COVID-19 AND THE HUMANITARIAN LANDSCAPE
2020 was a year like no other. Amidst on-going humanitarian crises, largely fuelled by conflict and violence but also driven by the effects of climate change – such as the largest locust infestation in a generation – the world had to contend with a global pandemic. In less than one year (March-December 2020), more than 82 million COVID-19 cases and 1.8 million deaths were recorded. In that timeframe, out of the global COVID-19 totals, 30 per cent of COVID-19 cases and 39 per cent deaths were recorded in GHRP countries.
Beyond the immediate health impacts of COVID-19, the secondary effects of the pandemic were particularly grievous in humanitarian settings, and they were, unfortunately, made worse by the same travel and movement restrictions aimed at containing the pandemic. Disruptions to supply chains, movement restrictions through border closures and lockdowns, and market volatility drastically increased food insecurity, pushing over 270 million people worldwide to suffer from acute food insecurity by the end of 2020. Gender-based violence sharply increased, fuelled by the loss of referral pathways, access to information, the closures of schools and safe spaces, and the day-to-day isolation of women and girls during lockdowns. Some countries recorded a 700 per cent increase in calls to gender-based violence (GBV) hotlines in the first months of the pandemic. The pandemic also increased the abuse and neglect of older persons who are the group most at-risk of dying from COVID-19.
Essential health services have also been affected: at the end of 2020, 35 GHRP countries (56 per cent of the 63 countries) had at least one vaccine-preventable disease mass immunization campaign postponed due to COVID-19.1
Health service disruptions also led to a 30 per cent reduction in the global coverage of essential nutrition services, leaving nearly seven million additional children at risk of suffering from acute malnutrition. The closure of schools led to the loss of important early intervention opportunities for protection, mental health and psychosocial support, and nutrition programmes. The economic contractions worldwide brought about the first increase in extreme poverty since 1998. In January 2021, it was estimated that between 119 million and 124 million people could have fallen back into extreme poverty in 2020 due to COVID-19, with an additional increase of between 24 million and 39 million people in 2021, potentially bringing the number of new people living in extreme poverty to between 143 million and 163 million.
THE GLOBAL HUMANITARIAN RESPONSE PLAN FOR COVID-19
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the United Nations launched the Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP) for COVID-19 on 25 March to address the immediate humanitarian consequences of the pandemic. This was just two weeks after WHO's announcement of a global pandemic. A joint effort by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee and coordinated by OCHA, the GHRP was the humanitarian community’s first event-specific global appeal, and it demonstrated how quickly the international community could come together to tackle an emergency without borders. Despite the highly fluid context and limited information, the humanitarian community quickly identified and developed responses to address the devastating impact that lockdowns and mobility restrictions were having on the most vulnerable, including the increase in gender-based violence, mental health and disruptions to vital health services and livelihoods. The GHRP enabled the needs of the most vulnerable from the pandemic to be brought the forefront of the COVID-19 response.
The unprecedented plan originally appealed for $2 billion to respond to urgent needs in 54 countries. As the humanitarian situation rapidly evolved and the full scale of the needs from the field, the response required and the challenges in delivering assistance were revealed (including the increased cost of essential health supplies and air and sea transportation), the GHRP was revised in May and July to 63 countries and the amount requested to $9.5 billion. As of 15 February 2021, reported funding for the GHRP had reached $3.73 billion. The GHRP also provided a global plan with indicators of progress that most agencies and some NGOs actively sought to report against each month – a first for the global humanitarian community. While improvements could be made in the future to data collection and reporting, the monthly reports provided a global, consistent and timely effort to demonstrate collective achievements
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.