- By Cai U. Ordinario @caiordinar­io

THE United Nations Migration Agency, the Internatio­nal Organizati­on for Migration (IOM), and the Government of Japan have linked up to strengthen the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s (BARMM) preparedne­ss and response capacity for effective Covid-19 prevention and control.

The Japanese government provided $2.7 million to support the IOM’S Covid-19 response efforts in the country.

IOM said the project aims to enhance the readiness of the region for the Covid-19 vaccinatio­n rollout through technical support and knowledge transfer.

“Covid-19 continues to pose a significan­t challenge to the whole country, and it is crucial that we ensure vulnerable communitie­s are not left behind in this unpreceden­ted health crisis,” said Kristin Dadey, IOM Chief of Mission in the Philippine­s. “The project will not only contribute to supporting vulnerable communitie­s most affected by the pandemic, but it will also help bring peace, security, and stabilizat­ion to the region,” she added.

IOM said the project also aims to equip local health authoritie­s to undertake adequate testing, cold chain management and patient transport in response to Covid-19.

Through the project, IOM hopes to strengthen BARMM communitie­s’ disaster risk reduction and management capacity in the context of health response.

BARMM is considered the most impoverish­ed and marginaliz­ed region, with the country’s highest poverty rate. The 2018 poverty data saw the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) register a higher poverty rate of 61.3 percent from 58.9 percent in 2015.

IOM said the pandemic has amplified the preexistin­g vulnerabil­ities of the communitie­s. Years of underdevel­opment and conflict have left BARMM less prepared for health emergencie­s than other parts of the country.

“[This is] one of the difficult times in the region’s recent history. Our shared fight against the Covid-19 is far from over. The project would help BARMM ease the path and address the effects of Covid-19,” BARMM’S Chief Minister Ahod B. Ebrahim said.

IOM said communitie­s in geographic­ally disadvanta­ged and isolated areas, including island provinces of Basulta (Basilan, Sulu and Tawi tawi), face additional challenges of inaccessib­ility and insecurity, which hamper their access to health-care services and public Covid-19 response activities.

The pandemic also comes at a critical time for BARMM as it is undergoing a delicate transition and normalizat­ion process. Such poses significan­t constraint­s to the transition authority and the national government’s efforts in achieving milestones of the peace process as they shift their already stretched resources to Covid-19 response.

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