Pandemic hits aid work in sub-Saharan Africa
Desperately needed aid for millions of people across sub-Saharan Africa is under threat as the deadly coronavirus pandemic sweeps a continent already facing a volley of crises. In some cases social distancing measures and border closures are preventing workers from distributing aid. In others, funding is under threat as agencies scramble to pool resources to fight the fast-ballooning COVID-19 outbreak on the continent.
Cameroon’s polio vaccination campaign has been suspended, while in Chad a measles vaccination program has been postponed. In Niger and Burkina Faso, where hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by jihadist violence, flights bringing in humanitarian aid have been put on hold. In the Central African Republic, where most of the territory is under the sway of armed groups, supplies of chlorine, needed to provide safe drinking water, are running low.
“Some programs have slowed down or been temporarily suspended, but most humanitarian operations are continuing,” said Julie Belanger, head of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for West and Central Africa. “We are focusing on activities that are vital for survival, but we are also adapting our way of working,” Belanger said. The United Nations says about 76 million people in sub-Saharan Africa need aid to survive and protect their health. The coronavirus pandemic could further threaten populations on the continent, which so far has at least 12,700 recorded cases and more than 650 deaths, according to an AFP tally Friday. Organizations are quickly learning to change how they work to prevent the virus from spreading further. In Niger, for instance, food handouts are being distributed in small groups in order to keep social distancing, said Jean-Noel Gentile with the UN’s World Food Program. “To reduce the frequency of food distribution, we are handing out two or three months of rations each time,” he said.
One fear that NGOs and governments have is that aid workers travelling to isolated areas could bring the coronavirus with them. In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the first case of the virus registered in Goma was that of a Nigerian aid worker. Masks, gloves and protective clothing are required by some organizations-but the crucial gear is hard to find in many countries.
“This is already difficult enough in France-you can imagine how it is in the furthest reaches of the Central African Republic,” said Isabelle Robin of the French charity Action Against Hunger (ACF). The closure of borders and restrictions on movement inside countries are additional obstacles to delivering aid. As a result, NGOs everywhere are attempting to negotiate with authorities in Africa to allow “humanitarian corridors” or exemptions for their personnel.
But of all the problems for humanitarian work right now, “the biggest is financial”, said a UNICEF official in the DRC, pointing to the fact that donor attention lies elsewhere at the moment. The United Nations has launched a $2 billion (1.83 billion euro) “global humanitarian response plan” on coronavirus, much of it earmarked for Africa. — AFP