Humanitarian aid critical in shaping a better post-pandemic future
The coronavirus pandemic will go down in history as a calamity that has affected the entire world. Since its onset, it has triggered a global recession, job losses, food insecurity, rising violence against vulnerable groups, unprecedented school dropouts, and high fatality rates. As the pandemic lingers, the most vulnerable countries are facing increasing pressures to safeguard their populations despite having limited infrastructure and resources. There has never been a more pressing time to channel humanitarian aid in an agile, effective manner to address these issues. Acting with global solidarity through humanitarian aid has the power to lessen the tragic loss of life, rebuild affected communities and expedite economic recovery.
An illuminating report issued last month by the International Rescue Committee and Development Initiatives highlights the humanitarian funding response to the pandemic during 2020. In the midst of this tragedy, aid has delivered a beacon of light to many countries that lacked the preparation, resilience and resources to combat the worst pandemic in a century. The grievous situations countries were facing resulted in a sharp 40 percent increase in humanitarian needs compared to 2019. A total of $6.6 billion of funding has been channeled to affected countries, with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait among the Top 9 donor countries as they committed a total of $618 million between them. By demonstrating its humanitarian face, the region is playing an active part in expediting the global recovery from the pandemic and establishing itself as a key partner in solving the world’s most pressing issues.
The UAE was the most generous Arab country in terms of providing humanitarian aid in 2020, as it contributed $335 million to various endeavors. For example, it donated medical supplies to Italy, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Colombia, benefiting tens of thousands of healthcare professionals. It also helped convert an exhibition space it owns in London into a temporary 4,000-bed hospital for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients.
Saudi Arabia last week announced plans to provide $1 billion of investments and loans to African countries to expedite their recovery from the pandemic and improve their economic independence. It is also spearheading vaccine access through Covax, a global initiative aimed at facilitating equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. In February, the Kingdom donated $620,000 to Somalia through UNICEF to enable children to continue learning during the pandemic and to put in place systems to protect them from abuse, neglect, violence and exploitation.
Humanitarian aid during the pandemic has been necessary to provide a number of immediate and long-term benefits to at-risk countries. The UN World Food Programme has estimated that the number of people who are at risk of starvation is more than 270 million, double the amount from before the pandemic. Additionally, the World Bank estimates that 111 to 149 million people will fall into extreme poverty by the end of 2021. Many people have also found themselves displaced due to income losses, putting themselves and their families under immense mental health strains.
These figures emphasize the importance of providing immediate relief, such as access to food, water, shelter, sanitization, cash transfers, and personal hygiene supplies — all of which save lives and reduce suffering. The provision of medical supplies is also critical in safeguarding public health, protecting front-line health workers and reducing mortality rates. Moving forward, it will be vital to provide equitable access to vaccines to suppress the spread of the virus. Furthermore, humanitarian aid should be channeled in economic projects that stimulate job creation, ensuring people have access to stable sources of incomes. Doing so will unlock human capital potential, productivity and natural resources that could boost economic growth and trade.
The pandemic has also threatened to disrupt the education of children worldwide, with more than 1.5 billion students affected by school and university closures. As such, it is important to invest in programs that encourage students to attend school either in person or remotely, such as paying for tuition fees, school meals, educational technologies, broadband connections, and tablets. Additionally, it is vital that investment is channeled toward establishing child protection systems to mitigate the abhorrent abuse and violence committed against children. Investment in education will yield long-term, sustainable economic growth and improve well-being among individuals and communities.
In the midst of this tragedy, aid has delivered a beacon of light to many countries.
Lastly, investment in enhancing the humanitarian aid process should be a priority in order to expedite the scale, speed and impact of funding. Important initiatives include establishing a network of trustworthy partner organizations in each country to ensure funding is indeed transferred to affected communities, with no abuses of the money. Investing in a digital dashboard of beneficiaries according to location will ensure aid is delivered to identifiable at-risk populations. Additionally, expediting funding through electronic cash transfers is another fast and effective solution in this sphere.
Going forward, we should urge governments, private sector organizations, nongovernmental organizations and volunteers to come together in global solidarity and show their humanitarian face. Together, we can carve out a better post-pandemic world.
- Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature. www.amorelicious.com.