Great Britain

Lack of Covid help for poor countries will haunt west, says UN aid chief

The west will be haunted for decades to come by its failure to do more to help poor countries cope with the economic and social impact of the Covid-19 crisis, the United Nations humanitarian chief has warned.

Writing for the Guardian, Sir Mark Lowcock, the former top civil servant at the UK’s Department for International Development, said rich nations had acted decisively to deal with their own problems but failed to show the same vigour in response to the growing international crisis.

Lowcock, the UN under-secretary for humanitarian affairs, said that in the world’s most fragile countries starvation was set to double, life expectancy would fall and girls removed from school would never go back.

“All this will fuel grievances, and in their wake conflict, instability and refugee flows, all giving succour to extremist groups and terrorists. The consequences will reach far and last long.”

Lowcock said it was hard to find a single policymaker who contested his analysis. “All the more curious, then, the tepid response,” he added.

The former UK civil servant said the UN had appealed for $10bn (£7.8bn) to mitigate the damage caused by the pandemic but had so far received only 25% of what it was seeking.

He called on developed countries to use their voting power at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to beef up the multilateral response to the crisis by:

“Seeking to preserve the balance sheet during the current crisis is the wrong policy goal: the point of a strong balance sheet is to be able to use it in extreme circumstances. What worse problem are we waiting for? Increase lending now,” Lowcock said in his article.

Speaking to the Guardian, Lowcock said it had been extraordinary how weak the response by the leading shareholders of the IMF and the World Bank had been, especially when comparedwith the much stronger action taken during the financial crisis of 2008-09.

The economic distress caused by Covid-19 in poor countries was leading to a collapse in routine immunisation and acting as a “recruiting sergeant for extremists”, Lowcock said.

Amounts required to deal with humanitarian needs paled in comparison with the sums mobilised by rich countries, but political will was lacking, he said.

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