2019 for improved collaboration among member states and UNDP within the sub-region and to respond to situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Governments of the MRU slowing relax and ease Covid-19 restrictions, UNDP is committed to collaborate with sister UN agencies, MRU member states and the MRU Secretariat to mobilize resources and direct support to national Government’s bodies and leverage opportunities that adequately enhance border capacity to respond and improve resilience against Covid-19.
Acknowledging challenges experienced during the border closure as a result of the pandemic and anticipated problems associated with border reopening, there is no gain saying that neighborhood watch campaigns, community and enhance surveillance with robust screening and testing of a potential risk traveler at the border crossing points are a priority.
As we ‘come to our feet’ to respond to public health issues at the borders, key messages on Covid-19 should be reinforced, border security enhanced, adequate WASH materials positioned, and border personnel trained on standardized SOPs.
UNDP’s support to the fight against Covid-19 at our borders is consistent and aligned with our 2019 Covid-19 Response Plan aimed at mitigating the spread of the Virus particularly in Sierra Leone and in the MRU countries through the MRU partnership to ensure sub-regional rather than a country-specific approach to not only breaking COVID-19 but to ensuring better preparedness for future shocks and build a shared and holistic recovery post-COVID-19.