UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres launched a $2 billion appeal on Wednesday to help vulnerable and conflict-torn countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and South America tackle the coronavirus pandemic and prevent COVID-19 from again circling the globe.
The U.N, chief called the amount a “drop in the ocean,” noting that the U.S. Senate is seeking $2 trillion — “1,000 times more” — for the U.S. economy.
U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock announced a $60 million contribution from the U.N.’s emergency relief fund to kick-start the appeal.
Guterres said the $2 billion is essential to keep economies in the developing world going so their health systems remain afloat to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the money will also help countries already in the midst of a humanitarian crisis caused by conflicts, natural disasters and climate change.
These people have been forced to flee their homes, have no space to socially distance or isolate, and lack clean water and soap to wash their hands to protect against the virus, he said.
If they become critically ill, Guterres said, there is no health care that can provide a hospital bed and a ventilator.
“We must come to the aid of the ultra-vulnerable – millions upon millions of people who are least able to protect themselves,” the secretary-general stressed. “This is a matter of basic human solidarity. It is also crucial for combating the virus.”
“The worst thing that could happen,” he said, “is to suppress the disease in developed countries and let it spread like fire in the developing world where then millions of transmissions will take place, millions of people will die, and the risk of mutations would be there, which means that the virus could come back in ways that even vaccines that, I hope, will be soon developed wouldn’t be able to stop it again.”
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the launch that while COVID-19 is a threat to people everywhere, what’s most worrying is the danger the virus poses to those affected by crisis, who must be given urgent priority.
“History will judge us on how we responded to the poorest communities in their darkest hour,” he said.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is coordinating the appeal.
Lowcock, who heads the office, said the $2 billion will cover the next nine months through December, and will address “the immediate humanitarian consequences of this pandemic in countries which already face other humanitarian crises.”
He said Burkina Faso, Congo, Ethiopia and Syria have confirmed their first cases and “we know the impacts of this virus in these places could be catastrophic.”
Guterres said the money will be used for laboratory supplies for testing, medical equipment to treat the sick, protection for health care workers, and measures to help communities that open their homes and towns to refugees and displaced people.
Henrietta Fore, head of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, called youngsters “the hidden victims of this pandemic,” saying more than half the world’s students have been affected by school closures in at least 120 countries and youngsters at home are subject to physical and sexual violence as well as emotional issues.
She also noted that 40 percent of the world’s population, or 3 billion people, don’t have facilities to wash their hands at home with water and soap to prevent the virus, including tens of millions of children.
Fore said UNICEF’s request for $405 million for its response to COVID-19 in emergency countries is part of the $2 billion appeal, but the agency is also seeking an additional $246.6 million for its response in non-emergency countries.
Lowcock, the U.N. humanitarian chief, said “with a pandemic of this nature there can be no half measures.”
Governments must politically and financially support the $2 billion COVID-19 response plan and they must not divert money from other humanitarian needs, he said.
“If funding is diverted from those plans to tackle COVID-19 we would create circumstances in which cholera, measles and meningitis can thrive, in which even more children become malnourished, and in which extremists can take control,” Lowcock said. “And that would be the perfect breeding ground for COVID-19.”