Opinion: Humanitarian aid is an investment in the future | Opinion | DW | 12.10.2020
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Opinion: Humanitarian aid is an investment in the future

The coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately affecting the poorest. They need support and assistance now more than ever, write German minister of state, Niels Annen, and UN emergency relief coordinator Mark Lowcock.

At the start of the year, the United Nations thought it would need to get humanitarian assistance to 168 million people. Now it's 250 million. The biggest increase we have ever seen in a year and it is entirely down to COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdown measures triggered a global recession that hit the world hard. The world's most vulnerable countries have been hit hardest. This has aggravated existing humanitarian crises — and provoked new ones. 

For the first time since the 1990s, extreme poverty will increase. Life expectancy will fall. The annual death toll from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria is set to double. We also fear a near doubling in the number of people facing starvation. Schools have closed for 500 million children. Many girls out of school will never go back.

Decades of development gains are at risk. 

Read moreThe coronavirus pandemic: A threat to food security

COVID-19 puts development at risk

OCHA coordinator Mark Lowcock at a press conference

Mark Lowcock is concerned that failing to help now will exacerbate the situation in many of the world's poorest regions

All this will fuel grievances, and in their wake conflict, instability and refugee flows. The consequences will reach far and last long. And the coronavirus crisis is not over.

The UN needs $10 billion (€8.5 billion) to mitigate the damage by the end of the year. So far, it is just 28% financed.

An urgent and concerted effort is needed to change that. Without action now, humanitarian organizations will be forced to scale down their operations with fatal consequences for millions of people.

The international community must prevent this vicious cycle. Investing now will reduce the scale of the problem and avoid a much higher bill in the years to come. Everybody counts. All countries should abide by the imperative of international solidarity and realize that providing humanitarian assistance means investing in the future of those in need.

Investing in the future

With the $2.9 billion already made available through the UN's global humanitarian response plan, aid groups have reached millions of affected people, including refugees and internally displaced people with cash transfers; they have furthermore provided support to and for survivors of gender-based violence, hand-washing stations and soap, and special care for children and mothers. They have shipped 78 million surgical masks to countries that needed them and got information on COVID-19 prevention out to more than one billion people worldwide.

Germany — also in its current role as President of the Council of the European Union — stands firmly with the UN in its commitment to provide humanitarian assistance to those who need it the most. Global solidarity backed by financial resources that match the scale of the global crisis has never been more important.

German minister Niels Annen speaking in Parliament

Niels Annen says other countries must follow Germany's lead in providing more funds and assistance

Germany has so far provided €450 million ($531 million) of additional funding for the global COVID-19 response. The funding gives humanitarian organizations the flexibility to respond swiftly to the most urgent needs in a rapidly changing environment. Altogether, Germany has provided humanitarian funding amounting to the record sum of $2.5 billion in 2020, making it the second biggest bilateral humanitarian donor worldwide.

Countries like Germany can contribute individually, but the world's international financial institutions must also do more. Increased lending on favorable terms and creating extra reserves to prop up struggling economies to respond to the fall-out of the pandemic is a good place to start. It is time to use all instruments available to us from the World Bank and the IMF. It's been done before and we can do it again.

The world is in a "break the glass in case of emergency" moment.

More support for the poorest regions

Meanwhile, we can and must forge ahead focusing on all those countries where international support is urgently needed. Later this month, Germany, Denmark, the EU and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) will organize a humanitarian donor conference for the Central Sahel region comprising Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, where the pandemic is exacerbating existing humanitarian needs.

We urge governments, international financial institutions, the private sector and civil society to support this effort, and all efforts to help the most vulnerable communities fight the virus and mitigate the economic devastation it has caused.

It is in everyone's interest to tackle these problems now before they get worse.

Niels Annen is Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office of Germany. Mark Lowcock  is UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

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