2020 has catapulted us out of what we once deemed ‘normality’. With the arrival of a new decade came the transformation of our domestic and global landscapes: economically, socially and politically. Yes, of course, we are referring to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Erupting first in East Asia around January, the oft-fatal viral infection is slowly reaching all corners of the globe, attacking climates and communities of all varieties.
Though the virus may not discriminate based on geography, it undoubtedly has much more devastating effects in communities lacking access to basic healthcare, medical infrastructure, food and sanitation.
‘Students4globalcovidaid’ is an appeal, in support of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), asking students across the UK to help seven extremely vulnerable and ill-equipped countries at great risk from Covid-19, namely: Bangladesh (Rohingya), Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen.
The campaign is focussing on these conflict-ridden arenas, predominantly to camps accommodating refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs). There is an acute shortage of soap, water and other essential supplied in these overcrowded camps, where social distancing and self-isolation are often impossible.
Any donations will go toward the provision of medical equipment, providing clean water and sanitation, and ensuring frontline medical staff are equipped to care for the sick and the vulnerable.
The Arab Spring of 2011 quickly took hold in Syria, morphing into a civil war between Bashar al-Assad’s Baa’athist party and those calling for its demise. Inviting attention from both state and non-state actors across the globe, the now decade-long conflict has taken thousands of lives and homes. Covid-19 adds to the already extensive challenges faced by health workers across the country. Mustafa Syria, an aid worker with CAFOD in a camp with displaced peoples just outside of Idlib (North West Syria), commented:
“The next ten days are critical for us. Doctors are preparing for the spread of the virus. People live in large overcrowded settlements in tents with maybe 12 people and no access to clean water. It will be a catastrophe. Disaster. Please help them.’
Camps in and around Idlib, as well as al Hasakeh in the North East, risk the greatest exposure to Covid-19.
The people of Somalia live under siege every day. Experiencing an aggressive and complicated civil war since 2009, over 1 million Somali civilians are internally displaced. The country relies on food assistance from the likes of the UN and the Arab League on a daily basis. Twinned with recurrent natural disasters and famine, it is estimated than less than 10% of homes have access to even basic hand-washing facilities.
With the complications of war and forced internal migration, it’s much harder to know how many people may be infected by Covid-19. Displacement camps, like that in Xidig, are extremely short of basic equipment and frontline healthcare workers.
Afghan civilians have been subject both domestic and international conflict ever since the Soviet invasion of 1979. The departure and arrival of new state and non-state actors, such as the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, have severely impaired the country’s medical and social infrastructure and their ability to respond to the outbreak of Covid-19, which has now reached33 out of the country’s 34 provinces.
Health-workers across the country are working tirelessly to confront the pandemic, converting what remains of a hospital attacked in Zabul (September 2019) into a Covid-isolation centre.
Dr Fariba, part of the World Vision’s Mobile Health and Nutrition Team based in Afghanistan, commented: “IDP’s have fewer sanitation facilities so they are more susceptible to Coronavirus. With our commitment, we accept the risk and we are ready to serve people to be more secure, especially women and children.”
Democratic Republic of Congo
Despite witnessing the end of a long and costly civil war in 2003, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has since suffered sporadic waves of unrest, resulting in an estimated 5 million displaced people between 2017 and 2019.
As well the huge numbers of Congolese who have fled their homes, the country also hosts over half a million refugees from neighbouring countries. With inadequate water and sanitation provision, those living in camps for displaced people are among those acutely vulnerable to the outbreak of Covid-19.
Such individuals “don’t have the luxury of social distancing”, explains Hebdavi, a Tearfund manager in the Democratic Republic of Congo. On top of this, the country has been battling with the Ebola epidemic since 2018. With the worst of Covid-19 still to come, the DRC’s already fragile health system must brace itself for the dangers of the virus.
Since declaring independence in 2011, South Sudan has faced long and complex civil war, forcing 1 in 3 civilians to flee their homes. Though February this year marked the end of the South Sudanese civil war, years of conflict throughout the agricultural heartland in the south of the country has left around 6 million facing starvation. Coupled with South Sudan has also had to face floods and swarms of desert locusts devastating crops.
Covid-19 poses a menacing threat to those already struggling to feed themselves. Alawai, a 42-year-old refugee and mother of 11 children, explains her worry that “the disease is a threat to children because they go out and play with each other. Most of their games involve body contact, which I often cannot control when I am working on the farm. It scares me”.
Over 850,000 Rohingya refugees, most of whom have fled violence and state persecution in Rakhine State, Myanmar in 2017, collectively make up the largest refugee population in the world.
Sheltering in Cox’s Bazar, a city in South-eastern Bangladesh which has recently been considered Bangladesh’s first red zone (an area at high risk of an outbreak and rapid spread of COVID-19), the Rohingya people are ill-equipped to prevent a potentially catastrophic outbreak.
With high population densities, a lack of water, sanitation, personal protective equipment and medical supplies, and the absence of frontline health workers, DEC funding can bolster operations at two isolation field hospitals in Cox’s Bazaar. It will also aid the supply of thousands of masks and hand sanitisers to the staff in the world’s largest refugee camp.
After five years of civil war and a long history of disastrous foreign interventions, millions of families in Yemen are struggling to survive – now hugely compounded by COVID-19. Years of conflict and deprivation, and a number of existing diseases such as cholera, diphtheria, dengue, compromised immune systems and shortages of food of water, have left many more Yemenis susceptible to the virus.
COVID-19 cases and deaths are likely to be hugely underestimate due to a lack of testing. Statistics modelling suggests there could be up to 10 million people infected, with between 62,000 and 85,000 deaths in the worst-case scenario.
DEC charities are already on the ground in Yemen helping those most in needs, but they need more funding to scale up their operations. This appeal aims to improve the conditions of people in quarantine and isolation by supplying food, medicines, PPE as well as personal hygiene and cleaning items.
What can you do?
We believe through the mass mobilisation of students, we can – through ‘Studnents4GlobalCovidAid’ – provide a substantial funding boost to this appeal.
A small donation of £5 (a coffee you haven’t bought for you and a pal?!) or £10 (the amount you usually spend on a crispy pint or two in a cheap round?!) could make a big difference.
Please follow us right now on Instagram, it takes less than a minute to donate through the DEC sticker, then share and encourage your friends and course mates to do the same.
You can also donate on the website by clicking here.
Every donation will help keep people safe from the virus, people who have to face this ordeal without the NHS and all the other support networks we all rely on.
Written by Laura Palmer, Safyan Rahman and Lily Gordon Brown.
All images via Disaster Emergency Committee.