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Helping the most vulnerable: humanitarian assistance in the times of Covid-19

Particular challenges for aid organisations 

Particular challenges for aid organisations , © UNHCR / Paulo Lugoboni

30.03.2020 - Article

For people who are already in need, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is dramatic. The Federal Foreign Office is making available five million euros for the World Health Organization (WHO).

Conflicts and natural disasters: coronavirus exacerbates the situation

Although in many places public life has ground to a halt, millions of people are still affected by armed conflicts and natural disasters. Closed borders, but also disrupted supply chains and mobility restrictions have a particularly dramatic impact on people who were already in humanitarian emergency situations before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is therefore vital to ensure that the people who are most vulnerable still have access to life-saving humanitarian assistance.

Only by working together can the international community overcome the crisis
Only by working together can the international community overcome the crisis© UNHCR / Paulo Lugoboni

Even in Europe, the consequences of Covid-19 are devastating. Countries with well-developed healthcare systems are reaching their limits. For people in countries dominated by war and violence, the situation is even more critical. Inadequate hygiene and medical care, undernourishment and malnutrition, other diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and cholera hit traumatised people with already weakened immune systems hard.

Whereas in Germany the spread of the virus is being contained by minimising social contacts, so-called social distancing, this is barely possible in crisis situations, where people generally live in very close proximity. In refugee camps, Covid-19 can spread extremely quickly – with devastating consequences not only for the refugees themselves but also for the host community and surrounding areas.

UN organisations require around 1.8 billion euros

Led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and coordinated by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the United Nations has recourse to a crisis-proven system. Even in the face of severe adversity, the organisations work together according to tried and tested rules to save human life. For example, the World Food Programme (WFP) uses its experience in the field of logistics to ensure that not only food but also medical items reach crisis areas. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is working flat out to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in densely populated refugee camps through hygiene measures and education and is building up healthcare provision. The FAO, the IOM, UNICEF and experienced non-governmental organisations are drawing on decades of experience in crisis management, which is now urgently needed. According to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the organisations will require an initial sum of around two billion US dollars (1.8 billion euros) to this end.

Germany is supporting the WHO with an additional five million euros

In an unprecedented appeal, the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan, the United Nations has shown how it is working to protect millions of people in humanitarian crisis situations from the unhindered spread of Covid-19 and how it intends to bring to them the help they need. As part of the efforts to fight Covid-19, the Federal Foreign Office has, in an initial step, already pledged a further five million euros to the World Health Organization. Now considerations are under way concerning how additional funds can be made available to UN organisations, for example to bolster their capacity to respond with regard to humanitarian healthcare and in the area of water, sanitation and hygiene.

Even before the pandemic broke out, the Federal Government was providing life-saving humanitarian assistance in the regions of Africa where people are particularly vulnerable due to crises and natural disasters. These include the Horn of Africa, the countries in the Great Lakes region, and the Lake Chad and the Sahel regions. For 2020, Germany has already earmarked 363 million euros. 

Help in the times of Covid-19: particular challenges for aid organisations

The organisations face considerable challenges due to their very restricted scope for action: if staff becomes ill, a small number of humanitarian workers have to do even more, often under dire circumstances. And although more and more borders are being closed, supplies of food, basic medical equipment and other emergency items as well as the transfer of humanitarian personnel must be assured. Furthermore, access for humanitarian workers to people in need is often restricted in crisis situations, yet more important than ever under the current circumstances: humanitarian space must be maintained at all costs. Moreover, disinformation and stigmatisation can cost lives. Humanitarian organisations therefore now need to ensure that people in crisis situations, such as displaced persons, also have access to up-to-date and correct information.

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