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Humanitarian workers reiterate need for support to the most vulnerable during COVID-19 pandemic

20 Mar 2020


A Venezuelan doctor educates refugees and locals in a community in Ecuador on the prevention of the coronavirus. Credit: UNHCR/Jaime Gimenez

As the global humanitarian response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues, UN assistance remains critical for the 100 million people living in emergency situations, OCHA Spokesperson Jens Laerke underscored today at a press briefing in Geneva.

“The humanitarian imperative is to keep getting life-saving help out to these people, while taking action to avoid the catastrophic impact COVID-19 could have on them,” Mr. Laerke said.

Many of these people live in cramped conditions and have limited or no access to proper sanitation or basic health services. As the virus reaches these places, the consequences could be devastating, the spokesperson stressed.

“To stop COVID-19 anywhere, it must be stopped everywhere. If we do not break the transmission worldwide, the virus could cycle back to countries who thought they were safe,” Mr. Laerke said. 

“Maintaining the global humanitarian response is an act of global solidarity. It is also an act of enlightened self-interest,” he added.

Relief agencies are concerned about limited surveillance systems in countries with large numbers of vulnerable people. Countries may not have the required infrastructure to deal with a large-scale impact of the pandemic, the spokesperson said.

He noted that the additional burden of COVID-19 could also mean that other current outbreaks, such as cholera, measles or yellow fever, receive less attention.

In addition, he said that disrupted supply chains could mean that nutrition products to fight malnutrition produced in one country may not get to the country where it is needed.

OCHA and its partners are working to help raise awareness about how people can protect themselves and others from the virus. The spokesperson said that precautions are being taken to ensure the safety of staff and the people being served.

UN agencies are currently assessing where humanitarian operations are being disrupted and identifying solutions. They are also working on a global humanitarian response plan, Mr. Laerke said.

The UN Central Emergency Response Fund released US$15 million earlier this month to help contain COVID-19 in vulnerable countries. OCHA-managed funds in Afghanistan, Sudan and Jordan have also released funds to scale up preparedness.

On 18 March, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) released US$1 million from the oPt Humanitarian Fund to provide personal protective equipment and expand the capacity of intensive care units in Gaza and other areas.