Story | 04 Jun, 2020

Effect of COVID-19 on organizations working on environment, and associated strategies

CEESP News: by Venkat Ramakrishnan*

A study was undertaken to find out how organisations working on environmental protection are handling the Covid-19 situation. This report by Venkat Ramakrishnan details the points that emerged out of the study. These can be used to shape policies and actions by various governments and organisations that are working on handling the Covid-19 situation.

Background of the organisations included in study:

Plastic addiction and waste mismanagement are condemning countless marine birds and animals to death by entanglement or poisoning, and even leading to chemical contamination of the fish we eat. The organization Social Development International, Cameroon (SODEIT) is working with the community of Tiko, Cameroon coastal and beach towns inhabitants to fight against pollution through raising community awareness, educating children, training for local recyclers, clean-up activities, as well as empowering local leaders and environmental groups to take over these responsibilities.

River Research Center (RRC), in Thrissur, India,  views the river basin as the basic geographic, cultural, social and ecological unit for any development. Most of the present problems related to water scarcity, inequity in sharing natural resources, conflicts over resource use, and exploitation of natural resources is due to the lack of holistic vision of a participatory river basin level resources conservation, development and management. Their mission is to try to understand the present scenario of river basin level resources development and management being followed, its inherent flaws and goodness, analyze the problems and possible consequences, evolve corrective measures through research-based campaigns and advocacy, intervene at the policy level, and help people to take the right decisions on the long term sustenance of their river basins to avoid further degradation.

Bangladesh Environment And Development Society (BEDS), Khulna, Bangladesh, is working on environment and development projects in Bangladesh. One of its goals is to create 10 hectares mangrove buffer zone through 100,000 mangrove plantation and regeneration together with local people for protecting the coastal life and livelihood. Once there were plenty of mangroves in the periphery of Sundarbans. But this mangrove has been mainly destroyed by human activities. The coastal people have been suffering a lot such from river bank erosion, flood, cyclone, etc. due to the drastic reduction of the mangroves from the Sundarbans periphery.

Effect of COVID-19 on organisations working on environment, and the associated strategiesPhoto: Reef Check, Malaysia

Reef Check Malaysia works to conserve Malaysia's ocean and marine ecosystems. Malaysia is part of the Coral Triangle, home to more than 75% of the world's coral species. Its projects and teams are based in 3 locations in Malaysia: Tioman Island, Mersing group of islands, and Mantanani Island, where they work with the local communities to look after the marine resources.



Photo: Sea divers inspecting coral areas in the work done by Reef Check, Malaysia

Areas of Study and Findings

The study included six key areas of study, and the findings are as below.

(I) The direct impact of coronavirus on communities

In most parts of the world, the community work has completely stopped or severely affected. Most of the communities are worried not about the virus, but about their food and livelihood because they are daily-wagers and live on day-to-day survival. There is no access to essentials, food, and income.

(II) Steps taken by the organisation to continue doing their work

Although the organisations cannot do their project work on the ground, they have been working on strategy and other ways of preparations so that they can get back on track when the situation improves.  I enquired a few organisations on what they are doing at this point of time. Here are the inputs.

Bangladesh Environment And Development Society, Khulna, Bangladesh:

  • Organisation staff working from home and continue to support the communities through phone and any other ways possible
  • Share online documents through Facebook groups
  • Communication between leads and leaders through Zoom, Skype, etc.

Reef Check, Malaysia

  • Administration and strategy work

Social Development International, Cameroon:

  • Emergency services

River Research Centre, Thrissur, India:

  • Trying to bootstrap the work done by the target audience, although it is pretty difficult
  • Providing money to the target audience so that they can get out of livelihood issues

(III) Support that the organisations are receiving from donors, patrons, government, and other organisations to continue to do their work

River Research Centre, Thrissur, India:

  • Staff & vehicle support by government departments

Reef Check, Malaysia:

  • Emergency food relief
  • Funds by NGOs
  • Donors are helping a lot by being flexible in the usage of budgets and donating more

Bangladesh Environment And Development Society, Khulna, Bangladesh:

  • Agro-farming support by donors

Social Development International, Cameroon:

  • Over 500 people in general public have enrolled for volunteer support

(IV) Key things that will help in addressing the situation

River Research Centre, Thrissur, India:

  • Support for distribution of essentials
  • Government funds for job creation
  • Support of self-help groups for migrant workers who have returned to their villages
  • Medium and Small-Medium enterprises support for small scale production of locally available resources/foods/crafts

Bangladesh Environment And Development Society, Khulna, Bangladesh:

  • Ensuring food security, essentials
  • Job creation for the village people
  • Enabling increase in agricultural production, which will support villages and remote areas

Reef Check, Malaysia:

  • Money to handle operational costs, essential health and livelihood projects
  • Urgent training in alternate life-skills, so that people who were dependent on mass community activities can move on to other work

Effect of COVID-19 on organizations working on environment, and the associated strategiesPhoto: Bangladesh Environment and Development Society
(V) Thoughts on how helping humans handle Covid-19 will help protecting the environment?

What would be the balance between human livelihood and well-being, and environment protection?

Would human greed take over and become adverse to environment?


Photo: Mangrove trees plantation in Sundarbans area of Bangladesh. Photo by Bangladesh Environment and Development Society

The organisations shared the following points as direct impediments to the environment:

River Research Centre, Thrissur, India:

  • Risk of overuse of plastics & disposables
  • Throwing away of sanitary napkins
  • Mobile & upwardly classes are the greatest risk to environment because of carbon footprint. Urban living policy changes need to come.

Reef Check, Malaysia:

  • Ocean plastic pollution

Social Development International, Cameroon:

  • Littering
  • Over-fishing and destructive fishing

Effect of COVID-19 on organisations working on environment, and the associated strategiesPhoto: River Research Centre
(VI) Recommendations


Here is a summary of the recommendations that the organisations that I interacted with, came up with.  These are most commonly found requirements, and should help in governments and policy-making bodies to focus their efforts on, irrespective of geographies and countries.


Photo: Bamboo work by the community supported by River Research Centre, Thrissur, India

River Research Centre, Thrissur, India:

  • Eating locally grown foods such as greens and tubers instead of increasing dependency on packaged food
  • Traditional skills such as basket or broom weaving could be linked to emerging online markets
  • Rare foods that can be sun dried or value added in some manner through offering training to women’s groups that are interested
  • Sanitary cups instead of napkins
  • Focus on planting trees instead of getting rid of weeds
  • Rethink conservation strategies and include alternative ways for community involvement in environmental, social, and economic resilience

Social Development International, Cameroon:

  • Donor and Funding Community must step up to support Charity organizations, Otherwise, Charities will close and may find it difficult to reopen after the crisis. That's an impact (negative) on locals and their communities

Bangladesh Environment And Development Society, Khulna, Bangladesh:

  • Not only coronavirus, we need to vigilant about natural disasters happening, and take necessary preparedness activities



Through this study, I found that, in the Covid-19 situation, and possibly in any other similar situation involving remote areas and community work involving environment:

  • Local and immediate assistance and economics work better than long-haul or remote help
  • Electronic gadgets and Internet-based applications don’t help that much to be in direct touch with the target audience, although they are a necessity to be in touch with community leaders, organisation leads, and mentors
  • Money is not directly useful to target audience in remote areas, but definitely helpful in transportation, job creation, and supporting the NGOs doing the grass-root level work
  • Immediate priorities are food, essentials, alternate job training and opportunities, and relief-related things
  • Long-term priorities would be to move to natural methods, alternate livelihood, and locally supported communities


Conservation Through Private Initiative: A Case Study
 of the Western Ghats, India       Photo: Venkat Ramakrishnan
* A Software Technologist by profession, Venkat Ramakrishnan is an individual with deep interest in bio-diversity, environment, co-existence of humans and various species, and environment-friendly economic sustenance. Venkat currently mentors several projects around the world which work on biodiversity, helping them fund-raise through crowd-funding. At free times, Venkat tries to learns Spanish and Swahili, authors books, writes poems, and composes music. Venkat can be reached here.