Khun Anchana Heemmina heads the civil society organization Duay Jai Group in Thailand. Covid-19 has had major consequences for vulnerable groups in Asia and the Pacific. Photo: Anchana Heemmina

Interview

Swedish development cooperation in Asia and the Pacific one year after the outbreak of the pandemic

More than a year has now passed since the covid-19 pandemic broke out. Utvecklingsmagasinet has met Åsa Hedén, head of the development section at the Swedish embassy in Bangkok, to hear how their work in the region has been affected by the pandemic and what they have learned a year later.

At the Swedish Embassy in Bangkok, Åsa Hedén works with colleagues in the development section to implement Sida's regional strategy for Asia and the Pacific. Like many other actors, the team has had to adjust its work in the waves of the pandemic. Meetings and field visits have become digital, which has been challenging, but the embassy has received good support in its work.

Åsa Hedén, head of the development section of the embassy in Bangkok. Photo: Private

- Sida went out early with amended directives and had a great understanding that planned activities might need to be changed. That flexibility was appreciated by our partner organizations, says Åsa Hedén.

The Embassy's partner organizations range from smaller civil society organizations to major actors such as UN Women and the International Labor Organization (ILO). Many have redirected their work to address the consequences of the pandemic. Activities have been launched around everything from the prevention of violence against women to the dissemination of accurate information about covid-19. The embassy has also received an extra 100 million from the government to be used to address the consequences of covid-19 for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The section is therefore currently working intensively to distribute this money to the right initiative. 

Already vulnerable groups have been hit hard

The consequences of the pandemic have been devastating for many groups in the region. UN Women, one of the embassy's partners, claims that violence against women is one shadow pandemic which occurred in the wake of covid-19. The embassy has provided extra support to women's civil society organizations so that they, in turn, have been able to do a lot more about this issue. But migrant workers, indigenous peoples and people with functional variations are also groups that have been hit hard by the pandemic.

These groups have been exposed before, with repeated human rights violations and a shrinking space for civil society. But while the situation has worsened sharply during the pandemic, this problem has also been highlighted in a way that has not happened before. Åsa Hedén therefore has mixed feelings about the region's development after the pandemic.

- In Cambodia, it is now seen that poverty levels have risen and will not return to previous levels for several years. Unfortunately, I think that will be the case in many parts of this region. But there are also areas where people have become more aware of the link between environment and health, for example, and have gained a better understanding of the situation of vulnerable groups. This holistic picture of development cooperation is a step in the right direction. It is a mixed picture quite simply, says Åsa Hedén.

Finally, Åsa Hedén points to the difficulty of drawing broad conclusions about a region that is extremely large and varied. But she is pleased with how the embassy's partner organizations have managed to change during the pandemic.

- I am very proud of our partner organizations that have managed to keep the business going despite all the challenges.

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