AT A GLANCE:
Since the launch of the Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP) for COVID-19 on 25 March and its first update on 7 May, the pandemic has rapidly expanded in most of the 63 countries it includes. With many countries still in the early stages of their outbreak, heightened implementation of public health measures is critical to save lives and suppress transmission.
Over the past 3,5 months from end March to midJuly, the impacts of the pandemic on the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable people have worsened dramatically. Individuals and population groups who were already suffering from violence, stigma, discrimination and unequal access to basic services and living conditions, are bearing the brunt of this new crisis.
COVID-19 is deepening the hunger crisis in the world’s hunger hotspots and creating new epicentres of hunger across the globe. The number of acutely food insecure people in countries affected by conflict, natural disaster or economic crises is predicted to increase from 149 million pre-COVID-19 to 270 million before the end of the year if assistance is not provided urgently. Recent estimates also suggest that up to 6,000 children could die every day from preventable causes over the next 6 months as a direct and indirect result of COVID-19 related disruptions in essential health and nutrition services.
Under the umbrella of the GHRP, Inter-Agency Standing Committee members and partners including FAO, IOM, UNDP, UNFPA, UN-Habitat, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNRWA, WFP, WHO, NGOs and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement have stepped up their response to address the most urgent humanitarian health, protection and socioeconomic needs caused by the pandemic.
The GHRP is targeting nearly 250 million people with COVID-19 assistance. From the US$6.7 billion needed last May to implement this response, funding requirements have risen to $10.26 billion. The spread of the pandemic necessitates more intensive health prevention and treatment measures and increasing investments to maintain other
essential health services. The deepening ripple effects of the pandemic are impacting all spheres of life and require substantially scaled up support to help the most vulnerable. The plan also includes a supplementary envelope of $300 million, beyond specific country requirements, to bolster a rapid and flexible NGO response, and a strategic envelope of $500 million to prevent famine from occurring in the most vulnerable countries.
One of the most nefarious consequences of the pandemic is the rise of gender-based violence (GBV). There has been a dramatic increase in reported cases of GBV and the number of calls to dedicated hotlines (60 to 770 per cent increase in different countries), while the provision of GBV services has regretfully been curtailed. UN Women estimates that globally in the past 12 months, 243 million women and girls aged 15–49 years were subjected to sexual and/or physical violence perpetrated by an intimate partner, while older women were also experiencing violence. Projections indicate that for every 3 months the lockdown measures continue, an additional 15 million cases of gender-based violence globally are expected.
GBV response services are facing major hurdles in their ability to reach survivors due to mobility restrictions and inadequate resources. The GBV response and funding allocation throughout the COVID pandemic have not been at the scale of the need. Across 40 reporting countries in the GHRP, 16 have reported significant interruptions in GBV services. While humanitarian actors have recognised the magnitude of the problem and advocated for greater priority to be given to awareness-raising and services for GBV survivors, long-standing neglect of the issue and insufficient resourcing continue to limit the ability of responders to prevent and mitigate the problem.
COVID-19 will heighten pre-existing risks of GBV due to increased exposure to abusers at home, mobility restrictions, and heightened household tensions from health and economic shocks.
Recognizing GBV response as an essential protection activity and service in the COVID-19 national response plans is required to facilitate the movement of GBV service providers. GBV messaging also needs to be mainstreamed in key entry points such as hospitals and drugstores, especially during lockdown situations, and GBV risk mitigation needs to be integrated in the response implemented in other sectors and continue to adapt service provision to remote modalities. An immediate and substantial increase in the funding available to address issues of GBV is indispensable.
As at end June, funding requirements for GBV in 16 countries with humanitarian response plans amounted to $487 million (including COVID-19 related-responses), of which only $34 million (7 per cent) were funded, leaving a gap of $453 million.
The continuity of other essential health services is also being interrupted. Facilities are overwhelmed with pandemic response, healthcare staff lack necessary personal protective equipment, and people cannot access services or may fear contagion. Across 26 countries that reported, 20 had facilities that showed a significant disruption in provision of maternal health care, with direct impacts on maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity.
Several other especially vulnerable population groups hit hard with the effects of the pandemic are confronted with violence and abuse, such as older people, LGBTI people, persons with disabilities, children and adolescents, particularly girls, as a result of prolonged lockdowns, harsh implementation of emergency measures by authorities, or being associated with COVID-19. Their access to preventative measures and treatment for COVID-19 is more difficult, as well as for other essential health services they may require.
Mental health and psychosocial support services are more than ever required for these and other vulnerable groups who are discriminated against or losing their livelihoods. These services are often grossly insufficient and tend to be under-resourced. Integration of MHPSS in all sectors improves quality of humanitarian programming, enhances the coping of people with any crisis, speeds up the recovery and rebuilding of communities, and contributes to saving lives, improving wellbeing and reducing suffering.