UN launches US$2 billion global humanitarian response to fight COVID-19

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on 25 March launched a US$2 billion coordinated global humanitarian response plan to fund the fight against COVID-19 across South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

The launch was held virtually in UN headquarters in New York, with the Secretary-General being joined by the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

According to the UN, COVID-19 has killed more than 16,000 people worldwide, and there are nearly 400,000 reported cases.

It has gained a foothold across the globe and is now reaching countries that were already facing humanitarian crisis because of conflict, natural disasters and climate change, it said.

The humanitarian response plan is to be implemented by UN agencies, with international NGOs and NGO consortia playing a direct role in the response.

According to the UN, the plan will deliver essential laboratory equipment to test for the virus, and medical supplies to treat people; install hand-washing stations in camps and settlements; launch public information campaigns on how to protect yourself and others from the virus; and establish air-bridges and hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America to move humanitarian workers and supplies to where they are needed most.

In his opening remarks at the launch of the global humanitarian response plan, Mr. Guterres said that the world faces an unprecedented threat.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly covered the globe. It has spread suffering, disrupted billions of lives and endangered the global economy. COVID-19 is menacing the whole of humanity – and so the whole of humanity must fight back. Individual country responses are not going to be enough.”

Wealthy countries with strong health systems are buckling under the pressure, he said, adding that the virus is now arriving in countries already in the midst of humanitarian crises caused by conflicts, natural disasters and climate change.

These are places where people who have been forced to flee their homes because of bombs, violence or floods are living under plastic sheets in fields or crammed into refugee camps or informal settlements.

“They do not have homes in which to socially distance or self-isolate. They lack clean water and soap with which to do that most basic act of self-protection against the virus – washing their hands,” he said.

“We must come to the aid of the ultra-vulnerable – millions upon millions of people who are least able to protect themselves,” the Secretary-General emphasized. “This is a matter of basic human solidarity. It is also crucial for combating the virus.”

“The world is only as strong as our weakest health system. If we do not act decisively now, I fear the virus will establish a foothold in the most fragile countries, leaving the whole world vulnerable as it continues to circle the planet, paying no mind to borders,” said Mr. Guterres.

“We need to act now to stem the impact of COVID-19 in already vulnerable humanitarian contexts. And we need to maintain support for existing humanitarian response plans on which 100 million people depend.”

If such funding is diverted, the consequences could be catastrophic: the further spread of cholera, measles and meningitis; greater levels of child malnutrition; and a blow to the ability of these countries to combat the virus, he warned.

“Let us do everything we can to prevent COVID-19 from wreaking havoc in places with limited healthcare capacity and resilience,” said Guterres.

In his opening remarks, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General, said that the pandemic has accelerated over the last two weeks and while COVID-19 is a threat to people everywhere, what’s most worrying is the danger the virus poses to people already affected by crisis.

“People and communities that are already uprooted due to conflict, displacement, the climate crisis or other disease outbreaks are the ones we must urgently prioritize. Despite their resilience they do need our help today and this new plan lays out what has to happen right now, in order to save lives and slow the spread of this virus.”

According to Dr. Tedros, the new Global Humanitarian Response Plan sets a six-point action plan for how to prepare and respond to this emergency.

First, the public must be effectively prepared for the critical measures that are needed to help suppress the spread and protect vulnerable groups, like the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

Second, surveillance and lab testing must be ramped up so that those with the virus can be identified quickly and isolated safely – helping to break the chains of transmission.

Third, treatment must be prioritized for those at highest risk of severe illness.

Fourth, transmission must be slowed, suppressed and stopped to reduce the burden on health care facilities. This means safe hand washing; testing, isolating cases, and contact tracing; encouraging community-level physical distancing; and the suspension of mass gatherings and international travel.

“For many on our planet following even this basic advice is a struggle but we as a global community must strive to make it possible,” said Dr. Tedros.

“Fifth, we’re building the ship as we sail and it’s critical that we continue to share learnings and innovations so that we can improve surveillance, prevention, and treatment. And ensure equitable access for the poorest to all R&D breakthroughs.

“And finally, we need to protect the health and humanitarian supply chain so that our front-line workers are protected and able to travel freely as they give lifesaving care.”

“Our message to all countries is clear: heed this warning now, back this plan politically and financially today and we can save lives and slow the spread of this pandemic. History will judge us on how we responded to the poorest communities in their darkest hour,” said the WHO Director-General.

In her opening remarks, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said that in just a few months, COVID-19 has upended the lives of children around the world.

Hundreds of millions are not in school. Parents and caregivers have lost their jobs and borders have been closed.

“Children are the hidden victims of this pandemic and we’re worried about its short- and long-term impacts on their health, well-being, development and prospects.”

Ms. Fore said that UNICEF alone is appealing for US$405 million for its response in emergency countries.

“We are also seeking an additional US$246.6 million for our response in non-emergency countries. So our total appeal is for US$651.6 million,” she added.

In his remarks, Mark Lowcock, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan is a joint effort.

It will address the immediate humanitarian consequences of this pandemic in countries which already face other humanitarian crises across South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

“We know the virus is now arriving in some of the places least equipped to deal with it. Once there it will undoubtedly hit the most vulnerable hardest – including women, older people, people with disabilities, and refugees, migrants and displaced people,” said Mr. Lowcock.

In Africa – Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia have already confirmed their first cases.

The virus is starting to spread across the continent despite efforts by governments and society to hold it back. In the Middle East, the first case in Syria has been reported.

“To kick-start the response plan, I am releasing an additional US$60 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund,” he said.

This new allocation of the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) – which is one of the largest ever made – will support movement of aid workers and supplies, the protection of those most affected by the pandemic and additional water, health and sanitation services.

This allocation brings the CERF’s support for humanitarian action in response to the pandemic to US$75 million.

“Through the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan, we can prevent the disease from getting a foothold in places with limited healthcare capacity and very little resilience,” said Mr. Lowcock.

By Kanaga Raja.

Source: TWN Info Service on Health, Sustainable Development, Third World Network, 26 March 2020.