U.N's $5.5 billion tala response for world's vulnerable countries

The United Nations (U.N.) has launched a US$2 billion (T$5.5 billion) global humanitarian response plan for the most vulnerable countries of the world affected by COVID-19 this week, to be delivered by its own agencies and partner non-government organisations.

The plan is focused on delivering essential laboratory equipment and medical supplies, get hand washing stations in vulnerable places like camps and settlements, widely spread information campaigns and move humanitarian supplies around the world.

“To leave the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries to their fate would be both cruel and unwise,” Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, said at the plan’s virtual launch.

“If we leave coronavirus to spread freely in these places, we would be placing millions at high risk, whole regions will be tipped into chaos and the virus will have the opportunity to circle back around the globe.”

The U.N. will need significant help to reach the $2.1 billion goal. 

The response plan and budget has absorbed within it other U.N. humanitarian appeals and the World Health Organisation’s (W.H.O.) own fundraising target of US$675m. So far 26 countries or agencies have donated, raising a total of $240,921,347.

The global agency’s own Central Emergency Response Fund has released $60 million into the response plan, in addition to a previously pledged $15 million. It is to go towards the World Food Programme, the W.H.O., and to humanitarian agencies focussing on women and girls, refugees and internally displaced people affected by the pandemic. 

Various countries have contributed around $3 million so far to the plan, and the world is being asked to dig deep.

“The world is only as strong as our weakest health system,” U.N. Development Programme Administrator Achim Steiner said. 

“Developing countries could lose at least US$220 billion in income, which translates into lost jobs, closed factories, and stretched governments in some of the world's poorest and most vulnerable countries.”

The response plan focuses on the immediate health and non-health needs among vulnerable populations but is not focussing on macroeconomic effects of the pandemic nor long-term issues across different sectors. 

It aims to contain the pandemic spread, stop human assets, rights, social cohesion and livelihoods from deteriorating and look out for refugees and migrants caught in the middle.

The $2.1 billion is currently an “initial estimate” of what will be needed to address COVID-19, as well as manage ongoing humanitarian situations around the world. Existing organisations and their work already involved in those situations will be leveraged in the humanitarian response plan. 

“Many humanitarian response plans are severely underfunded at the time of writing this Global Humanitarian Response Plan,” the report of the plan states.

“Ensuring that they are fully resourced and country teams granted increased flexibility in the approval of modifications is essential to avoid further loss of life and increased vulnerability. They will also be an important stabilizing factor in these fragile contexts.”

Countries with ongoing humanitarian responses are prioritised in the global plan, notably Syria, Venezuela and the plan of the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.

The Pacific and Central America “warrant close attention,” the report states, as regions not prioritised in this first iteration of the plan.

Director General of the World Health Organisation Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus said with the pandemic now in 185 countries, he implored on countries to hear the agency’s appeal for help.

“Our message to all countries is clear: heed this warning now, back this plan politically and financially today and we can save lives and slow the spread of this pandemic,” he said.

“History will judge us on how we responded to the poorest communities in their darkest hour.”

Several non-country actors have joined in the fight, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank and the European Commission.

This week the instant messaging application Whatsapp launched a Coronavirus Information Hub and donated $1 million to the Poynter Institute's International Fact-Checking Network (I.F.C.N.) 

The Information Hub includes guidance and resources for health workers, educations, organisations, governments and businesses on public health and COVID-19.

Whatsapp is also working with the W.H.O. and U.N.D.P. on helping people access COVID-19 information hotlines to increase access to reliable data and facts, and help cut down on the spread of misinformation – often spread through Whatsapp itself. 

“We are also pleased to be able to partner with the Poynter Institute to help grow the amount of fact-checking organizations on WhatsApp and to support their life saving work to debunk rumours,” head of Whatsapp Will Cathcart said. 

“We will also continue to work directly with health ministries around the world for them to provide updates right within WhatsApp.”

“The International Fact-Checking Network also looks forward to discovering ways to understand the spread of health related hoaxes on WhatsApp in different formats and to make tools available for fact-checkers to detect and debunk misinformation on the messaging app,” Director of I.F.C.N. Baybars Orsek said.

The network has coordinated an alliance of more than 100 organisations across 45 countries to work together on factchecking the myths, rumours and news reports about COVID-19, called the CoronaVirus Facts Alliance.

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