Only united action will stop the pandemic triggering a catastrophic worldwide food and humanitarian crisis
Appeals for help and chilling predictions of imminent disaster are coming thick and fast. The world is on red alert in a way few people alive today have experienced. Yet, despite the urgent clamour, the international response to the coronavirus catastrophe is lacking, leaderless and late.
Lacking in the sense that the scale of the problem, especially in developing countries, is so huge as to be almost numbing. Oxfam says more than half a billion people may be pushed into poverty by the economic fallout. Global poverty reduction could be set back 30 years.
Food companies, farmers and civil society groups are pointing to a rising tide of hunger unless food supply chains are maintained and borders kept open to trade. Coordinated action by governments is necessary “to prevent the Covid-19 pandemic turning into a global food and humanitarian crisis”, they say.
Already creaking health systems in countries across sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia face collapse. “Covid-19 is poised to tear through poor, displaced and conflict-affected communities around the world,” Samantha Power, a former US ambassador who helped build a coalition to combat the Ebola epidemic in 2014, warned last week.
“Three billion people are unable to wash their hands at home, making it impossible to follow sanitation protocols,” she wrote. “Because clinics in these communities have few or no gloves, masks, coronavirus tests, ventilators or ability to isolate patients, the contagion will be exponentially more lethal than in developed countries.”
David Miliband’s International Rescue Committee says it is a double emergency. First, there is the direct impact “on unprepared health systems and populations with pre-existing vulnerabilities”. Then there is the “secondary havoc” that will be caused to fragile states’ economies and political systems.