UN launches major humanitarian appeal to keep COVID-19 from ‘circling back around the globe’

UN Photo/Mark Garten
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres launches a COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan with Under- Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
To confront the unprecedented worldwide challenge posed by the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, top UN officials on Wednesday, launched a massive humanitarian appeal to mitigate its impact, particularly on fragile countries with weak health systems.

At a joint virtual press briefing, Secretary-General António Guterres, UN Humanitarian Coordinator Mark Lowcock, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Henrietta Fore and World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, launched a $2 billion coordinated global humanitarian response plan, to fight COVID-19 in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries in a bid to protect the millions most at risk.

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Having gained a foothold in 195 countries with more than 400,000 reported cases and close to 20,000 reported deaths, COVID-19 is reaching more and more areas of the world grappling with conflict, natural disasters and climate change.

The UN chief stressed that a global approach is the only way to fight the coronavirus.

“COVID-19 is menacing the whole of humanity – and so the whole of humanity must fight back”, he said, underscoring that “individual country responses are not going to be enough”.

Assisting the “ultra-vulnerable” – the millions upon millions of people who are least able to protect themselves – is not only “a matter of basic human solidarity” but also crucial for combating the virus, according to Mr. Guterres.

“This is the moment to step up for the vulnerable”, he stated.

Organized by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the interagency plan brings together existing appeals from WHO and other UN partners as well as identifies new needs.

Properly funded, it will save many lives and arm humanitarian agencies with laboratory supplies for testing and medical equipment to treat the sick while protecting health care workers.

“The plan also includes additional measures to support host communities that continue to generously open their homes and towns to refugees and displaced persons”, explained the Secretary-General.

He closed with the somber note that if funding aimed to stem the impact of COVID-19 in already vulnerable humanitarian contexts is diverted, “the consequences could be catastrophic”.

Tipping whole regions into chaos

The UN humanitarian chief warned that failing to help vulnerable countries fight the coronavirus now could place millions at risk.
Pointing out that COVID-19 has already upended life in some of the world’s wealthiest countries, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock said that it is now reaching people living in warzones, with no soap and clean water and or hospital bed should they fall critically ill.

“If we leave coronavirus to spread freely in these places, we would be placing millions at high risk, whole regions will be tipped into chaos and the virus will have the opportunity to circle back around the globe”, he spelled out.

He acknowledged that countries battling the pandemic at home are “rightly prioritizing” their own communities, but added “the hard truth” that if they do not act now to help the poorest countries protect themselves, they would be failing to protect their own people.

“Our priority is to help these countries prepare and continue helping the millions who rely on humanitarian assistance from the UN to survive”, he said.

“Properly funded, our global response effort will equip humanitarian organizations with the tools to fight the virus, save lives, and help contain the spread of COVID-19 worldwide”, concluded the Humanitarian Coordinator.

To boost the response plan, Mr. Lowcock released an additional $60 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund, bringing CERF’s support to the COVID-19 pandemic to $75 million. In addition, country-based pooled funds have allocated more than $3 million, to date.

‘History will judge us’

As the pandemic continues to accelerate, the WHO chief said that “most worrying” of all, was the danger the virus poses to people already affected by crisis.

“The virus is now spreading in countries with weak health systems, including some which are already facing humanitarian crises”, said Mr. Ghebreyesus.

“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”, he underscored.

The agency head sent a clear message to all countries to “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”, he concluded, “Let’s act together, right now!”

‘Hidden victims’

Meanwhile, UNICEF chief Ms. Fore, said that children are “the hidden victims of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Lockdowns and school closures are affecting their education, mental health and access to basic health services and raising the risks of exploitation and abuse.

“For children on the move or living through conflicts, the consequences will be unlike any we have ever seen”, she warned. “We must not let them down.”

Ms. Fore vowed that with support from the international community, among other things, we can “shore up preparedness and response plans in countries with weaker healthcare systems” and provide short- and long-term assistance on the health, well-being, development and prospects of children.

©UNICEF/Giovanni Diffidenti
People self-quarantined in Italy make a show of solidarity.