Help Concern to help the world’s poorest
Concern Worldwide urgently needs your help as widespread hunger, locust plagues and impending recession are all converging to create an unprecedented crisis in the world’s poorest regions
Cherica, two-and-a-half-years-old, washes her hands in front of her grandmother's home in Cite Soleil slum, a district of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo: Dieu Nalio Chery/ Concern Worldwide
In the world’s poorest regions, the pandemic is set to have a catastrophic impact on the people and communities that aid agency Concern works with. The situation could not be more serious.
There is now a very real risk that parts of the world will see famine follow pestilence.
Unless there is an urgent intervention on a global scale, the pandemic’s lasting legacy will not only be deaths from the virus but widespread hunger and a major humanitarian crisis.
“In our 50 years of responding to extreme poverty and humanitarian emergencies, we have never seen anything like the scale of this pandemic, a humanitarian crisis simultaneously spanning the countries where we work, and our offices in Ireland, the UK, the US and South Korea,” says Concern’s international programmes director, Anne O’Mahony.
“It is not just the threat which the virus poses in countries with under-developed health systems, but the economic fall-out and the impending global recession that will follow.”
The UN has warned of multiple famines if action is not taken.
“The next three months will be critical as lower-income countries respond to stop the spread of the virus, the economic impacts take their toll and the disruption to food supply chains deepen,” she warns.
If people don’t work, they don’t eat
Concern’s teams around the world are responding by adapting their programmes to enable them to continue their essential work, while combating the spread of the virus.
In some cases the economic impact of the pandemic was felt immediately. The cancellation of manufacturing contracts by fashion chains led to an instant loss of income for garment workers paid piecemeal in parts of Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Many are places where there are “no big social protection schemes,” O’Mahony says. “If people don’t work, they don’t eat.”
It’s a similar story with tourism to stunning destinations such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Malawi. As travel and tourism came to an abrupt halt the low paid daily workers who kept the sector going, from home handicraft makers to hotel cleaners and porters, were suddenly without jobs and income.
Compounding the issue is the immediate impact Covid-19 lockdowns had on remittances, the daily sending home of money by family members working abroad.
Lockdowns in the West have seen very many economic migrants forced out of the workforce. Not all can rely on social welfare.
“People in the places we work have huge numbers of relatives working abroad on whom they depend. That money is not now coming through,” she says.
Leaving aside fears of the virus itself, the combined impact of pandemic, local and international lockdowns and global downturn is causing urgent concern.
[To donate to the Concern Covid-19 emergency appeal visit concern.net or call 1850 410510]
Even if the pandemic had never occurred, 2020 had already become a very difficult year. At the start of the year a record 168 million already required humanitarian assistance. Since the onset of Covid-19 the World Food Programme has estimated that 265 million people will face ‘crisis’ levels of food insecurity.
But the pandemic also comes on top of a major humanitarian crisis that was already building for people in East Africa who are currently experiencing the worst infestation of locusts in decades, destroying their crops.
The insects came across from the Yemen, which has endured years of war. “Under normal circumstances it might have been better controlled, but as a result we are now into a second wave, 20 times larger than the first, with locust infestations in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, Uganda and South Sudan. As the insects currently eat their way through standing crops and grasslands they are laying their eggs, so a third wave is expected in June,” O’Mahony reveals.
It’s a cataclysmic event that has already robbed millions of farmers of what had promised to be a bountiful crop year. “These are arid lands and last year the rains were very good. People were so happy to see so much green. But then came high humidity and it developed into the perfect breeding ground for desert locusts to hatch.”
The destruction is total. “Some swarms can eat as much food as would feed 30,000 people for a day, in just half an hour. Then they move off to find more. It is just heart-breaking to see people out trying to protect their crops, but you can’t scare a billion bugs away.”
It is not just this year’s crop, food and income people have lost, but their seed crop for next year, putting millions at risk of hunger.
“It is catastrophic and would have been our main focus for this year, if it hadn’t been for the pandemic,” she explains.
The agency is doing what it can but it needs help. “We are trying to give money to people to buy food to feed their families. It’s very simple. If you give €30 it will help to feed a family for a month. That would make an enormous difference,” she says.
Thanks to technological advances, the agency can transfer money directly to people via their mobile phones, minimising waste and maximising impact.
Concern has a long track record supporting communities to a point where they can sustain themselves. “In the 38 years I have worked with Concern I have seen so much tremendous progress. We have pulled out of so many countries where we no longer needed to be, places like Tanzania, Uganda, India, Cambodia and Laos,” she explains. “But we stay where we are most needed.”
Right now the communities which it works with are facing into a desperate “double whammy” of pandemic and global downturn. It is in everyone’s interest to support them. “This is a global pandemic,” she says. “It needs a global response. As (emergencies director) Mike Ryan of the WHO has said, with Covid-19, nobody is safe until everybody is safe,” says O’Mahony.
“The global downturn kicked in for the people we work with immediately. These people work so hard and none of this is their fault. We have to help them over this hump.”
Ethiopia suffers immediate impact
Concern has humanitarian aid programmes in seven of Ethiopia’s nine regions. The country, which has a population of 110m, is so vast that it can take the agency’s country director Eileen Morrow, one flight and two days’ driving to get to a location from her base in Addis Ababa, the capital.
Now we have Covid-19 and its needs are enormous
“We’ve a very big programme here, working in some of the most remote and poorest parts of the country,” explains Morrow.
“Prior to Covid-19 the big crisis has always been around nutrition and the illnesses associated with lack of nutrition, addressing issues such as food shortages and access to clean water,” says Morrow.
While the number of Covid-19-positive cases is small, the economic impact of the pandemic is already enormous.
“Ethiopia depends on overseas and internal remittances. Very much like Ireland, people here have always travelled for a better life,” she says.
“There are lots of Ethiopians around the world, from the US and Europe to the Middle East. Very many now have been sent back, either forcibly or voluntarily. Others have lost jobs and can’t access social welfare. Many people here rely on their remittances for half or even all of their income. That is a big safety net gone,” she says.
Gone too are around 100,000 hectares of crops, as a result of locusts, the knock-on effects of which are being felt in higher food prices.
Concern’s transport costs are up too, as more vehicles are required to socially distance personnel. Staggered hours and longer days at distribution centres are required to minimise crowds. Personal protective equipment is in short supply, including, in some regions, soap and clean water.
“We already had 8.5 million people here in extreme poverty, extensive food shortages, several hundred thousand displaced people living in internal refugee camps and, with the locust crisis, the cost of living set to go up,” says Morrow.
“Now we have Covid-19 – and its needs are enormous.”
Please support Concern’s work in some of the world’s poorest regions. To donate to the Covid-19 emergency appeal visit concern.net or call 1850 410510 now.