It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the plight of developing nations has understandably fallen off the radar of the Western world. Despite its global origins, the coronavirus has focused on domestic concerns in countries like Canada like little else in our history.
International development, foreign aid and emergency relief funding have been part and parcel of G7 practices for decades, with mutual collaboration on initiatives like the Millennial Development Goals (MDGs) and the more recent Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our current pandemic preoccupation has left many developing nations feeling as though they are increasingly on their own.
Efforts are being made in Canada to keep foreign aid relevant but it hasn’t been easy, nor is it nearly enough. Most particularly, the investment of millions from the federal government to assist in fighting the spread of COVID-19 in poorer nations is crucial. The concern over crowded conditions in refugee camps in places like Sudan, Nigeria and Kenya is justified and could quickly spread out of control.
One would frequently turn to the United Nations in hope of a global response, but the moves by Donald Trump to fight against effective collaboration at the Security Council has scuppered much of the potential. And when some G7 nations floated the idea of a special task force, the American president simply ignored it. As Christoph Schult wrote recently in Der Spiegel: “Trump’s battle against multilateralism has made it so that even formats like the G7 are no longer working. It appears the coronavirus is destroying the last vestiges of a world order.”
The picture isn’t pretty.
In West Africa, development programs are being cut back and there is the worry that markets will continue raising the prices of staple food supplies, leaving families in fragile conditions of malnutrition. In an odd twist of fate, the first three coronavirus cases in South Sudan are UN personnel, forcing the organization to limit the travel of its employees so desperately required in one of the world’s most challenged nations.
Floods and landslides in Afghanistan have devastated communities, effectively depleting the emergency food kits that will be required to fight off the pandemic. The government of Bangladesh suspended all relief work, excepting for essential services. Schools – a key focus for global development investment – are shut down, as are most institutions in the country.
Polio vaccinations in the Philippines have been cut back as movement has been restricted due to the coronavirus. “This is a major spanner in the works,” reports one senior development officer, as he watched numerous humanitarian projects closed down due to lack of access. In the Mediterranean, boats of refugees are finding no place to land for fear of the virus being brought to shore.
In Jordan, access to needed clinic services have been denied at the border. Humanitarian air services have been cancelled in Libya. Food and medical workers are being denied access to the neediest centres due to pandemic restrictions and clashes are beginning to escalate. Hundreds of Venezuelan workers have had their employment in Colombia terminated, and with public transport shut down due to the virus, they have no way of getting home. In Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, thousands remain in squalor, unable to get access to sufficient food supplies and medical services.
Just as in communities throughout Canada, the United States and Europe, it is the most vulnerable, the easily marginalized, that will feel OVID-19’s harshest realities. There is no way that the West can escape the tragedies befalling the developing world. Illnesses from vaccine-preventable diseases like polio, measles, and cholera are expected to rise in the coming weeks as coronavirus restrictions derail immunisation campaigns. At least 13.5 million people will miss upcoming vaccinations. More marginalized will be internally-displaced or those about to become full blown refugees in the coming months. Trade with natural resource-rich developing lands will be hindered as those countries, much like our own, become dominated by a virus few were expecting.
For those with a humanitarian bent, the lack of resources for foreign aid and development in the coming years and decades will be difficult to bear. Those nations with resources will fare better than those with little protection. Humanitarian need will mushroom just as aid resources continue to decline. It will be the worst of scenarios for the world’s most vulnerable and it will take all those who care about others far away to raise their compassion to another level.