From Interim CEO Beth deHamel: Time is Running Out to Protect World’s Most Vulnerable

April 02, 2020

As confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus surpass more than a million today, time is running out to protect tens of millions who are already incredibly vulnerable and living in crisis. Those fleeing conflict, communities without access to health care and clean water, and families currently struggling to provide basic essentials to their loved ones are most at risk from the effects of this pandemic.

While COVID-19 continues to accelerate across much of the world, it has yet to spread widely across Africa and the Middle East. When it does, the human and economic impact will be devastating. The measures most countries have put in place to stop the spread of the virus - physical distancing, frequent hand-washing, reducing contact - are impossible for families living in refugee camps or people who rely on daily bartering and trading to survive. Countries already enduring hardships will not be able to provide the economic stimulus needed to meet the immediate needs of their communities, or to rehabilitate their economies in the aftermath of the outbreak.

Around the world, Mercy Corps works in more than 40 countries to help 28 million people prepare for, protect against and emerge from crisis. We have been rapidly adapting our work to support communities in the face of COVID-19. We are increasing our distribution of water and hygiene kits in Syria; providing cash to thousands of vulnerable families in the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere so they can buy food and soap and continue to meet their basic needs; and providing information to communities to help limit the spread. In many communities our team members are the first to warn communities of the risks of COVID-19, and are helping dispel myths about how to protect against or treat the disease.

Yet the scale and threat of this pandemic is unlike anything we have seen before. To meet this challenge, we need a united response on an unprecedented scale. In our hyper-connected era, COVID-19 will continue to be a threat to the entire world as long as there is threat to vulnerable communities.

To address this threat, the international community must first partner with humanitarian organizations to meet the most basic needs like access to water, sanitation, and vital health information. Second, world leaders and warring parties must rally behind UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ call for a global ceasefire - and ensure that humanitarian responders can deliver life-saving aid. Third, given the longer-term economic effects, the international community must invest in economic recovery to the most fragile places, to support their populations through this crisis and lay the foundation for recovery.

This first truly global crisis of the interconnected world reinforces what humanitarians have always believed: our obligations to our fellow women, men and children are not bound by borders. The crisis underlines the fact that a threat to one is a threat to all. This is a challenge we must face together, united.