In the eight months since the humanitarian community came together in the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP), the virus has swept across the globe and impacted entire economies and societies. Millions of people have been pushed to the brink of survival. The extent of the effects is still unfolding.
As of 16 November, there were more than 15.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in GHRP countries and 518,000 deaths. This represents more than 31 per cent of global cases and more than 41 per cent of global deaths. The number of reported cases and deaths have thankfully been lower than originally feared in many of the countries with humanitarian needs, but it is the secondary impacts that have been – and will continue to be – devastating for many of the people living in these countries.
At the beginning of the year, humanitarian partners aimed to provide humanitarian assistance to 109 million people. Today, that number has reached record levels at more than 260 million people. This represents the single largest increase recorded in a single year. The pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing and ongoing drivers of humanitarian need, mainly by causing economic activities to decline, reducing household purchasing power and causing a multitude of food-system shocks. The latest evidence shows that between March and September 2020, acute food insecurity has deepened in many countries. The recent FAO-WFP early warning risk analysis has sounded the alarm for 20 countries and situations that are likely to face potential spikes in high acute food insecurity and which require urgent attention. In particular, Yemen, South Sudan, north-eastern Nigeria and Burkina Faso have areas of extreme concern, and further deterioration over the coming months could lead to a risk of famine.1 Common factors driving the spike in acute food insecurity include increases in insecurity and violence, including by extremist groups, economic and trade disruptions, displacement, and rises in food prices. For example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) faces multiple and large-scale complex crises, including protracted insecurity, mass displacement, and the resurgence of Ebola virus and other diseases.
DRC has the highest number of people (21.8 million) with high acute food insecurity ever recorded for a single country. Zimbabwe faces multiple vulnerabilities, including consecutive poor agricultural seasons, ongoing macro-economic challenges, and COVID-19 impacts. In Afghanistan, armed conflict and economic stressors such as widespread unemployment and inflation are likely to continue to cause food insecurity and compound the COVID-19 situation. In the coming months, these factors, combined with humanitarian access constraints, may further aggravate the situation in at-risk areas, causing widespread deaths, acute malnutrition and starvation, and an irreversible loss of livelihoods.
COVID-19 has exacerbated protection challenges, particularly for migrants, refugees, displaced persons, older persons, persons with disabilities, children, and other vulnerable groups. Some 149 countries have fully or partially closed borders. At least 72 countries make no exception for people seeking asylum, seriously limiting the rights of persons in need of international protection. The gendered impact of the pandemic is also clear – women and girls are disproportionately affected and gender-based violence (GBV) has increased. Yet, the requisite funding to help mitigate further suffering for women and girls has not been made available.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA’s activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.