COVID-19 and extreme poverty: Concern’s position

April 6, 2020

Concern Worldwide is tasked with protecting the most vulnerable communities, ensuring no-one is left behind. The international community is grappling with a global crisis — and we believe the response should be truly global.

The extreme poor cannot be left to fight COVID-19 alone

World hunger levels have been on the rise since 2018, with over 820 million people going hungry on a daily basis. Prior to this rapid global shutdown, 3.4 billion people, almost half the world’s population, already struggled to meet their basic needs. These people include those whose livelihood depends entirely on informal labour generated by demand from Western countries. With air travel suspended, tourism has ceased, demand for fresh produce like fruit and flowers grown in warm countries has plummeted, and the demand for fast fashion has dropped. These changes are catastrophic on low-skilled workers, most of whom cannot survive without a daily wage and have no access to a social safety net. Of the 736 million people living on less than $1.90 a day, 413 million are in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Mathare slum in Kenya

Mathare slum, Nairobi, Kenya

East Africa and South Asia are already reeling from swarms of locusts that are devastating crops, an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods. Coronavirus restrictions are delaying the delivery of pesticides and equipment to control the locusts. As global food production slows, food prices will rise placing more stress on poor families. With no money to pay for health care, these families will be devastated by the impact of this global crisis.

The world’s poor, increasingly located in urban areas, and displaced people, estimated at 71 million, cannot practice social distancing. For most, access to basic health services is a pipe dream and precautions like regular handwashing with soap is an unaffordable and non-existent luxury. Urgent action is needed to protect the world’s most fragile populations from this unfolding threat.

COVID-19 and conflict

On March 24th, the UN Secretary General called for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world, stating that “It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.” Peace must be used as a weapon to fight COVID-19.

In countries which are already dealing with conflict, the long term impacts of previous conflict, or countries with a high potential for conflict, the government’s ability to manage public health crises may already be compromised. The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the urban poor in contexts already affected by conflict could exacerbate existing tensions. The risk of violence is high in countries where the economy was already floundering, with high unemployment, frustration at government performance and pressures created by conflict in neighboring countries

An Ak-47 style assault weapon

Ongoing conflicts in countries like Afghanistan will hinder any response to COVID-19

Collective International Responsibility to reach the furthest behind first

COVID-19 is a global humanitarian challenge. Countries with healthy economies and well-resourced systems are struggling to stay ahead of the virus. In the 23 countries in which Concern works, health systems and social-protection mechanisms are already under pressure. Based on Concern’s Ebola experience, we know that humanitarian responses must protect the most vulnerable, those without access to services, information and livelihood security and ensure that women and girls can access appropriate ongoing care, with referral pathways for survivors of violence maintained and safeguarded. Extensive sensitization efforts and sharing facts on the virus saved countless lives.

The humanitarian system must be adapted and strengthened to respond and support national government health providers. With additional support, NGOs can strengthen and expand efforts to control the virus in these communities, by supplying basic vital supplies such as water and soap, supporting livelihoods, enabling local care committees and providing or strengthening mobile, dedicated medical treatment.

COVID-19 Recommendations to governments, donors and policy makers

A concerted global united effort is needed to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on already vulnerable humanitarian contexts. It is highly likely that the approaches adopted in Asia and part of Europe will not be effective in other countries. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work in complex settings such as camps, high-density urban settlements and situations of ongoing conflict.

Donor funding to reach the furthest behind is more important than ever.

  • It is imperative that international aid programs remain operational to prevent further global upheaval, conflict, displacements, resource depletion and the spread of other diseases in the coming months.
  • Additional funding and investment in scalable actions to curtail the spread of the virus should be prioritized, complementing and strengthening existing programs.
  • Flexible conditions for current committed funding is necessary to support ongoing programs to contain pre-existing needs.

Life-saving humanitarian activities such as the distribution of food and cash must be considered essential services and be exempt from restriction or impediment by authorities. As humanitarian staff provide live-saving assistance to the most vulnerable people in crisis, the movements of essential staff must be facilitated to continue unrestricted by local and national authorities.

A doctor in a health center in CAR

A Concern-supported health center in Central African Republic.

Governments and the private sector, especially social media platforms and technology companies, must put profit and politics aside to ensure factual, clear and unambiguous COVID-19 information reaches all citizens. These efforts to inform communities must be led by national government, supported by Heads of State and supported by community leaders, celebrities, and influencers.

Donors must work with the humanitarian community and national governments to ensure responders have as much access as possible to vulnerable communities. The commitment to reaching the furthest behind, the principle on which the Sustainable Development Goals are based, must dictate responses as governments and the entire humanitarian sector implement change and step up responses at an unprecedented level of urgency across the globe.

Responses should be aware of existing conflict dynamics and ensure that responses target people in greatest need, following the principle of impartiality. COVID-19 requires a global response to treat and protect everyone, across borders, and across front lines.

COVID-19: Concern’s response

The COVID-19 pandemic is poised to have a catastrophic impact on the world’s poorest communities. Drawing on our long experience helping to control outbreaks like Ebola, we’re training and equipping teams across 23 countries to respond, and providing the most vulnerable communities with the resources they need to survive. Every context is different so we’ll respond with what’s needed most, including:

  • Providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to health workers
  • Creating handwashing stations, distributing hygiene supplies, and providing other sanitation services to help prevent the spread
  • Ensuring communities get accurate and life-saving health information through print, radio, and text message campaigns
  • Supporting and training health facility staff
  • Providing cash transfers and livelihood and education support

We’re able to respond with such quickness and agility because of your committed support. It is the essential resource of our work. You can empower even more work by donating to our COVID-19 response.

Get updates on the fight against COVID-19 in the most vulnerable communities