COVID-19: UN and partners launch $6.7 billion appeal for vulnerable countries

The United Nations and partner agencies have launched a USD 6.7 billion global appeal to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, more than trebling an earlier appeal made by the UN chief, with special focus on more vulnerable countries and combating food insecurity and gender-based violence.

The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock launched the USD 6.7 billion appeal on Thursday and updated a global plan to fight the COVID-19 in fragile countries.

Lowcock said that while the virus has now affected every country and almost every person on the planet, the most devastating and destabilizing impacts will be felt in the world''s poorest countries.

On March 25, the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan was launched, but with humanitarian needs continuing to rise, the updated plan is calling for USD 6.7 billion for the remainder of 2020.

The plan includes nine more vulnerable countries, beyond the 54 covered in the original appeal and programmes to respond to the growth in food insecurity.

The nine additional countries are Benin, Djibouti, Liberia, Mozambique, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Togo and Zimbabwe.

“Today''s appeal includes more of a focus on food insecurity, as well as how to help the most vulnerable and how to address gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, among others,” UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.

Lowcock warned of a significant rise in conflict, hunger and poverty, as well as looming famine, unless action is taken now.

“If we do not support the poorest people – especially women and girls and other vulnerable groups - as they battle the pandemic and impacts of the global recession, we will all be dealing with the spillover effects for many years to come. That would prove even more painful, and much more expensive, for everyone,” he said.

The updated plan builds on an earlier appeal made by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in late March which called for USD 2 billion.

The UN chief urged donors to step up support to stop the new coronavirus from circling back around the globe.

“Humanitarian aid is not just a moral imperative; it is a practical necessity to combat the virus,” he said in a video message.

“If COVID-19 wreaks havoc in the poorest places, we are all at risk”.

The initial plan has netted USD 1 billion which has been used to install handwashing facilities in refugee camps and other vulnerable places, and to provide countries with medical supplies such as gloves, surgical masks, N95 respirators and testing kits.

COVID-19 has now reached to practically every country on the planet, with the World Health Organization (WHO) reporting more than 3.6 million cases and over 251,000 deaths as of Thursday.

However, humanitarians believe the peak of the disease in the world''s poorest countries is expected to hit within the next three to six months.

The impact is already being felt, with incomes plummeting and jobs wiped out. Meanwhile, food supplies are falling as prices soar, and millions of children are missing out on routine vaccinations and school meals.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is among the UN agencies and partners responding to the immense needs, reaching nearly 100 million people on any given day.

“You can imagine what happens if the economic deterioration continues and if the supply chain breaks down. It will be catastrophic,” the WFP Executive Director David Beasley said.

The USD 6.7 billion Global Humanitarian Response Plan calls for swift and determined action to stave off the most debilitating effects of the pandemic in 63 low and middle-income countries.

While most of these nations have low COVID-19 caseloads, their surveillance, laboratory testing and health systems are weak, according to the WHO.

Speaking during the launch, Executive Director of the UN agency''s Health Emergencies Programme Michael Ryan underscored the need to maintain vaccination and other essential health services during the crisis.

“Tackling the pandemic while continuing to provide lifesaving and essential health services in places where infrastructure is at best limited and often destroyed, health systems are already at breaking point, and where health care workers and communities may be facing conflict and other emergencies - this is an extremely challenging task,” he said.

New transport hubs for delivering supplies by air have also been established, while nearly two million people worldwide, including health workers, have been trained in virus identification via an online portal run by the WHO.

Lowcock added that the crisis cannot be "business as usual".

“Extraordinary measures are needed, reflecting the extraordinary problem we face,” he said.
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