By Noemí Jabois
Beirut, Dec 19 (efe-epa).- The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated some of the most acute humanitarian crises on the planet, from the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, food shortages in the central Sahel and southern Africa to terror activity in the Chad Basin.
It is not the virus itself wreaking havoc in these vulnerable corners of the world but rather the measures enforced to contain the disease and the diversion of resources that accompanies them.
At the end of 2019, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that, in 2020, there would 169 million people in need of humanitarian aid and that it would cost some $29 billion to reach 109 million of those in need.
Twelve months and one pandemic later, the OCHA’s 2021 Global Humanitarian Overview said that the cost, in reality, had to be increased to $39 billion to provide assistance to 265 million people out of an estimated 441 million in need of aid.
GREATER NEED, LESS AID
The interim director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jacob Kurtzer, warns: “The impact I think is felt in terms of the intersection of an increased need and a decreased funding level.”
Despite there being an uptick in international contributions this year, the OCHA reported the largest-ever deficit in aid funds, at some $22 billion, according to the 2021 Overview.
“A lot of humanitarian action relies on global supply chains, so the disruption in supply chains, the prioritization of Covid-related material impacts the ability to do ongoing work,” Kurtzer tells Efe.
The pandemic has been a setback for humanitarian activity itself, the natural cycle for which begins with stabilization and moves towards relief and recovery.
However, being in the middle of a crisis can knock progress back and act as a destabilizing factor.
And, of course, border closures and lockdowns have taken their toll on the most impoverished and indebted economies.
A VIRUS AMID THE BOMBING
In war zones, the situation is even more complicated as the virus becomes a feature of the conflict and warring parties accuse each other of spreading it or of mismanaging resources.
In Syria, almost a decade of civil war has devastated the country’s health system and observers fear the number of Covid-19 cases could be massively underreported, both in areas of government control and in territories held by the opposition, such as Idlib province.
“The nature of the conflict even prior to the outbreak of Covid meant that the response was so severely limited,” Kurtzer adds.
“The use by the (Bashar al-) Assad government and its supporters of aerial attacks on medical facilities and the targeting of healthcare infrastructure, it is such a devastating crime of war because you don’t just deal with the immediate impact you undermine the capacity to deal with basic health things.”
In January, aid into Syria was held up when the transit point into Idlib was closed and six months later the UN Security Council was unable to renew transit via another point of entry when the proposal was vetoed by Beijing and Moscow, the latter a close ally of the Syrian regime.
NGOs and international agencies hit a roadblock with only a small trickle of trucks being able to cross via the one point of entry into rebel-held northwestern Syria.
“How do you prioritize what is the greatest need when people are hungry, are lacking in shelter, are lacking in basic sanitation equipment and concerned about the impact of Covid?” Kurtzer asks.