The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Coronavirus Appeal for people living in fragile states and refugee camps has now raised £30 million in the four months since its launch on 14 July. This total includes a generous donation from J.K. Rowling’s charitable trust, The Volant Charitable Trust, funded by proceeds from the author’s new children’s book, The Ickabog, published today.
DEC Chief Executive Saleh Saeed said: “The UK public has demonstrated huge generosity at an extremely difficult time, helping people around the world facing the pandemic without the safety net of the NHS. We’re incredibly grateful to everyone who has supported the DEC Coronavirus Appeal so far.
“Today’s generous donation from The Volant Charitable Trust has helped push our appeal over the £30 million milestone, allowing our member charities to reach even more people with life-saving assistance. But the pandemic has triggered an unprecedented crisis in the world’s most fragile places and there is much more to do to protect people from Covid-19 and its secondary effects, such as hunger which is already killing children in Yemen and may soon be in Syria. If you can, please donate today.”
Funds donated to the DEC Coronavirus Appeal will help the most vulnerable people in six of the world’s most fragile states: Yemen and Syria; Somalia, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo; and Afghanistan. A total of 24 million displaced people live in crowded camps and settlements in these countries. The appeal also includes the world’s largest refugee camp – in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where more than 850,000 Rohingya refugees have sought sanctuary.
For many people in these places, coronavirus is just one concern among many as they struggle to find food and clean water for their families while living in the shadow of conflict or violence. DEC charities are working hard to combat the spread of coronavirus in these seven places that are particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, while facing a range of challenges linked to the existing humanitarian crises in each one.
In many places, people are now facing a worsening crisis fuelled by the secondary economic impacts of the virus, which are causing an increase in hunger and malnutrition, as well as cuts to aid funding leading to the closure of vital programmes such as those providing clean water to camps. These impacts are further compounded by flare-ups of violence, flooding and the onset of winter in some places as the struggle against Covid-19 enters a new phase.
In the first six months of the humanitarian response, DEC funds are primarily being spent on water, sanitation and hygiene activities (31%), such as providing clean water, handwashing stations and hygiene kits, with a secondary focus on health projects (23%), including isolation and treatment centres, supporting fragile health systems and providing PPE to frontline medics. Other priorities include providing food (11%) and supporting livelihoods (11%).
Update on the seven appeal locations:
In the northwest of Syria, 1.4 million displaced people living in makeshift camps are facing a dire situation in the face of three interlinked crises: an exponential rise in coronavirus cases, freezing winter temperatures, and an economic crisis that is causing a rapid increase in hunger and malnutrition.
In Idlib province, three million people, a third of whom have fled from other parts of Syria, are trapped against the Turkish border in one of the last parts of the country not under government control. Confirmed cases here and in neighbouring Aleppo have recently been increasing exponentially.
Winter is harsh in Syria and DEC charities fear that with far more people living in flimsy shelters, there will be hundreds of deaths caused by cold and flooding, with many more people suffering amputations due to frostbite, especially children.
Experienced aid workers struggled to control their emotions as they described the combination of these three crises as “absolutely terrifying” and “a perfect storm”, at a time when humanitarian funding is in decline.
In Yemen, there are so many other things for people to worry about – food, clean water, access to healthcare, the war – that Covid-19 is just another layer of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
But it is a deadly one. In July, graveyards were filling up quickly with people who had died with respiratory issues but a lack of testing meant that the official figures were very low and the true death toll is unknown. The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine has estimated that there were 2,100 excess deaths in Aden alone between April and September, a 162% increase. People are now taking fewer precautions and aid workers fear a second wave. The health system has been decimated after years of conflict, and many people don’t have access to running water.
The three other main issues facing Yemen are a massive economic crisis, a drop in aid funding (both in part due to coronavirus) and a recent increase in fighting.
Despite being the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, where 20 million people are struggling to access enough food every day and two million children require treatment for acute malnutrition, the UN’s response plan is only 42% funded – the lowest figure for a decade. The UN has already shut down 15 out of 40 of its main programmes and NGOs are also being affected. One DEC charity said that they could no longer reach as many people with the same level of assistance.
In Somalia, the pandemic and its economic consequences have hit as the country also reels from large-scale flooding and plagues of crop-destroying locusts, raising fears of famine.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that there was a more deadly first wave of Covid-19 than the low official number of confirmed cases and deaths let on. In Mogadishu, the number of graves being dug went from 1-5 per day in normal times to 30-40 in May and June.
After a lull in confirmed cases, aid workers are concerned about a second wave hitting the country, particularly as the rainy season and colder weather mean people spend more time indoors.
Flooding has displaced almost a million people in the last year, creating poor, cramped living conditions and a lack of clean water, as well as washing away crops. Swarms of locusts have also been eating crops across the region, spurred on by the rains. Getting access to food is a daily struggle for 2.1 million people as a result, but humanitarian funding is decreasing.
South Sudan has been hit by flooding and faces an economic crisis which is driving hunger as a rise in cases leads to fears of a second wave.
Confirmed cases have started to rise again after a recent decline, leading to fears of a second wave but, with minimal testing, it’s hard to get a clear picture of the epidemic in South Sudan.
Hunger and malnutrition are also major concerns. The cost of food in Juba, the capital, has increased by 42% from August to mid-September as inflation has dramatically increased, making food insecurity a major issue across the country.
Flooding has recently displaced 800,000 people, also washing away crops and causing further food insecurity. The people who have been displaced are living in crowded conditions, creating conditions for Covid-19 to spread quickly.
In DR Congo, although the impact of the virus itself is largely unknown due to a lack of testing, its secondary effects are making an already precarious situation worse and pushing the country towards famine.
Many people working in the informal economy have lost their jobs with no support mechanism in place. Prices are rising and the currency has devalued. DRC now has the world’s second highest nutritional needs after Yemen; and is one of four countries considered at risk of famine.
DEC charities are also concerned at a decrease in people attending health clinics due to fears over Covid-19. Around 600,000 people have been displaced this year by fighting, leading to protection concerns around children. On top of this, aid funding is decreasing. “We are seeing an increase in need and a decrease in funding,” said one DEC member.
In Afghanistan, a second wave is not yet apparent, but there are only 200-400 tests being carried out across the whole country, so the virus may well be spreading undetected. The pandemic has also hit the economy in a country where 98% of the population already live in extreme poverty.
Gender affects every facet of life in Afghanistan, and Covid is no exception. Most confirmed cases and deaths are men, but this is because they are much more likely to get tested and access to healthcare is more difficult for women as they can only be treated by female doctors.
Recent peace talks between the government and the Taliban have led to a flare up in violence and more restrictions on NGO access and programmes in Taliban-controlled areas. The talks have dominated government and media attention, at the expense of the pandemic.
Covid fatigue has set in and compliance with preventative measures is low. Winter is very cold in Afghanistan – going down to minus 15C even in Kabul – and DEC charities fear that these two factors will lead to a severe second wave here.
In the world’s biggest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, there has not been a major outbreak of coronavirus so far, despite a number of confirmed cases.
However, there has been an upward trend in the number of cases recently. There are also likely to be a lot of cases going undetected as less than 100 tests per day are carried out in the camps (home to 800,000 people).
There has been a recent flare up of violence between criminal gangs in the camps, partly driven by coronavirus restrictions which have affected the local economy. DEC charities had to halt their operations inside the camps for a week as a result of the violence.
However, the government has lifted some restrictions on the types of activities aid agencies can carry out in the camps that were instituted earlier in the pandemic.