The Irish Times view on overseas aid: a lifeline under threat
The pandemic threatens to staunch the flow of aid to poor countries at a time when they badly need it
South African children stand in a social distancing line as they wait for food from the Masiphumelele Creative Hub run by Yandiswa Mazwana in Masiphumelele, Cape Town, South Africa on Monday. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA
The coronavirus pandemic threatens to staunch the flow of aid to the world’s poorest countries at a time when they face the worst effects of the crisis. While African states have so far been spared exponential growth in Covid-19 cases, the virus could still quite easily overwhelm under-resourced health systems in many parts of the continent.
Even if Africa manages to avoid the worst of the pandemic, however, the fallout from the global crisis could be severe. Some 820 million people were estimated to go hungry on a daily basis before the crisis hit; that figure is expected to exceed 1 billion as a result of the economic slowdown and disruption the pandemic has caused. In the rich world, lockdowns have just about been possible because governments have stepped in to top up private incomes and buttress social protection systems. That’s not an option in the least developed states, where, according to aid agency Concern, incomes losses as a result of Covid-19 are expected to reach €202 billion.
For the charity sector, the crisis has brought a severe drop in public donations. Trócaire has said a 60 per cent decrease in donations to its Lenten appeal has put many of its life-saving programmes at risk. Even more damaging would be sharp cuts to overseas development aid budgets in the small number of western states that account for the vast bulk of global aid spending. That spending had actually been increasing before the pandemic hit. Aid from the rich world totalled $152.8 billion last year, a rise of 1.4 per cent in real terms from 2018, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Now it’s under real threat.
In the long term, the crisis may force the world to adopt a far-ranging plan for the developing world that includes some debt relief, investment in health infrastructure and direct aid to protect livelihoods. In the meantime, however, donor governments – including the parties currently negotiating a deal to form a government here in the Republic – must make every effort to protect their overseas aid budgets from severe cuts.