The pandemic funding gap, extreme poverty projections, and a humanitarian air bridge: This week in development

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A glaring global funding shortfall, dire poverty projections, and small steps toward humanitarian access despite travel shutdowns. This week in development:

Calls for a global COVID-19 response are growing louder as advocates continue to highlight the massive gap between funding required to respond to the pandemic and what donors have committed so far. Last week, the United Nations tripled its appeal for funding aimed at fighting the spread of the coronavirus in the world’s poorest countries to $6.7 billion. “If we put in place … not a business-as-usual response, an extraordinary response, recognizing we are in an extraordinary situation to finance greater social protection provisions, we can avoid cases growing to unmanageable levels,” U.N. Emergency Coordinator Mark Lowcock told Devex. As of last week, the U.N. had received $1 billion toward its initial $2 billion appeal, Lowcock said. The U.S. has only contributed $65 million to that funding pool, an amount that one U.S. senator described as “unconscionable.” Advocates hope the next U.S. emergency spending package, currently under negotiation in Congress, will include significant funding for the international response. Last week, a group of U.S. Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill that would provide $9 billion in funding for global programs, though that proposal is unlikely to take hold. Democrats have also called for restoring U.S. funding to the World Health Organization, which President Donald Trump suspended last month. On Friday, U.S. representatives blocked a vote on a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a global cease-fire during the health crisis, because they refused to allow an indirect endorsement of WHO to be included in the text.

The COVID-19 pandemic could push an additional 34.3 million people into extreme poverty in 2020 and 130 million by 2030, new projections from the U.N. show. More than half of that increase will be in Africa, according to the U.N. World Economic Situation and Prospects mid-2020 report, which the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs released Wednesday. Elliott Harris, chief U.N. economist, told Devex that his team has witnessed “a constant deterioration of the economic situation” since it began conducting weekly updates, with economic impacts in lower-income economies following demand shocks in higher-income countries, where outbreaks have struck first and hardest. The report projects global economic output will fall by $8.5 trillion over the next two years, with the world economy expected to contract by 3.2% this year, marking the sharpest contraction since the Great Depression. The immediate and long-term economic fallout from the pandemic presents a major threat to progress on several of the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals, including the goals to eliminate extreme poverty and to reduce economic inequality. Harris said government stimulus packages can only go so far in stemming the damage, which could be compounded by ongoing concerns about debt burdens in some nations. “A year from now we may have many countries in debt distress and a handful, if not more, who are in a crisis, having defaulted and seen their markets dissolve into chaos,” Harris said.

The European Commission has allocated $11 million for a Humanitarian Air Bridge in the absence of commercial flights to areas in need of assistance. The effort involves 30 routes deemed important for the COVID-19 response and saw its first flight of humanitarian workers and supplies dispatched last week from Lyon, France, to Bangui, Central African Republic. That flight carried about 60 aid workers, 13 metric tons of relief supplies, and Janez Lenarčič, the European Union crisis management commissioner, who hoped to demonstrate solidarity outside EU borders and to highlight the importance of facilitating travel and access for humanitarian relief operations. So far, EU member countries have prioritized repatriating their own citizens and securing their own personal protective equipment, and the bloc will “have to significantly scale up its humanitarian response given the scope of the needs,” said Pauline Veron, junior policy officer at the European Centre for Development Policy Management. Travel restrictions have been a major challenge for aid groups hoping to access vulnerable populations in low-income countries. “Obviously, we’ve moved to remote management in a number of areas, but it’s actually domestic travel restrictions that are preventing the movement of local staff that is the greatest impediment at the moment,” said David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, during a conference call Monday.

About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.