The coronavirus pandemic has had devastating public health, societal and economic consequences around the world, including in the world’s most fragile states. While the true number of cases and deaths in these most precarious of places cannot and may never be known due to lack of testing capacity and comprehensive recording of deaths, the economic impact is undeniable and is already leading directly to growing hunger levels, with the possibility of famine looming in many of them.
For this reason, critical work for national and international aid agencies working in the world’s most fragile states over the coming months and years will be trying to reduce hunger levels and stave off widespread food insecurity. We therefore need to support the poorest communities not only with direct food aid (supplies of beans, rice, etc) but also with vouchers for food and cash grants. Cash grants allow people to buy food thereby stimulating the local economy and also to buy what they need to start small enterprises such as growing crops, fishing or livestock rearing, providing further stimulus to the economy.
DEC members will be focusing on this type of humanitarian relief in the next phase of the DEC-funded coronavirus response, giving attention to the socio-economic effects of the pandemic on the most vulnerable in society – those who have been displaced by conflict and are living in camps or informal settlements, and other people who also may not be able to easily go out to earn an income especially older people and families with only one parent.
As we have found here in the UK, it is difficult to anticipate how the virus itself will mutate and where cases will suddenly take off. A number of the world’s most fragile states believe they are now experiencing a second wave of the pandemic and DEC funding, which always has an element of flexibility to tackle a sudden outbreak or specific issue that is threatening lives, will be used to help address further waves of the pandemic.
Investment in Covid-19 prevention, suppression and treatment measures – such as equipping isolation or quarantine facilities, training frontline health workers, providing clean water and adequate sanitation services and delivering public health messages – has been, and will continue to be, money well spent as the infrastructure, systems and rapid response protocols are now in place for use in tackling future disease outbreaks, be they further waves of coronavirus or other diseases such as cholera, measles and Ebola.
DEC members have long worked with and through local and national partners, assessing needs in consultation with affected communities to identify what aid is needed and who needs it most, and this approach will become all the more important in the months and years ahead.
Having survived great hardship, communities in the world’s most fragile places are already strong, but we will need to support them further in the face of unprecedented levels of need. Around the world, the importance of training and protecting frontline key workers has become clear and this support will need to continue to be offered to field aid workers and frontline health staff as they continue to grapple with the pandemic.
Local community leaders and opinion formers, including faith leaders, will also continue to be instrumental in sharing public health messaging, busting myths and dispelling rumours.
A community-based approach to prevention and surveillance, supported by DEC members, will contribute to longer-term risk reduction too as communities become better able to quickly respond to future outbreaks of both Covid-19 and other diseases.