SEATTLE, Washington — While the world’s attention has been focused on the global impacts of COVID-19, poverty, hunger and conflicts around the world have not stopped. The response to the pandemic is urgent, however, the world is in danger of forgetting its obligations to the millions of people who require humanitarian aid that is unrelated to COVID-19. COVID-19 impacts foreign aid in a significant way.
Pressing Issues Still Continue
The United States, China, Russia and many European countries have donated millions of dollars, personal protective equipment and other COVID-19-related foreign aid to bolster developing countries’ fragile healthcare systems. Although this aid is extremely necessary, experts are fearful that countries will neglect other development issues. Foreign aid that addresses poverty, famine, governance and other illnesses are just a few of the issues that may be forgotten during the worldwide scramble to combat COVID-19.
Economic Impact and Reallocation of Funds
The economic impact of COVID-19 has been seen in every country it touches. Countries may be forced to dip into its foreign aid budgets to pay for stimulus packages and domestic economic relief. Another way COVID-19 impacts foreign aid is that countries may reallocate foreign aid budgets to address COVID-19 relief in developing countries.
The United States is a perfect example of both these scenarios. The U.S. has fallen into an economic recession due to a country-wide lockdown. Its economic situation will most likely decrease the budget for the “150 account”, a budget that includes the State Department, USAID, and other international development programs under the U.S. Government.
A large portion of the 150 account’s budget is allocated towards combatting AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. While the U.S. initially spent about $2.25 billion for COVID-19 relief around the world, gains in the fight against AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis could regress if the focus is solely on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Barriers to Humanitarian Organizations
Many organizations that provide humanitarian assistance are unable to put people on the ground due to the risk of contracting COVID-19. The barriers humanitarian assistance organizations face due to the COVID-19 pandemic limit the ability of countries to provide global humanitarian aid. Developing countries rely on these organizations as intermediaries to distribute aid on the ground. For example, the suspension of the Peace Corps limits the United States’ ability to conduct programs for education, economic development, healthcare and the environment in more than 61 developing countries.
The International Rescue Committee, which relies on government grants, has had to suspend many of its programs due to the virus as well. The suspension of these programs severely limits the organization’s ability to respond to the 26 million refugees worldwide.
The interruption of these humanitarian aid programs could negatively affect the progress that has been made in many developmental areas such as education, poverty, healthcare and the environment. This is an indicator of how gravely COVID-19 impacts foreign aid.
Who is Forgotten?
There are several critical international crises that require continuing humanitarian aid — crises that experts fear will be forgotten in the fight against COVID-19.
- Horn of Africa: Locust invasions and crop failures
- Syria and Yemen: War and refugees
- Angola and Pakistan: Drought
- Sudan: Political crisis
Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the United Nations estimated that 168 million people would require humanitarian aid in 2020. Of those, 135 million people are at risk of starvation and the economic effects of COVID-19 could add another 130 million to that number.
These statistics alone starkly highlight the need for countries to continue addressing other international crises and to not forget the already vulnerable populations who will be the most impacted by COVID-19. Countries must continue funding programs that decrease poverty, that combat climate change, that invest in infrastructure, that promote education, that protect against democratic backsliding and that assist refugees.
The good news is that it is not too late. Experts and officials have raised alarms to call attention to the potentially catastrophic situations that could occur if foreign aid stops flowing to these issue areas. The international community can avoid an upsurge in poverty, hunger and other crucial issues if it does not forget its commitments to other humanitarian goals during the COVID-19 health pandemic.
– Lauren Clouser