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As COVID-19 second waves threaten conflict-affected countries, IRC urges incoming Biden Administration to prioritise pandemic response in humanitarian contexts

New IRC report “Catalyzing the U.S. Response to COVID-19 in Humanitarian Settings” outlines failures in U.S. response and calls on Biden administration to commit at least $20 billion to address virus response abroad in first 100 days.

With over 50 million global COVID cases and counting, the IRC has released a report with key recommendations for the Biden Administration to tackle the effects of COVID-19 in conflict-affected countries, including urgently allocating an additional $20 billion in funding to fight the virus and its secondary impacts abroad.

The Biden administration will take office as the COVID-19 outbreak worsens overseas. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is concerned about the resurgence of COVID-19 infections in crisis-affected countries after the initial peaks observed earlier this year, with second waves underway in countries such as KenyaColombia and El Salvador. Aside from the debilitating and deadly implications of the Coronavirus, the IRC is especially concerned by potential knock-on effects of the virus, such as hunger, rising gender-based violence and economic collapse, as conflict-affected countries struggle to control not only Coronavirus but also their existing humanitarian crises.

In addition to Kenya, Colombia and El Salvador, infections are rising in Syria, Jordan, Myanmar, Libya and Pakistan -- with Jordan seeing a 195% rise in confirmed cases over a three-week period (1). The IRC also remains concerned about a lack of testing in many fragile and crisis-affected states such as Yemen (which has carried out just 554 tests per million people, the second lowest testing rate globally (2)) and Somalia, and about high test positivity rates in Mexico (50%), Iraq (17%) and Bangladesh (13.7%) (3).

Nazanin Ash, the International Rescue Committee’s Vice President of Policy and Practice, said, “It’s not just the US and Europe facing devastating second waves. Crisis-affected countries, which are already dealing with unfathomable levels of hunger, economic distress, crippled health systems and infrastructure, are now facing second waves that could be even more devastating than the first. The clarion call for US global leadership in the face of this unprecedented and growing pandemic has never been louder. In places that the IRC works, like the Central African Republic and South Sudan, NGOs provide over 70% of health services. Even before COVID-19, 64 developing countries, including 18 where the IRC works, spent more on debt service than health. We simply cannot expect these countries to face these second waves and the indirect crises resulting from COVID-19 without clearer, bolder and more innovative commitment. 

“The Trump Administration’s withdrawal from global systems, including the World Health Organization, led to global competition rather than collaboration. The Biden Administration is well aware that while the most vulnerable may pay the price today, controlling the outbreak everywhere is necessary to end the pandemic, let alone preserving decades of US investment abroad. With the promising news about a possible vaccine breakthrough, we must also not lose sight of the global picture that no solution will return us to normality — not even a vaccine — unless the response prioritises the world’s most vulnerable. The first critical step is committing an additional $20 billion to the fight against the virus and its knock-on impacts, prioritising NGOs and local actors to reach those most in need.”

There is still time to prevent the worst-case scenarios. The IRC is calling on the Biden Administration to prioritise a global COVID response, especially in crisis affected states and take the following urgent actions in his first 100 days

  • Commit $20 billion in additional funding to addressing COVID-19 and its secondary impacts abroad, ensuring the funding is flexible, sustainable and urgently reaches health responders on the frontlines. While the U.S. and the rest of G20 and OECD countries allocated $11 trillion to domestic stimulus packages, only $3.45 billion was raised of the $9.5 billion for the Global Humanitarian Response Plan - when less than 1% of those domestic packages would suffice to protect the world’s poorest 700 million from the worst impacts of the virus. 
  • Urgently launch an inter-agency review involving the US Agency for International Development, the State Department and the Treasury, in consultation with humanitarian organisations, to examine existing policies that impact the humanitarian response to COVID-19 and repeal harmful policies that restrict humanitarian programming. 
  • Lead efforts through the UN to create an international coordinating mechanism to direct resources, including a vaccine, where most needed. The US must also engage in humanitarian diplomacy to allow for humanitarian exceptions on travel and COVID-19 supplies -- as 93% of humanitarians reported early on in the pandemic measures impacting life-saving operations-- and lead efforts to promote an urgent global ceasefire to halt attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, including healthcare facilities. 


(1) Data for the three-week period from 19th October to 9th November, source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus

(2) Data as of 12th November, source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

(3) A seven-day rolling average, data as of Nov. 8, source: https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus-testing

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue-uk.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.