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.

Coping with the huge economic shock in Africa

An interview with Alain Le Roy.

©UN Security Council, Photo: UN News

Alain Boinet: Faced with the consequences of the Covid pandemic-19, 18 African and European Heads of State and Government and heads of international institutions, including President Macron, have called for a common response for Africa. What were the main commitments made at that time?

Alain Le Roy: This initiative was launched in a column published on 15 April in Jeune Afrique and the Financial Times, at France’s suggestion. It includes commitments to strengthen the mobilisation of the international community in the response to the Covid in Africa through four pillars: strengthening health systems, economic support, humanitarian support and support for African research.

Within this framework, what is your mission, how and with whom do you act to concretize these commitments?

The mission I have been given is that of special envoy of the President of the Republic to coordinate the implementation of this initiative by the various French entities, in liaison of course with our various partners, particularly European ones.  I am therefore in regular contact with the five special envoys appointed by the African Union for this initiative to ensure that we are working in the same direction in order to make these commitments concrete, particularly vis-à-vis the G20, the IMF and the World Bank.

How and to what extent will France’s aid contribute to this initiative?

France is very active in the various international forums and with its African partners to ensure that the commitments will be kept. At the bilateral level, it has already announced €1.15 billion in aid through AFD’s Joint Health Program which includes €150 million in grants, most of which has already been allocated to various health projects, including through NGOs, and €1 billion in loans that are currently being allocated. In addition, France has made commitments to increase its contribution to the WHO, GAVI, Unitaid, to finance the ACT-A initiative, which France wanted to finance and which relates to diagnostics, treatments, vaccines and health systems, … As well as its plea to make future vaccines global public goods, as now admitted by the WHO General Assembly, a major step forward.

What is the estimate of the means needed by Africa and how and by whom should they be mobilized and implemented? How can this support be translated into action between debt moratoria, debt cancellation and the provision of additional financial resources?

There are many different estimates of Africa’s current needs with regard to the Covid, the most credible being those of the African Union and the United Nations, which range between $100 and $200 billion. The European Union and its various member states, the IMF, the World Bank, China, the African Development Bank, numerous bilateral and multilateral development banks and many others are helping to meet these needs.

With regard to the debt of African countries, I would remind you that France chairs the Paris Club and co-chairs the G20 working group on debt with Korea, and that it was at France’s insistence that the moratorium on debt owed to official creditors was approved by all G20 members.  This moratorium is currently being put into operation and a public point will be made at the end of the meeting of the G20 finance ministers on 18 and 19 July.

© G20, 2018, photo : UN News

In the autumn, decisions will be taken on the extension of the moratorium and country-by-country debt sustainability analyses will be carried out to determine when the debt should be cancelled.

What are the next deadlines and what do you expect from the next G7 in this regard?

As far as the G7 is concerned, no date has yet been set by the US Presidency for the summit; we would obviously have liked the G7 to give this initiative strong support.

With regard to the G20, under the Saudi Presidency this year, the next deadline as indicated is the meeting of the finance ministers on 18 and 19 July; as for the summit of the G20 heads of state, it should take place on 21 and 22 November.

In the meantime, of course, there are a great many meetings at a technical level.

NGOs and Coordination SUD are concerned about the risk of insufficient additional funds separate from ODA. What is your response to them?

It is clear that ODA is never sufficient, as all countries have particularly strong budgetary constraints in this period of global economic crisis due to the pandemic.

But we must nonetheless highlight the major efforts made for Africa during this period, in billions of euros, by France, the European Union and its Member States, the emergency aid from the IMF and the World Bank, the African Development Bank and all the other players, including in terms of guarantees for the African private sector, which is suffering particularly badly. It is essential that the African private sector, which is a major provider of jobs and which has developed considerably over the last twenty years, should continue to have access to bank financing.

Beyond the unavoidable urgency, this crisis will have a serious impact on the Sustainable Development Objectives for 2030.  How can we support and accompany the efforts of African countries to achieve the 17 SDO objectives in the service of populations, particularly the most fragile and in crisis situations?

The current response is, of course, a response to the emergency, but each State and each intervening institution, whether African or non-African, must take to heart in its interventions the need to continue to work towards achieving the 17 SDO objectives, which have been approved by all and remain absolutely relevant. The long-term dimension must remain in everyone’s mind. In any case, France is paying particular attention to it.

What are the results that would make it possible to say “mission accomplished” for the 18 Heads of State, Government and international institutions and the countries of Africa?

It’s hard to say. Obviously, the first important result would be that the health crisis remains limited and that the number of people infected by the Covid or who have died because of it remains close to current levels. And that the crisis has been an opportunity for all African health systems to be strengthened, which seems to us to be an absolute necessity. Then of course that the enormous economic shock that Africa is currently experiencing has not resulted in too severe a recession, and that all the remarkable economic progress recorded by Africa in recent years has not been undermined too markedly. And that the international community has responded in a convergent manner.

How would you like to conclude?

Simply by recalling that States and international institutions, despite their good will and very strong commitment, cannot do everything and that the role of humanitarian organizations therefore remains irreplaceable.

Alain Le Roy

Alain Le Roy is Ambassador of France and Honorary Master Counsellor at the Court of Auditors. He has been French Ambassador to Madagascar and Italy, as well as Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations in charge of peacekeeping operations and Secretary-General of the European External Action Service.