UNITED NATIONS, March 17 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations is helping countries and communities respond to and prepare for the coronavirus, including in Libya where it seeks a halt in fighting for delivery of humanitarian aid, a UN spokesman said on Tuesday.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that some of the 140 countries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic are already in crisis due to conflicts, natural disasters and climate change, said Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. "They are home to millions of people who already need our emergency assistance."
The United Nations and its humanitarian partners are determined that crucial, life-saving work for the world's most vulnerable communities must be sustained, said Haq. That means continuing coordination across the global humanitarian system, swift fundraising to ensure critical programs have the resources they need and maintaining effective humanitarian operations, leaving no one behind.
The UN Mission in Libya has joined the call by international partners on all parties in the conflict to declare an immediate cessation of hostilities and a halt to military equipment and personnel entering Libya to allow local authorities to respond to the unprecedented public health challenge posed by COVID-19, he said.
"While the mission continues its efforts in facilitating an inter-Libyan dialogue on the political, military and economic tracks, the UN mission urges all parties in Libya to take the bold step in unifying their efforts in facing this pandemic," the spokesman said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) already has appealed for 675 million U.S. dollars to fund the initial COVID-19 response and the OCHA is working with the WHO and other partners to coordinate a consolidated appeal, he said.
Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock, head of the OCHA, has released 15 million dollars from the Central Emergency Response Fund to help fund efforts by the two agencies to contain the virus in vulnerable countries.
Other OCHA-managed funds in individual countries are stepping up and country-based pooled funds have released money to scale up immediate preparedness in Afghanistan, Sudan and Jordan, the spokesman said.
Haq said UN agencies and their partners are assessing where and how humanitarian operations on the ground are being disrupted to identify solutions as quickly as possible.
At a sparsely attended regular briefing for correspondents, because of telecommuting, he gave a sampling of additional UN efforts in different areas of the globe.
At the request of the government of Zimbabwe, the world organization is supporting the most immediate preparedness needs such as training of health care workers on caring for patients with COVID-19, he said.
The United Nations is supporting the Zimbabwean government in preparing the school system with posters for schools and leaflets for students to take home and share with families, while also preparing for potential home-schooling needs, Haq said.
The world organization, the private sector and civil society are working for a whole-of-society response to COVID-19, the spokesman said. In parallel, the United Nations is also supporting the Zimbabwean government in developing community preparedness and response plans.
In China, the UN team has been supporting national and local efforts to share information on COVID-19 through traditional and social media channels targeting various age groups and communities, he said.
UN entities also translated COVID-19 preparedness messages in more than 40 languages and dialects tailored to the elderly or those in ethnic minority communities.
On social media, the most prominent is the social distancing campaign, Haq said. A subsequent online survey conducted in early March indicated a 34 percent increase in people maintaining social distancing since the outbreak.
In Southeast Asia, the WHO called on member states to urgently scale up aggressive measures to combat COVID-19, he said. Eight of the 11 countries in the WHO's Southeast Asia region have confirmed cases of COVID-19 and the numbers of cases are increasing quickly.
"The UN Refugee Agency tells us that, in Pakistan, following the closure of the Torkham and Chaman official border-crossing points with Afghanistan, the voluntary repatriation of registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan has been suspended," the spokesman said. "This is due to the government's precautionary measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19."