UN issues appeal to bolster COVID-19 ‘logistics backbone’, warns global response could stutter to a halt 

20 April 2020

The heads of major UN humanitarian agencies and offices have launched an urgent appeal for $350 million to support global aid hubs to help those most at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an open letter that appeared on Sunday in The Guardian (UK), the heads of UN agencies, including among others, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), along with the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affair (OCHA), said cancelled flights and disrupted supply routes have prompted the appeal to enable a rapid scale-up of staff and supplies to places hardest hit by the virus. 

Against the backdrop that developing countries, with the least ability to contain the coronavirus, could become repositories for the disease and may drive new COVID-19 waves around the world, the UN agency heads warned that without these facilities, “the global response could stutter to a halt”. 

Explaining that humanitarian agencies work in places that are “potentially huge reservoirs where it is hard to manage the virus,” Mr. Lowcock maintained that “nobody is going to be safe, until everyone is safe”.

“This isn’t just about compassion and empathy it’s about hard self-interest”.  

WFP needs a massive expansion of its transport and logistics services, including its UN Humanitarian Air Service, which is available to all aid professionals.

The intention is to utilize two active commercial air transport centres in Europe to charter flights for moving humanitarian staff to crisis areas, including the Middle East and Africa. It also aims to transport the provision of seven global field hospitals dedicated to treating humanitarian workers who become infected with the disease during their work.

Appealing for help

The appeal follows months in which countries have largely forged their own ways as many global political institutions – including those of the EU – have struggled to find consensus.

The letter also comes after Secretary-General António Guterres launched on 25 March, a $2 billion appeal for a Global Humanitarian Response Plan, only $550 million of which has been pledged to date, and on the heels of US President Donald Trump’s suspension of WHO funding, the UN agency heading the coronavirus fight.

Disproportionately hit

The letter painted a picture of the coronavirus as the “most daunting challenge facing humanity since the second world war”, pointing out that it “knows no borders, spares no country or continent, and strikes indiscriminately”.

“In this race against an invisible enemy, all countries must fight back but not all begin from the same starting line”, it spelled out, noting that in countries where the world’s most vulnerable need humanitarian aid and supplies to beat back the pandemic, “cancelled flights and disrupted supply routes hit disproportionately hard”.

“It is in everyone’s interest to stop the virus from spreading unchecked, destroying lives and economies, and continuing to circle around the world”, the letter stressed.

The services provided by WFP on behalf of the entire global humanitarian community, will enable “a swift, efficient response to COVID-19 for the most vulnerable people”, promised the UN agency heads. 

Scaled-up COVID-19 services 

  • Establish, equipping and managing international consolidation hubs and regional staging areas.
  • Provide air and shipping cargo services.
  • Offer passenger air services, with measures to avoid spreading the virus.
  •  Cover medical evacuation services for front-line workers. 
  • Allow for treatment centre constructions.
  • Deliver real-time remote data collection. 

Noting that everyone around the world, is facing “the same mortal threat”, they underscored that “every step that speeds delivery, saves lives”. 

“Now is the time to step up together, to prevent needless suffering, and to fulfil the promise of a better future for all”, concluded the letter.


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