UN strives for COVID-19 response amid fears of global economic contraction

Source: Xinhua| 2020-04-02 06:15:18|Editor: huaxia

by William M. Reilly

UNITED NATIONS, April 1 (Xinhua) -- UN agencies are continuing to help countries cope with the COVID-19 pandemic amid a stern warning by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) that the global economy could shrink by 1 percent this year.

The DESA said in a report that country lockdowns in Europe and North America have hit the service, hospitality and transportation sectors very hard. Collectively they account for more than a quarter of all jobs in those economies.

The report said the restrictions' effect will soon spill over to developing countries and could also lead to a significant contraction of global manufacturing and a disruption of global supply chains.

The DESA said that as the pandemic worsens, economic anxiety and inequality will increase even in high-income countries.

The world economy contracted by 1.7 percent during the global financial crisis, according to the DESA.

UN agencies are continuing to help countries contain the virus and limit its social-economic impact. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said it has provided 78.8 million U.S. dollars in responses to the pandemic. It includes 75 million dollars from the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), with the rest coming from country-based, pooled funds.

Programs in 15 countries have been supported through these funds and additional countries are being identified under the global CERF allocation of 60 million dollars -- one of the largest ever made. It is being used to kick-start the 2-billion-dollar COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan appeal.

So far, according to the OCHA, close to 374 million dollars in donor funds have been made available for the global plan.

The UN Human Rights Office, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have issued an appeal to governments on refugee health.

The joint statement calls on governments to ensure equal access to health services for refugees, migrants and stateless people. The statement also said they should be fully included in national responses to COVID-19, including prevention, treatment and testing.

Migrants and refugees are disproportionately vulnerable to exclusion, stigma and discrimination, particularly when they are undocumented, the statement said.

The UNHCR has laid out a series of measures that are being taken in its field operations to help respond to the virus.

The agency warned that, although the number of reported and confirmed cases of infection among refugees remains low, over 80 percent of the world's refugee population and nearly all the internally displaced people live in low- to middle-income countries. Many of the countries have weaker health, water and sanitation systems and need urgent support.

The UN Human Rights Agency already has tailored programs in Brazil, Jordan, Mexico, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burkina Faso, Bangladesh and Greece.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it is sending a batch of equipment to more than 40 countries to help them use nuclear-derived technology to rapidly detect COVID-19.

Dozens of labs in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean will receive diagnostic equipment to speed up national testing, which is crucial in containing the outbreak, the agency said. They will also receive bio-safety supplies, such as personal protection equipment and lab cabinets for the safe analysis of collected samples.

Deliveries of equipment to the growing number of countries seeking assistance are expected in the coming weeks, the IAEA said.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said it is concerned about the impact of the pandemic on the quantity and quality of weather observations and forecasts, as well as atmospheric and climate monitoring.

The WMO said large parts of the observing system are either partly or fully automated and are expected to continue without significant degradation for several weeks. But, if the pandemic lasts more than a few weeks, the WMO said that the missing repair, maintenance and supply work and missing redeployments will become of increasing concern.

The WMO said some parts of the observing system are already being impacted. Most notably, the significant decrease in air traffic has had an impact as commercial airliners contribute to the Aircraft Meteorological Data Relay program.

The program relies on sensors on planes, as well as computers and communications systems to collect, process, format and transmit weather observations to ground stations via satellite or radio links.

In Libya, the OCHA said eight cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed. The ongoing clashes and restrictive measures in the country due to the pandemic are hampering humanitarian access.

Humanitarian agencies have found themselves unable to dispatch trucks to deliver assistance over long distances because of curfews. Many programs, including those in the 2020 Libya Humanitarian Response Plan, are either being suspended, delayed or reduced.

The OCHA has also warned that Libya is at high risk of the virus spreading, given its levels of insecurity, weak health system and high numbers of migrants, refugees as well as internally displaced persons.

The UN team in Nigeria has mobilized 2 million dollars to procure essential medical supplies, said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

The UN is supporting the Economic Community of West Africa to procure 1 million test kits.

"We are also helping to mitigate the social and economic consequences of COVID-19 on Nigeria and are working with the World Bank and key donors to support the government and the people," Dujarric said.

Eduardo Stein, joint UNHCR-IOM special representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, said the current global public health emergency has compounded an already desperate situation for many refugees and migrants from Venezuela and their hosts.

Funding to support them is urgently needed, he said, adding that the world organization is working with national and local authorities to address the new challenges brought by COVID-19 and is delivering basic support to Venezuelan refugees and migrants.