Overseas aid a lifeline for millions

 

Sir, – Ruadhán Mac Cormaic raised important questions in his piece examining Africa’s low Covid-19 toll (“Africa’s low Covid-19 toll shatters perception bias”, Opinion & Analysis, October 3rd). It is indeed a great relief that the virus has not resulted in the numbers of deaths we have seen in other parts of the world. Africa’s low death toll, relative to Europe and the Americas, has also confronted fatalistic perceptions about the continent and provided much-needed hope for the world’s potential to deal with this pandemic comprehensively.

It must be remembered, however that the virus has still caused immense secondary hardship, what the article refers to as “collateral damage” – the broader public health impact, the increase in gender-based violence, early marriage and the exploitation of children in many parts of the world. The economic and social impact of the virus and the impact of lockdown measures are being felt everywhere but the impact on the African continent – where one-in-three people are living on less than $1.90 per day – is particularly devastating.

Over the past six months, Concern has witnessed vulnerability at a level we have never seen before. There is a short distance between being poor but surviving to being destitute and desperate, a distance shortened quite shockingly by the many impacts of the pandemic.

Concern has been monitoring the impact of lockdown strategies on communities in Sierra Leone, Somalia, Bangladesh and Malawi over the last six months. What we observed in each of the four countries was swift action from government to manage misinformation and put controls in place to minimise the spread of the virus. Public health systems may be weak in many countries but there is often vast experience in managing outbreaks of infectious diseases.

The harsh reality for many of the most vulnerable people has been the financial impact of lockdown guidelines and disease control regulations. Soap and hand-sanitiser cost money as do face masks, and families reported needing to prioritise food over these items.

Higher costs for basic food stuffs like rice, fruit and vegetables food have forced families to reduce their meals to one per day, limit the portion size of each meal, and dilute milk for children to make things last longer. Selling household assets, from beds and radios to goats and chickens, is one of the main coping strategies reported in our research.

The next few months will be tough for us all but tougher on those who have spent everything to make it this far. The economic effects as people lose their current employment, their opportunities for short-term work are curtailed, overseas remittances fall and returns on small-scale trading businesses decline will be severe.

The long-term impact on children of increased levels of hunger and malnutrition will have repercussions for many years, and the impact of the pandemic on their education, in particular for girls, has the potential to irrevocably damage their longer-term opportunities.

Ireland’s overseas aid is an essential lifeline for millions of the world’s most vulnerable people. For many of those who are caught up in conflict and displacement, in the merciless effects of climate-driven drought, or in the hardest grip of this ferocious pandemic, Ireland’s contribution to overseas assistance is a source of support that has never been more vital than at this moment.

If we are to protect the most vulnerable as we strive to overcome Covid-19, we must retain and strengthen this line of support in next week’s budget. – Yours, etc,

DOMINIC MacSORLEY,

Chief Executive,

Concern Worldwide,

Dublin 2.