Covid-19, this isn’t over!

©Organization of a humanitarian aid distribution in the DRC in Djugu, Marine Salas, Solidarités International.

Covid-19, this isn’t over!

The numbers are there. On July 3, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were 10 million cases of infection in 188 countries, or “60% of all cases reported so far in the last month”, and 500,000 deaths, a toll that doubled in two months.

It is not a question of being afraid or clamouring, but of being lucid, informed and anticipating future humanitarian action, because the epidemic is “far from over” and is “even accelerating”! As the Director General of WHO rightly says, “Without national unity and global solidarity (…) the worst is yet to come”!

Since its origin in China, the virus travels country by country, continent by continent, adapting and could even be said to return mutated, in the absence of a vaccine but with, in the meantime, dexamethasone, the cheap drug that has positive effects on serious cases.

It is certain now that we will have to live, if not cohabit, with Covid-19 in 2020 and 2021 with a risk of seasonal rebound and a peak far from being reached in South Asia, Latin America and the United States, in the hope that Africa will escape it for the most part.

As we have already written here, this pandemic has seriously disrupted the organisation of international humanitarian aid. It is now causing a serious economic and social crisis, both here in France and in European countries, and throughout the world, particularly in the most fragile countries facing conflict and the consequences of global warming. A health crisis, an economic crisis doubled for certain vulnerable populations by a food crisis.

This year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is forecasting the first recession in sub-Saharan Africa in 25 years. Economic growth could fall from 3.1% in 2019 to minus 1.6% in 2020. In this context, it is crucial to rapidly release financial resources to cover emergency expenses in the health sector and to support households, businesses and the economy in general to face ” …the enormous economic shock that Africa is currently experiencing” as Alain Le Roy pledges to do in this edition.

Likewise on the food front, according to a recent report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), while agricultural production has been relatively unaffected, as well as supplies, the pandemic has mainly generated income losses that are likely to increase food insecurity while populations are growing very rapidly, according to a recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Thus, according to FAO/FAO, 44 countries will need external food aid, 34 of which are in Africa and 8 in Asia and the Middle East. These are in fact 20 countries already in need of emergency humanitarian assistance and whose situation will deteriorate further.

For example, in the Central African Republic (CAR), where 2.4 million people are in a state of severe food insecurity, an increase of 15% compared to the period before Covid-19. Thus in Syria, where 10 million people are food insecure. Without forgetting access to drinking water and sanitation, the importance of which Thierry Vandevelde reminds us of in this edition.

In this context of a lasting crisis with a rebound, a few observations must be made:

  • The direct and indirect consequences of the pandemic will significantly increase humanitarian needs.
  • The crisis will last and there will be no return to the situation before the pandemic.
  • The humanitarian community must speed up its ongoing work of adapting to the context so that its response can best fit the needs.

Air and sea bridges and regional hubs to the rescue.

Among the innovations noted are the Humanitarian Logistics Network (HLN) and the air bridge it is organizing with funding from the European Commission with ECHO and support from France and other States (Belgium, Sweden).

At a meeting of the Humanitarian Concertation Group1 at the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs on 30 June, the Director of the Crisis and Support Centre, Eric Chevallier, confirmed his support for this initiative which has already enabled 228 humanitarian aid workers and 300 tonnes of freight to be transported to the CAR, DRC, Haiti, Afghanistan and Sudan in particular and which should soon be deployed in southern Sudan and massively in Yemen.

Although this Humanitarian Logistics Network has already been in existence for 6 years, the pandemic has given it wings and the 9 founding NGOs have already been joined by 45 other organisations. Today, 11 people are working for the airlift and the RLH will soon be transformed into a cooperative society with the aim of pooling group purchases of materials and common services.

This airlift was launched out of necessity and as a complement to the WFP airlift, which has mobilized enormous capacities indispensable to the health response to Covid-19, as Delphine Borione rightly points out in this edition. WFP, which has launched an urgent appeal for funding to extend the indispensable effort until the end of the year. Similarly, at a time when air transport is slowly resuming, it would be necessary to continue the European Union airlift, targeting the most urgent destinations that are not served.

©Loading a WFP airlift aircraft in Italy, WFP.

The humanitarian’s on trial.

Among the unintended consequences of the pandemic is this resolution adopted by members of the UN Security Council on Wednesday 1 July calling for a 90-day humanitarian truce for ongoing conflicts. This does not include conflicts involving terrorist groups such as the Islamic state or Al Qaeda.

Among these conflicts, Syria in particular, whose population is living a real ordeal. Of its 22 million inhabitants, 12 million are displaced, 5.6 million of whom have fled the country. Nearly 9 out of 10 people live below the poverty line. The conference of donor countries in Brussels on 30 June recorded pledges of 4.9 billion euros for 2020 and 2 billion euros for 2021.

On 10 July, Resolution 2504, which allows for the delivery of much-needed emergency aid to north-west Syria, will expire. Similarly, the reopening of the passage from Al-Yaroubiya to Iraq is essential for medical aid to north-east Syria. Essentially, the decision is in the hands of Russia, which will be judged on these acts!

© Photo: G5 Sahel

Similarly in the Sahel, where security has deteriorated considerably in recent months. In this context of escalation to extremes of violence, we are witnessing a resurgence of abuses, both by jihadist armed groups and by elements of the armed forces of the five countries that are members of the G5 Sahel, which has just met in Nouakchott, Mauritania.

On this occasion, the United Nations humanitarian agencies and NGOs signed a declaration calling for solutions to the crisis and asked the forces of the G5 Sahel to undertake to respect the rules of International Humanitarian Law, the military-humanitarian distinction, to guarantee access to populations in danger and to promote basic social services. This declaration bears witness to the deterioration of a conflict that is worsening at a time when Mali and its President, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, are at the centre of a major political crisis that is undermining any improvement in the situation. Some observers speak of a threefold crisis: political, governance and democratic model.

Other countries are also in turmoil, such as Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Yemen and others.

One of the main reasons for the existence of “Humanitarian Challenges” is to establish the link between geopolitics, populations and humanitarian issues. So, what observations can we make today together at the end of this stage?  What does the pandemic and its consequences teach us and what should we do?

  • Humanitarian needs will increase significantly in 2020 and 2021.
  • The humanitarian supply chain is facing breaks in the supply chain that it must fill quickly.
  • The health crisis is long-lasting and unpredictable, with negative cascading effects that need to be addressed simultaneously.
  • The international geopolitical environment is tense, even dangerous, and we are not immune to serious incidents.

Therefore, more than ever, the humanitarian community must be up to the challenge of the Covid-19 crisis: committed, voluntarist, agile, adapted, intelligent, partnership-based, innovative, effective in saving lives, improving the living conditions of populations to live together and to emerge from crises.

Alain Boinet.

PS : I invite you to read in this edition the interview with Alain Le Roy, the interview with Delphine Borione, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of France to FAO, WFP and IFAD, and the analysis of Thierry Vandevelde on the consequences of Covid-19 and the initiatives to deal with it.

1The Humanitarian Concertation Group (GCH) brings together representatives of humanitarian NGOs in France with the Crisis and Support Centre (CDCS) of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and other directorates (AFD, Expertises France, DGM, NUOI). The HAG meets on average every quarter, including one with the Minister, and organises a “National Humanitarian Conference” every two years.