In the news: UN seeks $6.7 billion for COVID-19

Coronavirus adds 20 percent to the world’s humanitarian bill.

A COVID-19 decontamination campaign in Bamako, Mali. (UN Photo)

The UN says $6.7 billion is needed to stave off only the worst effects of COVID-19 in 63 vulnerable countries.

A new compendium of relief spending plans more than triples a $2 billion COVID-19 humanitarian appeal issued in late March. As of 7 May, the original Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP) was only half-funded.

The updated GHRP adds $6.7 billion to the UN’s pre-pandemic estimates of 2020 relief needs, in countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

Costs originally included food, healthcare, water, shelter, and sanitation for about 117 million people affected by conflict or natural hazards, including refugees. Those appeals added up to about $30 billion at the start of the year. Additional needs due to the pandemic have been tacked on to existing country plans, so the grand total is now $36.7 billion, of which only $4.2 billion is in the bank.

The first GHRP version concentrated on umbrella requirements for global response, for example the UN refugee agency’s overall plans and a network of dedicated passenger and cargo flights proposed by the World Food Programme. This time, the document adds:

  • Specific budgets for COVID-19 response in 63 countries
  • Measures beyond the health sector (more than half the amount is for non-health purposes)
  • Plans for several countries not included before: Benin, Djibouti, Liberia, Mozambique, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Togo, and Zimbabwe 

Introducing the document, UN relief chief Mark Lowcock suggested donor countries should “act in both solidarity and in self-interest”. Helping the most vulnerable is not only the right thing to do, but it’s essential to prevent “spillover effects for many years to come”, he said, adding that to let things deteriorate “would prove even more painful, and much more expensive, for everyone”.

The COVID-19 appeal is the largest in the UN’s history, and is meant to channel funding to NGOs and other relief groups as well as to fund the UN agencies. Some of the largest aid groups, however, such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Médecins Sans Frontières, choose to maintain independent planning and fundraising operations.

The response to COVID-19 adds hundreds of millions of dollars to the UN’s spending plans in countries including Ethiopia ($322 million), Syria ($384 million), and Nigeria ($259 million). Refugee operations will need at least an extra $1.4 billion. Funding needs in Iraq and Colombia jumped by over 40 percent.

More countries are on a watchlist for possible inclusion in a future update: Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Kenya, Malawi, the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras), Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, island states in the Caribbean and the Pacific, and Uganda.

– Ben Parker

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