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The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demands for humanitarian aid by 25 per cent against a backdrop of already plummeting financial support, a new report reveals.

Appeals to the United Nations in 2019 reached record highs of US$30.4 billion, while aid funding dropped for the first time in seven years, down $1.6billion.

More than half of the countries in urgent need of aid under the UN’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19 are in the throes of long-term humanitarian crises. In its 16 July update, the UN appealed for $10.3 billion to support the world’s 63 most vulnerable countries.

“The worry is that once a humanitarian crisis sets in, then it becomes an enduring long-term crisis.”

Angus Urquhart, co-author, Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2020

“We’ve got a shrinking pot of money, but also a growing and broadening set of needs,” says Angus Urquhart, co- author of the Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2020, released today by the data and international development organisation Development Initiatives.

Thirteen governments last year reduced their humanitarian assistance, including the United Arab Emirates and Australia, which cut contributions by 71 per cent and 44 per cent, respectively. Conversely, the United Kingdom increased its funding by 24 per cent, to $588 million, while Denmark and Finland each boosted their budgets by about 15 per cent.

“Countries which have previously not had humanitarian needs are being drawn into some form of humanitarian crisis, which is purely driven by the impacts of COVID-19,” he adds. “The worry is that once a humanitarian crisis sets in, then it becomes an enduring long-term crisis.”

Urquhart says countries listed in the European Union’s Forgotten Crisis Assessment, which last year was topped by Guatemala, Mauritania, Pakistan and the Philippines, may be particularly vulnerable.

He says that during crises, medical aid often takes priority over long-term development needs, such as infrastructure. “You need both of those,” he points out, “or you don’t break out of those long-term cycles of crisis.”

GHA Report
The largest recipients of COVID-19 aid, showing ongoing crises and risk of impact from the pandemic.

The report estimates that governments’ official development assistance this year could fall by $14 billion in a worst-case scenario, or $10 billion in the best case.

Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria are the largest recipients of COVID-19 humanitarian and development aid.

More than 30 countries are experiencing a protracted crisis — defined as five consecutive years on UN-coordinated humanitarian or refugee response plans — a number that has more than doubled in the past 15 years, leaving one billion people affected by humanitarian crises worldwide.

One such country is Yemen, the world’s current largest recipient of aid, where more than 24 million people — over 80 per cent of the population — live in need of humanitarian assistance due to ongoing armed conflicts.

Yemen’s aid budget increased by 145 per cent from 2017 to 2018, reaching $4.97 billion — almost double that received by Syria.

On average, 30 per cent of the population in protracted crisis countries lives in extreme poverty

Source: Development Initiatives, Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2020

Average share of the population living in poverty and extreme poverty in protracted crisis countries, compared to other low- and middle-income countries.
“Yemen is living through an extremely difficult moment: the effects of five years of war are now coupled with the consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak and a rapidly deteriorating economic situation,” says Médecins Sans Frontières Yemen head of mission Ahmed Mohamed Mahat.

“The humanitarian response led by the UN has less funds than ever this year, which is worrying,” he adds. “The country badly needs the UN and donor states to lead a well-funded and effective response” to its multiple crises. Mahat says COVID-19 has “silently” spread throughout Yemen. Due to the country’s “already collapsed” healthcare system, Mahat adds, “the arrival of the virus meant that many of the isolated hospitals and healthcare centres that were working stopped functioning completely.”

“In our COVID-19 treatment centre in [Yemen’s port city] Aden,” Mahat says, “we received people suffering from heart attacks that other hospitals had refused to admit, fearing that their chest pains meant that they were suffering COVID-19.”

The ultimate fear now, he says, is “that with many hospitals shut for months we will see many deaths from preventable or treatable illnesses”.

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