Despite lower number of COVID-19 cases, BARMM still impacted by COVID-19 — UNDP report

Published April 23, 2021, 5:00 PM

by Roy Mabasa

Despite fewer coronavirus cases last year, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is experiencing a disproportionate impact of the pandemic in terms of its socio-economic development and in aggravating existing and emerging vulnerabilities in the region, according to the recently-released report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Philippines.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

According to UNDP’s Socioeconomic Impact Assessment, around 53.5 percent of respondents interviewed indicated that their livelihoods or business were affected by the restrictions.

It further noted that the informal sector—many of whom are women—were among the hardest hit by the pandemic because of work stoppages. The findings also highlighted the impact of the pandemic in BARMM beyond income, such as on health, education, and food security.

During the presentation of the assessment, BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim said the report is extremely helpful to make sure that the region will truly surpass the current situation and restore public health and economy to normal.

“The government of the Bangsamoro is working tirelessly to make sure that no Bangsamoro is left behind. The launch is symbolic towards our joint efforts in revitalizing our economy and allowing its growth to trickle down to every Bangsamoro household,” Ebrahim remarked in his keynote address.

The UNDP assessment was commissioned by the Bangsamoro Planning and Development Authority (BPDA) and supported by the Embassy of Japan in the Philippines. It was recently launched in Cotabato City in the presence of BARMM Interim Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim, United Nations Resident Coordinator Gustavo Gonzalez, members of the diplomatic corps, and representatives from local governments and community-based organizations.

Bangsamoro Region, the report noted, is among the regions in the country that managed and contained the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Despite government measures that deterred the virus from spreading, the indirect impacts associated with the restrictions in mobility have affected the lives and livelihoods of many, including the most vulnerable groups, the UNDP report said.

Before the pandemic, BARMM registered a 5.9 percent gross regional domestic product growth in 2019 and was enjoying steady economic gains before 2020.

In explaining the report, UNDP Philippines Resident Representative Dr. Selva Ramachandran noted the importance of identifying and documenting the impact of the pandemic to those who are facing high levels of vulnerabilities and to understand how the pandemic is affecting the region that has already elevated risks of conflict, instability, insecurity, violence and population displacement.

“It is within this framework that UNDP in collaboration with BPDA conducted the assessment to generate insights that could inform the regional recovery planning,” she said.

Japanese Ambassador Koshikawa Kazuhiko explained that the outcome of the assessment would be a big push to BARMM’s recovery efforts, citing the need to recalibrate strategies to “rise over and above our current challenges.”

“The fast way to go is to carefully identify the socioeconomic fallouts of COVID-19 and match them with policy recommendations, which are evidence-based and pragmatic. This report sheds light on the real plight of the locals, which might have been otherwise overlooked by our existing efforts,” the Japanese envoy said.

Aside from identifying the hardest-hit sectors in BARMM, the assessment also examined the policy and program responses of the BARMM Government to the crisis and provided policy recommendations to support the government’s transition and push towards achieving an inclusive, resilient, and sustainable development.