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This submission will focus on the direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19 on developing countries; the impact on DFID’s operations; and lessons learned from previous outbreaks of infectious disease and the implications for DFID.




  1. The world’s poorest and most marginalised people will be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Moreover, measures designed to halt the spread of the disease risk exacerbating poverty and inequality in the longer-term.


  1. There is a need to better understand the cascading direct and indirect impacts of the virus on the poorest and most marginalised, especially through a gender and intersectional lens.


  1. Older people, children, women, displaced populations and those in conflict zones appear at particular risk.


  1. The pandemic will necessitate a locally led response. DFID must address existing barriers to supporting local humanitarian action.


  1. While the response becomes more locally led, it is more important than ever to build regional (and global) cooperation due to the spread of the virus across borders.


  1. DFID should consider supporting regional engagement by offering support to organisations such as the OIC, the African Union and the Arab League.


  1. Donors including DFID should focus on supporting livelihoods throughout the crisis as well as strengthening healthcare systems.


  1. New mechanisms for coordinating a large-scale humanitarian response are not required; DFID should engage through existing governance structures.






  1. The poorest and most marginalised will be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19; the pandemic reinforces and exacerbates existing health and socio-economic inequalities and vulnerabilities as well as the risk of impoverishment (Diwakar, 2020).


  1. There is a strong link between poverty levels and capacities to cope with humanitarian crises and disasters. Limited access to healthcare and weak governance means that the pace of transmission of COVID-19 in high-risk countries will easily surpass their ability to cope. South Sudan, Chad, Somalia, CAR and DRC are particularly at risk (Diwakar, 2020).


  1. Social distancing and border closures have become cornerstones of national responses, but these limit informal modes of work, contribute to food insecurity and restrict pathways out of poverty. While governments are currently concerned with halting the spread of the disease, the long-term risk is that poverty is exacerbated through a vicious cycle of disease, destitution and death (Diwakar, 2020).


  1. There is a need to better understand the cascading direct and indirect impacts of the virus on the poorest and most marginalised, especially through a gender and intersectional lens.


  1. Older people are almost always classed as ‘vulnerable’ in humanitarian responses (Barbelet, 2018), and they are particularly so in relation to COVID-19. Yet, older people tend to fall through the cracks in emergency response and risk being overlooked.


  1. At the same time, children have been shown to be more resilient to the health dangers of the COVID-19. However, in some countries, social distancing and school closures are likely to create other vulnerabilities for children, with many at risk of malnutrition (Broadbent and Smart, 2020; The Lancet, 2020).


  1. Women are at greater risk of sexual and gender-based violence, particularly domestic violence, since the outbreak – an issue exacerbated by lockdown orders (UN Women, 2020). Moreover, a shift in funding towards COVID-19 is likely to divert resources away from women’s health (Wenham et al., 2020). Research has shown that programmes targeting gender equality are often the first to be cut when needs exceed available funding (Holloway et al., 2019). As a champion of gender equality, DFID should take steps to negate this.


  1. COVID-19 will also strike displaced populations in disproportionate ways. Their access to healthcare and social protection is already more limited, and their livelihoods and ability to provide food for their families will be affected as many are barred from formal labour markets and must engage in informal economies (Barbelet and Wake, 2017). This is further compounded by funding shortages to humanitarian organisations, as evidenced with WFP unable to deliver food assistance to 1.4 million refugees in Uganda (Okiror, 2020).


  1. COVID-19 will be a significant challenge in conflict zones: social distancing is challenging to enforce and the outbreak can be weaponised by warring parties for political gain - as in countries like Libya, Syria and Yemen where war has already taken a toll on the healthcare system’s ability to treat the virus, much less its ability to track and contain the spread (Peters and El Taraboulsi-McCarthy, 2020; El Taraboulsi-McCarthy, 2020).


  1. Understanding the added complications conflict presents to the enactment of mitigation, preparedness and response measures could offer additional insights into how to manage the virus, and research is urgently needed on what risk management options are viable and appropriate in different conflict contexts.


  1. National Disaster Management Agencies are grappling with the complications COVID-19 presents to normative disaster prevention measures. These Agencies must rethink existing risk communication – which now must deal with trade-offs between protecting citizens against natural hazard-related disaster risk and the biological hazard of COVID-19.


  1. The transmission of COVID-19 presents challenges to conventional approaches to all aspects of the Disaster Risk Management (DRM) cycle, and now is the time to think through the implications of linked preventative measures for COVID-19 and for natural hazard-related disasters – before seasonal and cyclical hazards increase in frequency and intensity (including but not limited to the upcoming hurricane season).




  1. The absence of international staff through reassignment and/or travel restrictions will necessitate a more locally led response. National emergency response capacity should be built now, rather than relying on the possible availability of international surge capacity (O’Callaghan, 2020).


  1. DFID and other donors and partners must address existing barriers to supporting local humanitarian action – including its own policies – and support those organisations that have established strong and equitable partnerships (Barbelet, 2019; Wake and Barbelet, 2019). This involves investing in identifying local capacities, supporting complementarity between international and local actors, supporting localised coordination solutions and sharing risks (Barbelet, 2019; Bryant, 2019).


  1. Yet, over the past few years, restrictions (such as bank de-risking) have been put in place to limit humanitarian funding to local NGOs in some of the areas that are most vulnerable to large and uncontrollable COVID-19 outbreaks, such as the occupied Palestinian territory, Somalia, Syria and Yemen (Gordon and El Taraboulsi-McCarthy, 2018).


  1. While the response becomes more locally led, it is more important than ever to build regional (and global) cooperation due to the spread of the virus across borders. DFID should consider supporting regional engagement by offering support to regional organisations such as the OIC, the African Union and the Arab League.


  1. Regional organisations have been involved for years in numerous areas, including disaster risk reduction, early warning systems, humanitarian coordination and aid delivery, and in a variety of crises, ranging from natural hazard-related disasters and conflicts to pandemics such as Ebola (El Taraboulsi et al., 2016).


  1. Secondary impacts of social distancing and the economic shutdown on food security and livelihoods are likely to be as severe as, if not more than, the direct health consequences (Broadbent and Smart, 2020); Donors including DFID should diversify their operations to include not only strengthening healthcare systems, but maintaining an emphasis on livelihoods support and cash throughout the crisis.




  1. Trust, communication and community engagement will be key to fighting the outbreak; but existing accountability efforts are uncoordinated and collective approaches to communication and community engagement are rare (Bryant, 2020).


  1. They will, however, be necessary to ensure common messaging and build trust within the humanitarian community – this was not done well during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa (DuBois et al., 2015) or the more recent outbreak in the DRC (Kemp, 2020).


  1. A new mechanism for coordinating a large-scale humanitarian response is not required; DFID and other donors should engage through existing governance structures. The UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response that was created during the 2014 Ebola crisis has been described as ‘irrelevant before it got under way’ (DuBois et al., 2015: 23). Instead, existing and familiar structures such as the cluster system should be scaled up quickly (O’Callaghan, 2020).




Barbelet, V. (2019) Rethinking capacity and complementarity for a more local humanitarian action. London: ODI (https://www.odi.org/publications/11471-rethinking-capacity-and-complementarity-more-local-humanitarian-action)


Barbelet, V. (2018) Older people in displacement: falling through the cracks of emergency responses. London: ODI (https://www.odi.org/publications/11155-older-people-displacement-falling-through-cracks-emergency-responses)


Barbelet, V. and Wake, C. (2017) Livelihoods in displacement: from refugee perspectives to aid agency response. London: ODI (https://www.odi.org/publications/10901-livelihoods-displacement-refugee-perspectives-aid-agency-response)


Broadbent, A. and Smart, B.T.H. (2020) ‘Why a one-size-fits-all approach to Covid-19 could have lethal consequences’ The Conversation, 23 March (https://theconversation.com/why-a-one-size-fits-all-approach-to-covid-19-could-have-lethal-consequences-134252)


Bryant, J. (2019) Mapping local capacities and support for more effective humanitarian responses. London: ODI (https://www.odi.org/publications/16505-mapping-local-capacities-and-support-more-effective-humanitarian-responses)


Bryant, J. (2020) ReliefWatch: designing a new accountability service for people affected by humanitarian crises. London: ODI (https://www.odi.org/publications/16818-reliefwatch-designing-new-accountability-service-people-affected-humanitarian-crises)


Diwakar, V. (2020) From pandemics to poverty: Hotspots of vulnerability in times of crisis. London: ODI (https://www.odi.org/publications/16831-pandemics-poverty-hotspots-vulnerability-times-crisis)


DuBois, M., Wake, C., Sturridge, S. and Bennett, C. (2015) The Ebola response in West Africa: exposing the politics and culture of international aid. London: ODI (https://www.odi.org/publications/9956-ebola-response-west-africa-exposing-politics-culture-international-aid)


El Tarabousi-McCarthy, S. (2020) Libya and pandemic politics in armed conflicts. London: ODI (https://www.odi.org/blogs/16828-libya-and-pandemic-politics-armed-conflicts)


El Tarabousi-McCarthy, S., Krebs, H., Zyck, S.A. and Willitts-King, B. (2016) Regional organisations and humanitarian action: rethinking regional engagement. London: ODI (https://www.odi.org/publications/10427-regional-organisations-and-humanitarian-action-rethinking-regional-engagement)


Gordon, S. and El Taraboulsi-McCarthy, S. (2018) Counter-terrorism, bank de-risking and humanitarian response: a path forward. Key findings from four case studies. London: ODI (https://www.odi.org/publications/11180-counter-terrorism-bank-de-risking-and-humanitarian-response-path-forward)


Holloway, K., Stavropoulou, M. and Daigle, M. (2019) Gender in displacement: the state of play. London: ODI (https://www.odi.org/publications/16499-gender-displacement-state-play)


Kemp, E. (2020) ‘Replacing the language of fear: language and communication in DRC’s latest Ebola response’ Humanitarian Exchange 77: 21–24 (https://odihpn.org/magazine/replacing-the-language-of-fear-language-and-communication-in-drcs-latest-ebola-response/)


The Lancet (2020) ‘Redefining vulnerability in the era of COVID-19’ The Lancet 395 (10230): 1089 (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30757-1/fulltext)


O’Callaghan, S. (2020) Covid-19: five lessons from Ebola. London: ODI (https://www.odi.org/blogs/16779-covid-19-five-lessons-ebola)


Okiror, S. (2020) ‘Food rations to 1.4 million refugees cut in Uganda due to funding shortfall’ The Guardian, 14 April (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/apr/14/food-rations-to-14-million-refugees-cut-in-uganda-due-to-funding-shortfall-coronavirus-world-food-programme)


Peters, K. and El Taraboulsi-McCarthy, S. (2020) ‘Opinion: Dealing with COVID-19 in conflict zones needs a different approach’ Thomson Reuters Foundation News, 30 March (https://news.trust.org/item/20200329200250-bj72i)


UN Women (2020) Infographic: the shadow pandemic – violence against women and girls and COVID-19. New York: UN Women (https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/multimedia/2020/4/infographic-covid19-violence-against-women-and-girls)


Wake, C and Barbelet, V. (2019) Localising emergency preparedness and response through partnerships. London: ODI (https://www.odi.org/publications/11279-localising-emergency-preparedness-and-response-through-partnerships)


Wenham, C., Smith, J. and Morgan, R. (2020) ‘COVID-19: the gendered impacts of the outbreak’ The Lancet 395 (10227): 846–848 (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30526-2/fulltext?dgcid=raven_jbs_etoc_email)