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UN coronavirus appeal to top $10 billion

‘Containing COVID-19 in poorer countries is in the national interests of richer countries.’

UN COVID-19 relief supplies awaiting shipment
UN COVID-19 relief supplies awaiting shipment at Liege airport, Belgium, in April 2020. (Francois Lenoir/REUTERS)

Over $10 billion will be needed this year to deal with the worst effects of COVID-19 in the hardest-hit countries, the UN is to say, according to a draft of its updated coronavirus response plan obtained by The New Humanitarian ahead of its publication later this week.

As the pandemic spreads, the world body is increasing its emergency funding appeal by about 50 percent above the previous edition announced in May. The impact of the virus if left unchecked in low-income countries could be “appalling“, and the appeal, aimed at donor countries, says that famine prevention is a must to avoid “a major catastrophe”.

Tackling the threat early is “better, cheaper and more dignified” than letting it spin further out of control, the document argues. The threat of instability, refugee flows, and more costly crises in future means that “containing COVID-19 in poorer countries is in the national interests of richer countries”, it adds.

The updated COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan, or GHRP, is a compendium of projects proposed in 63 at-risk countries for the 2020 calendar year. The new appeal, the largest in the UN’s history, highlights the need for a wide range of projects, from wide-scale health and sanitation programmes to supplementary food and nutrition supplies, to projects on mental health and the prevention of sexual assaults.

The requirements in the draft, dated 7 July, amount to $9.82 billion, but the report says the total will top $10 billion before its publication – slated for this Thursday, 16 July.

“It is very likely we will see absolute falls in levels of global assistance,” with the current system “under significant strain.”

Dan Coppard, director of research and analysis at the NGO Development Initiatives, told TNH that the outlook for international aid funding is “challenging”, as donor governments face “growing tensions between domestic and international demands”.

“It is very likely we will see absolute falls in levels of global assistance,” with the current system “under significant strain”, Coppard said. The demands of COVID-19 are amplifying rising political and domestic pressures on aid budgets among “core donors”, he said, adding that "there are real concerns" that demands for coronavirus funding could displace finance that is equally needed for pre-existing crises.

Funding under strain

The costs of the projects outlined in the GHRP – all dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 – are being added to UN-coordinated appeals of about $30 billion that were already on the table at the start of the year. 

Overall, the new appeal will bring the total requests for UN and NGO responses to crises around the world to an unprecedented $40 billion. Only about 23 percent of the appeals have been funded so far

A 10 July background paper on COVID-19, prepared by the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, attempts to put the price tag in context. It estimates that $90 billion could protect the world’s poorest 10 percent from the primary and secondary effects of the pandemic. It points to a high cost of “doing nothing”: on incomes, health, diet, schooling, and political stability.

While donors might have domestic crises to worry about, the paper argues that aid levels held up surprisingly well after the financial crash of 2008-2009. That, the paper said, demonstrated “human generosity and empathy, but also a calculation of national interest in donor countries”.

In the new draft appeal, not yet released to the public, $1 billion is tagged for global support services such as air transport for UN and NGO COVID-19 relief efforts. Another large budget line is to limit the effects of the pandemic among refugees and migrants: that totals about $1.5 billion, the largest share being services for people from Syria and Venezuela.

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The rest of the new appeal is allocated by country of expenditure, based on NGOs and UN agencies in each country conferring on a set of priorities and costings for humanitarian response. The largest single country operation in the latest draft document is Ethiopia, where the UN and its NGO partners plan to ask for over $506 million. 

The draft appeal includes a proposal for a new $500 million “famine prevention” fund to be managed by the UN World Food Programme as well as a $300 million kitty for NGOs – NGOs argued they had been poorly represented in earlier versions of the plan.

The 174-page draft and increased budget request comes despite the fact that the document adds no further countries to the global response plan.

Funding so far for the GHRP stands at $1.7 billion, and the UN estimates a further $1.3 billion has gone to national governments, the Red Cross movement, and NGOs for actions not covered by the plan. Major spending from other sources, chiefly the World Bank, are tracked outside of the “humanitarian” sphere

Responding to an email from TNH, an OCHA spokesperson, Jens Laerke, said he could not, as a point of policy, comment on a draft document, but added: “COVID-19 is the biggest international crisis for 50 years and unfortunately, compared to the scale of the crisis, the response so far has been inadequate”.

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