Tuesday, July 7, 2020

“Without significant investments, we will remain vulnerable to pandemics”

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Mark Lowcock, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, in September 2018, in Geneva. FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Mark Lowcock has been the United Nations’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) since 2017. His agency coordinates UN efforts alongside NGOs to fight Covid-19 in the most vulnerable countries. This health crisis comes at a time when humanitarian assistance worldwide has already reached historic levels since the end of the Second World War. Today, one in forty-five people needs help.

You called on March 25 to raise $ 2 billion to combat the spread of Covid-19 in fragile countries. What emergencies do you face?

Our first challenge is logistics. All government travel measures and restrictions could ultimately disrupt our humanitarian assistance and our access to affected communities. This is not yet the case, thanks to the thousands of aid workers stationed in their country and who continue to work, but it is absolutely vital to maintain supplies in countries in crisis and to facilitate the circulation of goods and humanitarian personnel. The closure of many commercial lines will also force us to use the United Nations air services to transport personnel, caregivers and medical supplies to the places where it is most needed.

Our second challenge is related to the characteristics of the highly contagious Covid-19 virus, which could spread very quickly in environments already weakened by humanitarian crises, poor hygiene and underlying diseases that weaken the immune system. We are therefore trying to anticipate all possible actions to delay its spread, through information campaigns to the populations, the installation of stations for washing hands, the delivery of medical and protective equipment. It is a real challenge when it comes to populations living in closed places, such as refugee camps, where it will be difficult to achieve social distancing. We also know that it will be difficult to organize large-scale screening programs. Being realistic, we can imagine that the Covid-19 will impact our aid programs over time.

The situation in the Syrian province of Idlib, considered the worst humanitarian disaster of the XXIe century, is particularly worrying, with a dozen cases already detected…

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