Posts on Jan 1970

DFID Goes Quiet on COVID-19 Response

LONDON — The U.K.’s international response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been criticized by insiders as “disappointing” and poorly communicated.

Some observers said the U.K. government’s performance has not been living up to its “development superpower” reputation, as it struggles to manage an outbreak within its own borders.

With the pandemic continuing to gather pace, concerns are rising about the potential impact in low-income countries.

The U.K. on March 6 announced a £46 million ($60 million) aid package to support vaccine and diagnostics development, and it was praised for supporting a rapid test to be produced in Senegal. It later said it would commit up to £150 million for the International Monetary Fund’s Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust to help lower-income countries deal with the economic fallout of the crisis.

However, despite holding the world’s third-largest aid budget and a force of aid workers around the world, there has been no further word on plans for the U.K.’s international response.

While acknowledging the challenging circumstances, experts warned that vision was needed to adjust all of its development programming, given the scale of the crisis.

The Department for International Development — the government department largely responsible for aid — has not made a public announcement on its COVID-19 response for two weeks, nor have there been any ministerial statements about how it intends to lead or influence the global response.

DFID’s response has been “very inward-looking” with constraints on spending because of the end of the financial year, according to a staffer who spoke to Devex on condition of anonymity to preserve his job. He added that “bureaucrats, rather than public health experts, were calling the shots” and that there was interference from Foreign & Commonwealth Office officials who joined a London-based task force dealing with the pandemic.

The situation has not been helped by DFID’s secretary of state, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, being in self-isolation as a precaution after being exposed to the virus and — unrelatedly — the unexpected move of the department’s most senior civil servant to another department last week.

Shadow Secretary of State for International Development Dan Carden wrote to Trevelyan this week, urging her to “do more to lead the global response to support the most vulnerable people across the world.”

“We are concerned that DFID – the Department that should be leading Britain’s global response as a humanitarian superpower – has so far been quiet,” Carden and other members of the Labour Party’s international development team wrote.

Mukesh Kapila, professor of global health and humanitarian affairs at the University of Manchester and former head of conflict and humanitarian affairs at DFID, agreed. “It’s disappointing they are not prominent as a major, major donor in taking some kind of lead in financing the response to COVID-19, especially among the most fragile countries,” he said.

Kapila, who is also working on an initiative responding to COVID-19 in Africa, told Devex: “What’s needed, considering the catastrophic nature of this whole crisis … [is] to reorient all the development programs they have, wherever they are, and find resources from existing programs and integrate COVID work within those programs. Otherwise, the development gains that might be achieved … are going to be completely unrealized.”

Citing unprecedented commitments from the British chancellor, Rishi Sunak, in response to the U.K.’s own economic shutdown, Kapila added that “I don’t see the transformative thinking coming out of DFID in the same way that other government departments in the U.K. have been forced to change.” He said DFID would need to completely transform its strategy in the face of the challenge presented.

There was also confusion about how DFID would engage NGOs to help with the COVID-19 response in low-income countries. “We were expecting probably a bit more of a proactive reach out to the sector,” said Laura Taylor, head of advocacy at Christian Aid.

“An announcement of what their [DFID’s] strategy is, what funding options are available for people other than global institutions, and how they would like to work with civil society, both globally at the national level, would be really good to know,” she added.

Kalipso Chalkidou, director of global health policy at the Center for Global Development think tank, said people were trying their best amid difficult circumstances, noting that the global response to COVID-19 generally had been “underwhelming.”

Still, she said, the U.K. could be “more of a shining example.” DFID needs to communicate to other government departments that “whatever the U.K. does, whatever is happening in the developed world, will have direct implications on people’s lives in developing countries, mostly through the economic implications of measures being taken,” she said. “It’s very important to communicate to their colleagues and the public that they are aware this is a global crisis and whatever we do in the G-7 will have direct implications on the poorest countries.”

A DFID spokesperson said there would be more announcements to come on its COVID-19 response.

William Worley

William Worley is the U.K. Correspondent for Devex, covering DFID and British aid. Previously, he reported on international affairs, policy, and development. He also worked as a reporter for the U.K. national press, including the Times, Guardian, Independent, and i Paper. His reportage has included work on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, drought in Madagascar, the “migrant caravan” in Mexico, and Colombia’s peace process.

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COVID-19 Forces International Aid Groups to Limit Travel, Rethink Operations

NEW YORK — Multiple relief and development organizations are eliminating noncritical missions to limit staffers’ exposure to the novel coronavirus, while also creating contingency plans as the global pandemic continues to escalate.

Mercy Corps, Relief International, Norwegian Refugee Council, Catholic Relief Services, CARE, and Save the Children are among the nongovernmental organizations issuing new travel restrictions for staff while also rolling out prevention and response plans in impacted and at-risk countries.

“Hopefully it will not impact the work we are doing in the field, with refugees and IDPs [internally displaced people] as much. But as time goes by, it is also restricting training and global seminars where we are supposed to have strategies develop. It is the long-term work that could be affected on a global level,” said Tuva Bogsnes, spokesperson for the Norwegian Refugee Council.

NRC is limiting international travel to critical work and shuttered its headquarters in Oslo, Norway, this week. It is also boosting its water, sanitation, and hygiene work in countries with weak health systems, such as Afghanistan.

“As this affects more and more countries, it is going to be harder for us to find ways for staff to go in and out of countries,” Bogsnes said.

The World Health Organization elevated the COVID-19 outbreak to pandemic status Wednesday. The virus has spread to more than 125,000 people across 118 countries and territories in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the U.S., according to WHO’s latest available estimates.

Experts at relief organizations described a dynamic situation that is requiring them to rapidly develop, and continuously review, staff travel and community engagement policies. The impact on lifesaving work, such as emergency humanitarian response in conflict zones, is still minimal, experts say, but the situation remains fluid. Supply chain shortages present another emerging concern, several global health and development experts told Devex.

The United Nations is also undertaking risk assessments “to evaluate how critical proposed travel is in relation to the risk posed to the traveler,” wrote U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric in an email to Devex. Some cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in countries, such as Iraq, that are already in crisis because of natural disasters or conflicts and have a large number of people in need of emergency assistance.

“To date, the U.N. and partners are maintaining humanitarian operations while taking precautions to ensure staff safety. U.N. agencies are currently assessing where and how humanitarian operations are being disrupted to try to identify solutions as quickly as possible,” Dujarric wrote.

Individual U.N. agencies are adopting their own health security protocols as well. The U.N.’s World Food Programme is limiting all international duty travel to mission-critical and time-sensitive work and postponing all seminars, workshops, and other large meetings, according to spokesperson Shada Moghraby. The United Nations Development Programme is encouraging staff to work remotely, which “reduces the footprint in our offices and mitigates the risk for all involved,” according to Angelique Crumbly, director of UNDP’s Bureau for Management Services.

Several international NGOs also shared their individual health security strategies with Devex:

Plan International has canceled all noncritical international travel and activities through March 31 and is looking at business continuity plans on how field offices could operate in low-, medium-, and high-transmission situations, according to spokesperson Davinder Kumar.

Mercy Corps is restricting travel for all employees through countries under the Global Level 3 Health Advisory by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is undertaking preparedness activities across many of its country offices, according to spokesperson Kelly Hysan.

CARE International has moved to “business critical” travel but continues to undertake programs in compliance with local government restrictions. “The majority of CARE’s programs are continuing where CARE operates,” Chris Williams, director of security at CARE, wrote in an email.

Relief International is now “constantly” reviewing risk levels and authorizing travel on a case-by-case basis, according to Azadeh Hasani, the organization’s global humanitarian director. Relief International continues to respond to the health crisis in Iran and other countries, distributing protective health care equipment to hospitals.

Catholic Relief Services temporarily closed its Beirut and West Bank offices for deep cleaning, and its Cambodia office is now working remotely. Staff can only travel for “mission-critical” work. “It is changing so rapidly that, depending on the situation in each country, we may experience delays, including temporary office closures,” said Marieke van Weerden, director of staff safety and security.

The changes come as development events worldwide continue to be canceled or transitioned to a virtual format, and multiple governments — from the U.S. to Uganda — issue new travel restrictions.

One immediate issue for aid and development agencies is the sudden challenge in procuring health care supplies, according to Relief International’s Hasani.

“We now have a lot of our procurement teams trying to find these items and ship them. In some cases, we are not being able to find them. We really had to go to many suppliers and buy masks from one, goggles from another one,” Hasani said. “It wasn’t easy to find, and yes, in terms of pricing, of course they are more expensive than we would have initially planned for.”

Catholic Relief Services is also thinking through its “call to home” scenarios for international staffers, so they can return to their countries of residence if government travel restrictions escalate.

“The reason why we are going ‘mission-critical’ is not necessarily because of the virus. … It is because of travel restrictions governments put in place. If staffers are quarantined, they cannot work with communities where we need them most,” van Weerden said.

Save the Children has also issued a “blanket pause” on nonessential travel, according to Negin Janati, director of communications for Save the Children’s humanitarian response and emergency work. Save the Children’s China office remains closed, as staffers continue to work from home.

“With the number of cases and community transmissions that are present, we are asking everyone, ‘If you can do a meeting virtually or attend a conference virtually, do it that way,’” Janati said. “We have colleagues who are helping run pandemic-preparedness workshops throughout Asia, Middle East, and Africa. Their work is mission-critical, and they have to travel for it.”

The changes are challenging the traditional methods of work that Save the Children uses, leading it to pause and consider the feasibility of virtual training sessions or online partnerships and advocacy meetings.

“We live in a digital world and are used to doing things digitally, but there are certain things, like community engagement, that I do not know if people have considered how to do that exclusively online. We are just having to make it work,” Janati said.

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Back Poor Countries Fighting COVID-19 with Trillions or Face Disaster, G20 Told

Economists and global health experts have called on G20 leaders to provide trillions of dollars to poorer countries to shore up ailing healthcare systems and economies, or face a disaster that will rebound on wealthier states through migration and health crises.

Twenty experts, among them four Nobel prizewinners, including Joseph Stiglitz, Lord Nicholas Stern and seven chief economists of the World Bank and other development banks, have written to G20 leaders to warn of “unimaginable health and social impacts” as coronavirus rips through the developing world, taking overburdened healthcare systems beyond breaking point, and causing economic and social devastation.

Countries are “falling apart because of the collapse in commodity prices, tourism and remittances”, said the signatories, even before the ravages of the virus itself takes hold across south-east Asia, Latin America and Africa, where at least 43 out of 54 countries have confirmed cases.

The G20 held a virtual meeting by video conference on Thursday to discuss the Covid-19 crisis.

Poorer countries are likely to be hit harder than rich states, since they have less capacity to absorb the shock and overcrowding, poor infrastructure and lack of resources hamper public health efforts. Basic hygiene and a lack of handwashing facilities and soap will be a major issue for poorer people.

“Developing countries are facing an unprecedented collective threat to human life, social cohesion and economic devastation,” the letter to the G20 leaders said. “Massive economic losses will be incurred as countries desperately try to cope, people will migrate out of fear as the epidemic takes hold, leading to social disruption, violence and security issues.”

The group wants swift action to devote emergency spending to stricken developing countries, and longer-term reforms that make nations more resilient to outbreaks and natural disasters.

At least $8bn (£6.5bn) in emergency funding has been requested by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, but that should be just the beginning according to the letter’s signatories, who make it clear that the money required will be “of a different order of magnitude” to the amounts pledged so far.

The US is implementing a rescue package worth about $2tn, the UK government is spending more than £330bn on its recovery, and other countries are coming up with packages of their own. Poorer nations will need far greater levels of assistance than have yet been planned, according to the letter.

Erik Berglof, director of the Institute of Global Affairs at the London School of Economics, and an organiser of the letter, told the Guardian: “If it will take more than $2tn, perhaps as much as $6tn, to fix the US, we are not going to fix the rest of the world for less. To attach a specific number now is almost meaningless. What we need are new and creative ways of using the global financial muscle to back up existing international financial institutions.”

He said that emergency resources and medical help could be provided quickly, but it was important to manage the process with a long-term view, expanding existing international institutions and programmes. “You cannot sprinkle money from helicopters in these economies because it would never reach the intended receivers,” he said. “You need carefully managed programmes and projects that can help these countries through this extremely difficult period.”

Infrastructure investment would be vital to ensure recovery from a shock that, the economists said, would be greater than that of the 2008 financial crisis.
‘We fear, but have to work’: isolation not an option for the poor of Nairobi
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If efforts to control Covid-19 fail, “the virus could become endemic, producing new waves of destructive outbreaks around the world”, the letter warned, adding: “We have a rapidly closing window to ensure that we give these countries at least a fighting chance to manage the crisis and provide some light at the end of what could be a long tunnel.”

The letter concludes: “We are now urging you, the leaders of the G20, to urgently provide the necessary resources to reduce the losses in human life and back up those most vulnerable. The required investment is minute compared to the social and economic costs of inaction. History will judge us harshly if we do not get this right.”

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