UN humanitarian chief regrets lack of solidarity with poor countries amid COVID-19 crisis

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UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock on Wednesday regretted the lack of solidarity with low-income and fragile countries in the global response to COVID-19.

What is now sure beyond reasonable doubt is that the indirect consequences of the pandemic in the most fragile countries, particularly economic woes, are dwarfing the impact of the virus itself, Lowcock told the Security Council in a briefing on the impact of the COVID-19 on peace and security.

As the most fragile countries are exposed to the global economy, the worldwide contraction hurts them too, including through weakening commodity prices, declining remittances and disruptions to trade. The response measures fragile countries have taken themselves are also having a significant impact on incomes, he said.

Alongside assistance from humanitarian agencies, others, particularly the international financial institutions, have an important role to play in helping the most vulnerable countries cope through the crisis. The more generous, prompt and effective the help the most vulnerable countries get, the more people in crisis can be cushioned from the worst effects of the economic crunch and the more the risks to instability and fragility can be avoided, said Lowcock.

In the 2008 global financial crisis, the leading shareholders of the international financial institutions agreed they should take exceptional measures to protect the global economy, including their poorer members. The COVID-19 pandemic is a more damaging event than the financial crisis. But the response this time has been far from exceptional. It barely justifies the description of tepid, he said.

The members of the Group of 20 and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development have adopted domestic economic stimulus measures amounting to more than 10 trillion U.S. dollars to protect their own populations from the pandemic and lockdown. That amounts to more than 10 percent of global income, he noted.

Low-income and fragile countries do not have the resources, capacity or access to markets to do the same thing. So they are reliant on support from elsewhere, especially the international financial institutions. But of the 143 billion dollars in financing from the international financial institutions so far, only 7 percent has been committed to low-income countries, said Lowcock.

Such a low level of support is alarming. But it is also surprising: there is little dispute about what ought to be done, and recent experience has shown that it can work. And the costs to taxpayers are minimal, because the resources can largely be generated off the international financial institutions’ own balance sheets, he said.

“To speak plainly, woefully inadequate economic and political action will lead to greater instability and conflicts in the coming years. More crises will be on this (Security) Council’s agenda,” he warned. “The burden of my advice to you today is that while we may have been surprised by the virus, we cannot say the same of the security and humanitarian crises that most certainly lay ahead if we don’t change course.”

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