It is hard to think of impending natural hazard-related disasters in the middle of a global pandemic. But it is absolutely essential that policymakers do so. This year, due in part to climate change, scientists predict one of the most active seasons on record.
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Of course, this challenge isn’t only in the. Other parts of the world have already grappled with the intersection of COVID-19 and large-scale disasters with varying results. From Harold in the Pacific to Amphan in India to severe flooding and locust swarms in East Africa, some key trends have emerged. By studying and learning from them, policymakers in the Western Hemisphere may be able to prepare more effectively for the worst.
Straining Supply Chains, Underfunding and Marginalized Workers
The COVID-19 pandemic is putting supply chains under strain, even for basic household goods. Where supply chains are particularly stressed, the prices of essential goods have skyrocketed, making it harder forworkers to provide much-needed aid for long-standing global relief needs.
Adding large-scale natural hazard-related disasters like cyclones and hurricanes to the mix only exacerbates these already fragile systems. Strict lockdown and decontamination procedures, for instance, held up much-needed rapid delivery of emergency supplies in delayed relief by up to two weeks in some hard-to-reach islands. In addition, COVID-related cancellations of intra-island transport, including planes and ships, coupled with Harold’s destruction of main roads to further delay aid delivery.during Harold and also
Natural hazard-related disasters, likewise, impact the delivery of COVID-related supplies. In East Africa, where record-setting floods displaced more than 1.1 million people in May, important infrastructure, including a number of key bridges and roads, were destroyed or damaged. This created a nightmare for agencies attempting to deliver relief supplies, including those meant for COVID-19.
In the face of these challenges, aid organizations have carried on, but their budgets and impact on the ground are in jeopardy. To date, by and large, commitments for funding fallen short by at least a third as compared to this time last year. For example, funding appeals for flooding and locust relief in East Africa have a combined gap of $325 million, and the amounts raised represent less than 20% of the articulated need. The UN ’ (UN ) appeals in Ethiopia are underfunded by more than 84%.emergencies, COVID-related or not, have
In addition, reporting shows that this year’s Harold, when compared to 2015’s Pam, has received far less attention and funding, even though it displaced more than 27% of ’s population. According to the UN ’s Financial Tracking Service, in 2015, received more than $37.2 million in assistance for Pam; this year, only $4.8 million has been donated for Harold.’s own
Yet, another layer of vulnerability for those displaced by disasters has emerged as governments around the world have moved to expel hundreds of thousands of workers returned home from urban centers in March before Amphan hit. Now they’ve been left stranded without job prospects as their community struggles to recover. This is especially worrying, as remittances from migrants are often a dependable lifeline during disasters.workers to limit the spread of COVID-19. For example, in the Sundarbans in southern India,
predicts that remittances sent back home may shrink by more than 20% this year. This means that places such as , where seasonal workers normally send home more than $19 million annually, will have fewer funds from family members to rebuild and recover after the fall out of this year’s Harold. The ability to send money back home is further hindered by the fact that workers are also often not eligible for COVID-19 social protection schemes.who have not returned home but who may have lost jobs during shelter-in-place orders by authorities have similar challenges. In fact, the World Bank
What Does This Mean for Policymakers?
While the COVID-19 pandemic and large-scale disasters are being handled differently all across the world, there are undeniable trends that speak to a larger challenge that policymakers must face. First, oursupply chains are woefully underprepared for any sort of major disruption. Second, national governments and international organizations that often lead the charge to help those most in need are falling short. Third, policies to address the crisis of COVID-19 may actually exacerbate others.
Donor countries, such as the United States, must move urgently to invest in disaster relief and recovery — COVID-19-related and otherwise. The United Nations estimates the cost of protecting the most vulnerable from the worst effects of the pandemic is about $90 billion. While this amount seems high, it represents less than 1% of the amount of world stimulus packages that rich countries have begun to implement. Thus, a significant contribution from the US of $20 billion in emergency funding would not only be reasonable but also consistent with America’s expressed commitment to leadership.
Substantial and rapid injections of aid also make long-term economic sense in fragile settings dealing with other disasters. For example, the World Bank estimates that the locust challenge alone could cost the greater Horn of Africa region, including Yemen, as much as $8.5 billion by the end of this year. A rapid response could cut that loss by more than $6 billion.
National governments should not summarily expelor make it impossible for them to remain, as such actions or omissions are more a result of fear and prejudice than sound public health policy judgments. Indeed, it is critical that have access to economic opportunities — in both urban centers and abroad — to be able to adequately help their communities recover from the deadly combination of COVID-19 and disaster. In order to ensure are best able to do so, policymakers must include them in recovery planning and economic assistance measures regardless of status.
Finally, there is the need to decentralizeoperations, as some aid organizations working on the ground have already signaled they will do. Building up the capacity of local people — especially in the communities that are often affected by big storms — is essential. Doing so decreases the high costs of getting to harder-to-reach communities and maximizes aid while reducing response times.
As we begin to witness the impacts of the Atlantic hurricane season, taking to heart these lessons will be a matter of life or death for millions.
*[Kayly Ober is the senior advocate and program manager of the Climate Displacement Program of Refugees International.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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