It is time to think about the impact of coronavirus on fragile countries

Six Irish aid agencies have come together to raise funds and deliver aid

25-year old Sawmuda received three months tailoring training from ActionAid so she can make masks to keep herself and her family safe from coronavirus. She also sells masks to other Rohingya refugees living in the camps of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Credit: Fabeha Monir/ActionAid

25-year old Sawmuda received three months tailoring training from ActionAid so she can make masks to keep herself and her family safe from coronavirus. She also sells masks to other Rohingya refugees living in the camps of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Credit: Fabeha Monir/ActionAid

 

The arrival of coronavirus quickly changed our priorities and led to a sudden shrinking of our world as we stocked up on cleaning supplies and food (and toilet paper) and stayed at home to protect the health and wellbeing of our loved ones.

As the CEO of an international aid agency, I am used to responding to international emergencies and crises. I didn’t expect that we would all be dealing with a crisis that was felt first here at home.

Three years ago, I along with the leaders of five other agencies started serious discussions about setting up a combined Irish response mechanism to international emergencies and humanitarian disasters.

Ireland is a generous nation and we pride ourselves on our contribution to international development and aid, yet here was a gap in our country’s emergency response. We wanted to follow in the footsteps of our European neighbours; most notably the Disasters Emergency Committee in the UK.

This week brings about the official launch of the Irish Emergency Alliance. We expected that we would be needed to respond to sudden onset emergencies such as earthquakes and tsunamis. We did not anticipate that our first appeal would be in response to a global pandemic.

Our coronavirus appeal comes as we approach a million global deaths. Earlier optimism that the pandemic would not take hold in developing countries has sadly proved premature. Indeed, with testing rates often more than 20 times lower than in Ireland it is likely that the true scale of the crisis in the countries we work in is unknown.

Our aim is to raise money from the Irish public to respond in the countries most in need of our support, countries not only facing rising coronavirus cases, but which are also struggling with the impact of conflict and displacement as well as wide spread poverty, increased rates of hunger and poor health care.

Our global coronavirus appeal will focus on vulnerable communities in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, all coping with the consequences of wide spread conflict, as well as Ethiopia, Kenya, Lebanon and the Rohingya refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. In total, these countries are home to more than 17 million refugees and displaced people.

Having visited South Sudan each year for the past four years I am acutely aware of the devastating impact that coronavirus and the impact of lockdowns will have on a country where already nearly two thirds of people did not eat enough food last year and even more are in need of aid.

Ireland has more than 100 times the number of doctors per person than South Sudan. While we have more than 530 critical care beds, South Sudan has to make do with two dozen ICU beds for a population twice our size. While Ireland has carried out more than million coronavirus tests, South Sudan has only managed around 22,000. South Sudan also lacks a furlough scheme to help those who have lost work during the pandemic.

The motto of the Irish Emergency Alliance is ‘saving more lives together’. Between us - ActionAid, Christian Aid, Plan International, Self Help Africa, Tearfund and World Vision - we have programmes in 85 different countries giving us the global presence, expertise and experience to respond quickly to this and future crises.

Our six agencies are used to co-operating together in our programme countries. By coming together here as well we can save costs by sharing resources during appeals rather than duplicating efforts. We can respond faster and do more to save and help rebuild lives of people affected by major emergencies, beginning with the global coronavirus pandemic.

We will divide all funds equally between the agencies and share learnings and experience. Our collaboration will not only strengthen our individual organisations but strengthen our combined humanitarian response.

The creation of the Irish Emergency Alliance has been welcomed by Minister of State for Overseas Development Colm Brophy and in time we hope to get direct financial support from the government too, in line with many of our counterparts in the UK and Europe.

Even if a vaccine is introduced the repercussions of the virus will last for many years in the countries we work in. Millions of people will fall into extreme poverty and there will be more food shortages leading to high malnutrition rates particularly among children.

After six months of understandably focusing on the impact of coronavirus here at home, the time has come to also give our attention to people living in the most fragile countries in the world.

The words of Dr Mike Ryan of the World Health Organization remain as relevant now as they did back at the earliest stages of the pandemic - none of us are safe until all of us are safe.

To support the Irish Emergency Alliance please donate at www.irishemergencyalliance.org or by calling 1 800 939 979 or texting IEA to 50300 to give €4.

Rosamond Bennett is Chief Executive of Christian Aid Ireland and board member of the Irish Emergency Alliance.

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