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U.N. appeal for pandemic aid triples

The U.N. more than tripled its humanitarian aid appeal to US$6.7 billion, up from US$2 billion, for vulnerable countries threatened by the pandemic.

The United Nations more than tripled its humanitarian aid appeal to $6.7 billion on Thursday, up from $2 billion six weeks ago to help the most vulnerable countries threatened by the pandemic.

U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock, who oversees the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, said the aid will help reduce conflicts, hunger and poverty brought on by the spread of COVID-19.

“If we do not support the poorest people — especially women and girls and other vulnerable groups — as they battle the pandemic and impacts of the global recession, we will all be dealing with the spillover effects for many years to come," he said.

In late March, a U.N. appeal to governments and private donors sought $2 billion for a global plan to meet emergency health needs in the world’s poorest countries coping with the coronavirus pandemic.

But less than two months later, the budget for the updated COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan was drastically revised upwards to deliver needed lab testing equipment, medical treatment supplies and health workers through airlifts and hubs in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

OCHA also hopes to set up more washing stations in refugee camps and settlements and pay for public information campaigns on how best to protect against the novel coronavirus. The money is distributed to U.N. agencies working to provide people with food, medicine and other basic needs.

“You can imagine what happens if the economic deterioration continues and if the supply chain breaks down," said the World Food Program's executive director, David Beasley. "It will be catastrophic."

Averting catastrophe

The updated plan reflects the fast-rising number of cases worldwide. Only 10 days ago, the number of cases blew past the 3 million mark, according to Johns Hopkins University and Google data trackers.

Now, it is has reached nearly every country, with more than 3.6 million reported cases and over 251,000 deaths — a rate of infections equal to 500 confirmed cases for every 1 million people on the planet. More than 1 million people have recovered from the virus, but the threat of a second wave of infections looms.

The world body said it raised $1 billion so far of the $2 billion it requested to support efforts across 37 countries, but in the updated appeal it added nine more countries in need of help: Benin, Djibouti, Liberia, Mozambique, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Togo and Zimbabwe.

"Six weeks ago, the global COVID-19 pandemic began to hit some of the world's most fragile countries. I asked governments to step up for the health of the world's most vulnerable people in a spirit of solidarity, compassion and foresight. The response was prompt and generous," said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.

"We have made a good start; now we must build on it," he said of the updated appeal. "We need $6.7 billion to protect millions of people and help stop the virus from circling back around the globe. Humanitarian aid is not just a moral imperative. It is a practical necessity to combat the virus."