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UN issues $6.7 billion appeal to protect millions of lives and stem the spread of COVID-19 in fragile countries

07 May 2020


WFP food distribution in Kaya, Burkina Faso, 30 March 2020. Credit: WFP/Mahamady Ouedraogo

The United Nations humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, today called for swift and determined action to avoid the most destabilizing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as he released a US$6.7 billion appeal and an updated global plan to fight the coronavirus in fragile countries.

COVID-19 has now reached virtually every country, with nearly 3,596,000 confirmed cases and more than 247,650 deaths worldwide. The peak of the disease in the world’s poorest countries is not expected until some point over the next three to six months. However, there is already evidence of incomes plummeting and jobs disappearing, food supplies falling and prices soaring, and children missing vaccinations and meals.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is hurting us all. But the most devastating and destabilizing effects will be felt in the world’s poorest countries. In the poorest countries we can already see economies contracting as export earnings, remittances and tourism disappear,” said UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock ahead of the launch event. “Unless we take action now, we should be prepared for a significant rise in conflict, hunger and poverty. The spectre of multiple famines looms,” he added.

The humanitarian system is taking action to avert a sharp rise in conflict, hunger, poverty and disease as a result of the pandemic and the associated global recession. Today’s updated Global Humanitarian Response Plan has been expanded in response. It includes nine additional vulnerable countries: Benin, Djibouti, Liberia, Mozambique, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Togo and Zimbabwe, and programmes to respond to the growth in food insecurity. More specific information on country and regional plans and progress made on the response is available in a series of annexes.

Today’s new appeal and updated humanitarian response plan were released at a virtual event hosted by Mr. Lowcock, alongside the Executive Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Health Emergencies Programme, Mike Ryan; the President and CEO of Oxfam America, Abby Maxman; the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi; and the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley. The plan was first launched by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in March.

The humanitarian chief underscored that if the international community does not support the poorest people – especially women and girls and other vulnerable groups – as they battle the pandemic and impacts of the global recession, everyone will be dealing with the spillover effects for many years to come.

“That would prove even more painful, and much more expensive, for everyone,” Mr. Lowcock stressed. “This pandemic is unlike anything we have dealt with in our lifetime. Business as usual will not do. Extraordinary measures are needed. As we come together to combat this virus, I urge donors to act in both solidarity and in self-interest and make their response proportionate to the scale of the problem we face.”

The COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan is the international community’s primary fundraising vehicle to respond to the humanitarian impacts of the virus in low- and middle-income countries and support their efforts to fight it. The plan brings together appeals from WHO and other UN humanitarian agencies. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and NGO consortiums have been instrumental in helping shape the plan. They are key partners in delivering it and can access funding through it.

The plan provides help and protection that prioritize the most vulnerable. This includes older people, people with disabilities, and women and girls, given that pandemics heighten existing levels of discrimination, inequality and gender-based violence. The plan also includes programmes that respond to the growth in food insecurity.

Since the plan was first launched on 25 March, $1 billion in generous donor funding has been raised. This includes $177.4 million from OCHA’s pooled funds to support efforts across 37 countries, with $95 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund and $82.4 million from 12 Country-based Pooled Funds.

This has enabled:

  • The installation of handwashing facilities in vulnerable places like refugee camps; and the distribution of gloves, surgical masks, N95 respirators, gowns and goggles, and testing kits to help vulnerable countries respond to the pandemic.
  • The creation of new transport hubs from which supplies can be transported by air.
  • More than 1.7 million people around the world, including health workers, to be trained in virus identification and protection measures through WHO’s online COVID-19 training portal.

At the launch event, the humanitarian chief noted that analysis by OCHA shows that the cost of protecting the most vulnerable 10 per cent of people in the world from the worst impacts is approximately $90 billion. This is equivalent to 1 per cent of the current global stimulus package put in place by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and G20 countries.

It calculates that two thirds of those costs could be met by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund if they are supported to change the terms on which they help the most vulnerable countries. The remainder will need to come from increased official development assistance over the next 12 months.

The COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan May Update is coordinated by OCHA with inputs from UN agencies and NGO consortiums. The update complements plans by the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.