UN launches virus aid plan worth $2bn

Updated March 26, 2020

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UNITED NATIONS: The coronavirus pandemic is threatening the entire human race, the United Nations warned on Wednesday as it launched a humanitarian response plan featuring an appeal for $2 billion to help the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

“Covid-19 is threatening the whole of humanity — and the whole of humanity must fight back,” Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in announcing the initiative.

“Global action and solidarity are crucial. Individual country responses are not going to be enough.”

By Wednesday night the coronavirus pandemic had killed more than 20,000 people worldwide, over 13,000 of them in Europe, according to a tally.

The UN plan “aims to enable us to fight the virus in the world’s poorest countries, and address the needs of the most vulnerable people, especially women and children, older people, and those with disabilities or chronic illness,” said the UN chief.

World Bank and International Monetary Fund urge bilateral creditors to provide debt relief to the world’s poorest countries

If fully funded, “it will save many lives and arm humanitarian agencies and NGOs with laboratory supplies for testing, and with medical equipment to treat the sick while protecting health care workers,” he added.

The UN plan is designed to last from April to December — suggesting the world body does not see the health crisis abating any time soon. The exact total of $2.012bn is supposed to flow in in response to appeals that various UN agencies, such as the World Health Organisation and the World Food Programme, have already made.

Guterres said that in parallel, humanitarian aid provided yearly by member states to help 100 million people around the world must continue.

Otherwise, he said, the coronavirus pandemic could lead to rampant outbreaks of other diseases such as cholera and measles, as well as higher levels of malnutrition. “This is the moment to step up for the vulnerable,” he said.

As spelled out in an 80-page booklet, the UN plan will be carried out by UN agencies that work directly with non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The money will be used for a variety of purposes: to set up hand-washing facilities in refugee camps, launch public awareness campaigns and establish humanitarian air shuttles with Africa, Asia and Latin America, the UN says. The exact needs of some countries are still being identified.

The plan names 20 or so as deserving top priority for aid, including some enduring war or some degree of conflict, such as Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Yemen, Venezuela and Ukraine. But countries such as Iran and North Korea are also analysed in the booklet.

The plan foresees two general scenarios as to how the pandemic might evolve.

Under the first, the pandemic is brought under control relatively quickly as its rate of spread slows over the course of three or four months. This, it says, would allow for a relatively swift recovery in terms of public health and the economy.

But under the second model, the pandemic spreads quickly in countries that are poor or developing, mainly in Africa, Asia and parts of the Americas.

“This leads to longer periods of closed borders and limited freedom of movement, further contributing to a global slowdown that is already under way,” said the UN.

IMF and World Bank

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund urged official bilateral creditors to provide immediate debt relief to the world’s poorest countries as they grapple with severe consequences of the rapidly spreading virus. In a joint statement, the two institutions called on official bilateral creditors to immediately suspend debt payments from International Development Association (IDA) countries, if requested. Those nations, home to a quarter of the world’s population and two-thirds of the world’s people living in extreme poverty, would be hit hardest by the pandemic, they said.

“This will provide IDA countries with immediate liquidity needs to tackle challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak and allow time for an assessment of the crisis impact and financing needs for each country,” the IMF and the World Bank said. Most of the 76 countries receiving IDA support have gross national income per capita of below $1,175, a threshold that is updated annually. The World Bank and the IMF said suspending debt payments, consistent with national laws of the creditor countries, would provide “a global sense of relief for developing countries” and send a strong signal to financial markets.

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2020