COVID Relief Bangkok was established by a coalition of organizations in the face of the devastating health and economic present and future impacts created by COVID-19. The coalition includes SATI Foundation (http://sati.or.th), Scholars of Sustenance (https://www.scholarsofsustenance.org), and Urban Studies Lab (https://www.facebook.com/UrbanStudiesLab), with support from Bangkok 1899 (https://www.facebook.com/Bangkok1899/) and the Thai Health Volunteers Foundation.
The coronavirus has in the space of a few weeks completely transformed our lives, and there is a sense of foreboding that for many, the worst is yet to come. But while some people in Bangkok are able to quarantine themselves at home safely, there are many elderly and low-income households who rely on daily wages to support their families, making social distancing an impossibility. This means coronavirus spread is likely to be highest in our poorest neighborhoods, posing a considerable threat to the lives of many, but especially the elderly and those already suffering from pre-existing conditions.
In the short term, the spread must be slowed down to ease the burden on Thailand’s already overwhelmed public health infrastructure. Long term, considerable economic pain is expected here in Thailand, particularly by households that depend on industries like tourism, which have been, and will continue to be devastated by the impact of COVID-19.
COVID Relief Bangkok has already begun coordinating and implementing a challenging relief effort to distribute masks, soaps, hand sanitizers, and basic foodstuffs to the most vulnerable groups in Bangkok, all whilst maintaining social distancing to avoid increasing the spread of coronavirus. COVID Relief Bangkok uses demographic data to identify and locate the most in-need communities based on age and income, ensuring their efforts are targeted and have the most impact. Over the past month, the effort has supported approximately 1000 households, 4000 people, and 30,000 meals in the Prom Prap, Nanglern, and Bang Khun Tien neighborhoods of Bangkok. In total, we plan to distribute 14,000 supply sets in 3 months, covering approximately 17% of the low-income communities and around 60% of the top-20 most vulnerable sub-districts. However, there is still much work to be done in providing relief to Bangkok's most at-risk communities, as well as planning and coordinating post-crisis recovery.
Urban Studies Lab (USL) and its partners hope to build on the early success of COVID Relief Bangkok by further employing urban analytics and real-time data collection to deliver strategic coordination and data-driven relief to identify vulnerable populations in Bangkok. By integrating spatial data, household information and other important metrics, the data collected will be applied to inform improved access to food, supplies and essential urban services. These efforts are already underway, however to further support and align existing COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts, USL looks to access funding to support the development of a digital platform that helps match goods and services with urgent public needs, as well as improve communication and information sharing with and about Bangkok's most vulnerable communities.
In addition to improved outcomes for immediate relief, this platform will enable better coordination for post-crisis recovery and future disaster management and prevention efforts, leading to improved resilience in Bangkok's urban communities.
How will the platform work?
COVID Relief Bangkok are collecting household level data by administering surveys through the widely used mobile application LINE, as well as physical survey forms attached with distributed supply sets. Currently, the local Thai Health Volunteers and their associated Public Health Centers are acting as mediator for the data collection process. The set of data being collected includes information on general needs, employment status, job sector, access to essential services (water, sanitation, healthcare, education, shelter, internet, etc.), and access to government support.
These household level data will then be paired with existing, publicly available demographic and socio-economic data to create and present a series of interactive online maps. The platform would be developed using OpenStreetMap (OSM) as a basis for data input, and will be used to display different layers of demographic data and needs at the community level.
In the short-term (1-3 months), the platform would act as a demand-supply matching platform for basic food and supplies by providing up-to-date, location specific information on needs, with a dashboard that both communities, aid organizations and government can use to help coordinate various relief efforts.
In the medium-term (3-12 months), COVID Relief Bangkok hopes to expand its services to further help communities get back on their feet. We believe the data gathered can be further analyzed and utilized to help different organizations develop policies and programs for post-COVID recovery. Given the differing needs and contexts of each urban community, the platform can help organizers better understand what types of services are needed where, better matching partner expertise and resources to meet the needs of local residents. These services will range from mental health support, enterprise training, language courses, digital literacy, small-scale business loans, social services administrative support, and others.
In the long-term, the platform and associated maps can be used by residents to support discussions about assets and issues within their neighborhoods. This information can be presented and discussed with others in order to prioritize infrastructure projects, compare neighborhoods, and advocate for specific services or needs using data.
While this platform and pivot has come out of the immediate needs presented by COVID-19, our team sees this as a first step towards developing a long-term program for community development and urban asset management. No such platform currently exists in Bangkok, and while there are many negatives to be drawn from the current crisis, one positive is that it has brought together many motivated organizations and individuals to push towards a better post-COVID world. We believe this platform can play a major part in that effort.