Written evidence submitted by the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD)



CAFOD is the official aid agency for the Catholic Church in England and Wales; part of the global Caritas confederation of national organisations, each governed by their national Bishop’s conference and linked to national Catholic commissions on health, education and peace/justice issues. CAFOD partners with diverse local NGOs, including both faith-based groups and others working on human rights and other issues regardless of religion or culture. As was historically the case in the UK, the Church and faith-based groups play a huge role in the provision of health, education and other services across much of the developing world. Local religious leaders and faith groups have an unparalleled level of respect and trust amongst crisis-affected communities staying with them before, during and after crises strike. CAFOD’s mission centres values of compassion, solidarity and hope across our humanitarian, development and peacebuilding work.


Executive Summary

CAFOD focuses its submission on the following themes in the inquiry’s terms of reference:

  1. The UK’s response to the spread of coronavirus to developing countries
  2. Lessons from previous infectious diseases (e.g. Ebola) and implications for DFID policy
  3. Impact of the outbreak, and mitigation measures, on fund-raising by UK-based development charities/NGOs


Our priority recommendations to the British Government are as follows:


  1. The UK’s response, bilaterally and with the international community, to the spread of coronavirus to developing countries


On the UK’s response to the spread of coronavirus in developing countries, CAFOD highlights four priorities:


Strengthening DFID support to national and local NGOs

CAFOD welcomes the Government’s announcement of £200 million contribution to global efforts on Covid-19. However, we are concerned by DFID’s focus on channelling funds primarily through the UN system, and the relatively small allocation to NGOs so far. This may impact on the timeliness and effectiveness of DFID’s funding; especially in terms of supporting national and local NGOs working at the frontline.


Donors, UN and INGO staff all recognise that the Covid-19 response is likely to depend on the capacity of national and local NGOs to an unprecedented extent. In response to the spread of coronavirus, many governments have restricted or ended movement within and across international borders. Many foreign staff of international agencies have either relocated or returned to their home countries to re-join families as the crisis hits in donor contexts. Two weeks ago, one major UK INGO indicated that forty percent of its global staff had done so. The UN Global COVID-19 Humanitarian Response Plan highlights the ‘importance of involving and supporting local organizations.Just as in the UK itself, so too developing countries have seen impressive efforts by local organisations and networks mobilising in response to the crisis. However, they also face challenges, and need support from donors, international agencies and host governments to enable their efforts.


Experience from previous crises demonstrates that UN agencies are not able to channel funds quickly to NGOs (taking on average approximately 90 days), in particular local NGOs. In contrast, NGOs – international, national and local NGOs – can often move quickly. Just as efforts to ‘flatten the curve’ have proved decisive in wealthy nations, so too we are in a race against time in the developing world. It is local actors that have stayed with their communities who can move fast to best translate health information into terms they understand. DFID staff informally acknowledge Covid-19 response will depend to an unprecedented extent on the efforts of national actors, including local civil society. One DFID official described this as necessitating a ‘localisation on steroids’ approach, which in turn requires a ‘remote management on steroids’ approach by international agencies. The same official described how donors, including DFID, will have to reassess their risk appetite to scale-up funding to national and local NGOs.


For these reasons, CAFOD is concerned that DFID’s current funding allocations may not represent an ambitious enough approach to support national and local NGOs. On 12th April 2020, DFID published a press release highlighting that £130 million will be allocated to UN agencies (the majority going to WHO), £50 million to the Red Cross, with just £20 million available to NGOs for work over 6-months to be split across 15 country contexts.[1] By way of contrast, it is worth noting examples of previous DFID Rapid Response Fund allocations to NGOs in rapid on-set crises. For example, in just one country – the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan – £8 million was allocated for just 3-months. An ICAI review found this was an effective funding channel to enable quick response.[2] It is not yet clear whether additional DFID funds to NGOs might be mobilised at global or country-specific levels.


Furthermore, whilst INGOs often have strategic partnerships with UN agencies, this is not true for many national and local NGOs. As a consequence, local actors can generally only access (if at all) much shorter-term, inflexible grants. These kinds of UN grants often do not (or not adequately) cover overhead costs of the national NGO, including critically important budgets to cover financial administration, human resources, safeguarding and risk management. This lack of support for core organisational capacities to work safely and effectively will be all the more problematic in the face of a complex and high-risk crisis like Covid-19. Likewise, a top-down, short-term, inflexible approach will also generate multiple challenges as humanitarian operations need to adapt fast in a pandemic.   


As a major donor, DFID has a certain amount of leverage over UN agencies and how they partner with local actors. However, as a recent ICAI report highlights, that leverage is constrained by DFID’s ability to secure engagement from other donors, bureaucratic inertia in the UN and other competing agendas.[3] One option would be for DFID to press for progress by UN agencies on new IASC Key Messages on Funding Flexibility in Covid-19 response (Inter-Agency Standing Committee). As of last week, we heard that national NGOs in some contexts, like Bangladesh for example, are seeing a few UN agencies engage with them on adapting their pre-existing funding to Covid-19. However, this dialogue was yet to start in other contexts. DFID should press UN agencies to cascade flexible, longer-term funding to local actors, and make this as a condition of DFID multi-year, flexible funding through the UN.


Until now, discussions amongst UN agencies have largely centred on flexibility in funding already provided to national NGOs prior to Covid-19. There has been less focus on creating new funding opportunities for local actors on Covid-19 response. Some UN agencies have indicated funds raised through the UN global appeals will go largely into their own organisational costs and programmes and will not get passed onto NGOs. In South Sudan, for example, a World Bank grant of around 7 million USD has been divided between UNICEF, WFP and IOM. National NGOs are under the impression that this will not reach their efforts.  






Promoting a more comprehensive approach to debt

The UK Government has made a welcome contribution to the IMF’s Catastrophe Relief Fund, which will allow for the cancellation of debt payments in 2020 for 29 countries, thus freeing vital resources to tackle the spread and impacts of Covid-19. It has also worked constructively with G7 and G20 countries to agree to a suspension of all bilateral debt payments in 2020, as well as calling on multilateral agencies and private lenders to do the same, as outlined in the G20 Communique on 15th April.


However, the key issues are that a) only suspending and not cancelling debt payments will add to the economic crisis likely to be faced by poor countries in the coming years and b) multilateral development banks and private lenders are still not included in debt suspension. CAFOD therefore makes the following recommendations on ways forward for the UK:


Ensuring a coordinated and equitable approach to vaccines

CAFOD welcomes the announcements made by the British government on new funding for research and development of a Covid-19 vaccine. There needs to be a coordinated global response and it is essential that this vaccine will be available to all. The UK should:


Delivering public communications and diplomacy in support of global solidarity and a human rights approach

The British Government needs to work with UK-based civil society and international partners to champion multilateral cooperation, global solidarity and a human rights-based approach to the Covid-19 crisis response.


Central to this should be a strong public communications and diplomatic effort emphasising the inter-connected nature of national and global efforts to end the crisis. CAFOD welcomes recent statements by Government ministers to this effect, and we highlight the opportunity to amplify this message through effective partnerships with civil society.


Religious leaders and faith-based organisations can be strong allies for the UK’s efforts to rally support at home and abroad for such an approach. For example, Pope Francis delivered a sermon at Easter in which he emphasised: “No one is saved alone […] for better or worse all our actions affect others because everything is connected in our common home, and if the health authorities order that we remain confined in our home, it is the people who make this possible, aware of their co-responsibility in stopping the pandemic.”[4]



As a section further below highlights, the Covid-19 crisis has impacted in serious ways on our ability to fundraise with UK supporters, and other UK-based INGOs face similar or worse challenges. As such, both the Government and UK NGOs need to raise awareness about the importance of a global response to Covid-19 amongst the British public. A wider diplomatic effort is also needed to address protection consequences of the Covid-19 crisis. This is where a joined-up approach, and the differing but complementary expertise, of DFID and FCO will be of critical importance.


  1. Lessons identified and learned/applied from previous experience with infectious diseases (for example, Ebola); the implications for DFID’s policy on a global heath strategy


CAFOD partnered with researchers and peer NGOs to document lessons from the Ebola crisis responses in DRC (2018-on-going) and West Africa (2014-2015).[5] Several key lessons emerge with significant implications for the response to Covid-19:[6]


Lesson One: Whilst government leadership is important, the response to public health crises needs to adopt a wider ‘national health systems strengthening’ approach; building on government, private sector and civil society capacities.


Both the West Africa and DRC Ebola crisis responses highlight the importance of a comprehensive approach to national health system strengthening; recognising the role of civil society groups in health service provision.


In DRC, for example, Catholic health structures (‘Bureau Diocésain des auvres Médicales’) manage 40% of the health system. As a consequence, faith groups were involved in the Ebola response from the outset. Catholic health facilities reported cases of people dying from a sickness involving bleeding in Mabalako in May 2018, but a strike in the Government health system meant that cases were officially registered only in July, with the formal crisis declaration coming only in August.


Yet donors, including DFID, focused on channelling funds through the UN and government-centred aid programmes. This meant that CAFOD’s partners working to support those frontline Catholic health facilities only received funding from the UN over a year after the crisis had been declared. Furthermore, the funding they belatedly accessed from UN agencies was short-term and inflexible.


At the outset of the crisis response, the then Minister of Health centralised control of the response in the central line ministry and increased MoH staff in Kinshasa, and WHO staff were deployed from across West Africa. The majority of donor funding was directed to this. As one UN official told us in February 2020: “The WHO could have done more to encourage the MoH to value and support the contribution of civil society, including FBOs. This problem was obviously all the more acute because the crisis had broke out in opposition-controlled areas in Eastern DRC. What’s more, when Government staff are deployed from Kinshasa on $150 per-diems, there’s a real disincentive to localising the response.


All this played out in a context of violent conflict between the central government, local political actors and armed groups in the Ebola affected areas. Government and WHO staff deployed to the response did not come from the affected areas, did not speak local languages and brought with them practices that ran counter to local cultural norms (for instance regarding the feeding of patients and burial practices). As a consequence, opportunities to address the fears people had about Ebola and the humanitarian response to it were missed. Backlash against the response grew and, tragically, lives were lost – both frontline aid workers and community members who did not receive the information or services they needed from sources they trusted.


Lesson Two: Community engagement is as important as the medical aspects of responding to major public health crises. Religious and traditional leaders and local faith-based NGOs have key roles to play, but these are not adequately supported.


In both West Africa and DRC, the importance of community engagement – and the contribution of faith groups to this – is one of the major lessons learned from Ebola response. A study by CAFOD and other FBOs of the 2014–2015 Ebola response in West Africa found that: an essential element was the need to mobilise communities to change behaviour and in many cases neither health staff nor the government were well placed to do this. Instead, the local community itself was best placed to effect change, and faith leaders, as trusted and respected members of communities, played an important role as agents of social change.[7]


Unfortunately, the lessons from West Africa were not applied in the DRC Ebola response. As one UN official told us in February 2020: “It should be obvious that a response to Ebola requires engagement with priests, pastors and parishioners. If someone is sick, then it is through this kind of community structure, which has their trust and that of their family, that support can be provided. It also gives people a sense of control over what’s happening to them.” Yet as one national FBO manager in Eastern DRC told us in February 2020: “In every strategic meeting on the crisis, faith-based organisations were mentioned as one of the major actors in the response. Unfortunately, this point was made without faith actors actually being invited to those same meetings.


This is especially shocking as it is hard to overstate the importance of faith and faith institutions in DRC where, for example, an estimated 60% of educational facilities are managed by faith groups. Indeed across sub-Saharan Africa, surveys indicate that Africans are more likely to contact religious leaders over any other group including traditional leaders, MPs, local government councillors or other public officials (Afrobarometer 2020).


In the longer-term, both FBOs and UN agencies need to invest in strengthening their partnerships. At the global level, UN agencies tend to emphasise partnerships with global-level faith-based coalitions and think-tanks. These actors can provide important insights on technical issues and support global-level advocacy and communications work, but they are not well-placed to support programmatic partnerships with local faith groups on the ground. At the country-level, the focus of WHO and other UN agencies on relationships with central government can also complicate efforts to engage a diverse and inclusive range of faith actors in any given context. Faith communities, including the Catholic community, are often complex and structured in ways that mean that a central government focused approach by international agencies risks excluding a range of faith actors – especially those working outside of the capital city or in marginalised communities.





Lesson Three: Importance of longer-term, flexible funding to enable effective crisis response and recovery programmes. Most local NGOs are yet to benefit from this, and major DFID longer-term programmes to build the capacity of local NGOs on humanitarian preparedness and response have stopped.


In both the West Africa and DRC Ebola responses, local NGOs – in particular local FBOs faced significant difficulties in accessing timely, adequate and flexible funding. In DRC, this was in large part a result of the centralised approach of donors and the UN, and inadequate progress on localisation. As one staff member from an FBO put it: ‘One UN official asked us, what do the Christian NGOs need funding for? You already have people on the ground everywhere. Shouldn’t they just be doing this anyway?[8]


CAFOD’s partners in DRC and West Africa, as well as across other contexts currently facing the Covid-19 crisis, repeatedly highlight the importance of local NGOs accessing longer-term and flexible funding, including adequate support for overhead costs to cover safety, health insurance and other risk management priorities. All of this needs to be packaged with support for capacity-strengthening to acquire the new skills, technology and equipment required to meet the new kinds of risks – known and unknown – that Coronavirus presents. In both the West Africa and DRC Ebola crises, some of CAFOD’s partners were eventually (in DRC on year after the crisis was declared) able to access short-term, inflexible funding from UN agencies. Our wider support to their core organisational running costs, staff training and accompaniment in areas like finances, project administration, human resources and risk management were largely funded by CAFOD’s funds raised from the Catholic community in the UK.


Over recent years donors like DFID have started to provide flexible, longer-term funding to UN agencies, but benefits of this have largely not been passed onto INGOs or local NGOs. Indeed DFID ended its longer-term strategic funding to INGOs, the ‘Programme Partnerships Agreements’, which had previously enabled UK-based INGOs to invest in longer-term capacity-strengthening of local NGOs on crisis response. Two major and successful DFID programmes to support longer-term investment in local NGO capacities on emergency preparedness, resilience and response (DEPP and BRACED) were also ended and are yet to be replaced.[9] The benefits of those programmes are still evident in the strength of joint national NGO efforts in DRC, Bangladesh and Nepal. CAFOD’s partners in these contexts express a hope that DFID might revive its support to this kind of investment. Yet over recent years, DFID shifted increasingly towards funding through large commercial contracts with for-profit contract managers, who then sub-grant to INGOs and local NGOs. As this approach often involves the contract-holders acting as ‘gate-keepers’ both between consortium member agencies and with DFID, it is not conducive to effective partnership or empowerment of local NGOs. 


  1. Impact of the outbreak, and consequential mitigation measures, on fund-raising by UK-based development charities/NGOs


Covid-19 arrived in the middle of the CAFOD’s most important annual fundraising campaign with Catholic communities in England and Wales – during the Lent period. We have integrated stories and messages about our support to global Covid-19 response efforts into the end of that campaign, but our ability to reach our supporters has been hugely impacted by the crisis. A large proportion of our Lenten fundraising effort happens in parish settings and face-to-face social events organised through parish communities. Whilst there have been efforts to transfer some of these efforts online, this cannot reach the same number of supporters. The job losses and economic insecurity caused by Covid-19 has also impacted on our support base. As such, we estimate that £3-5 million of supporter funds are at risk over this period, which has huge impacts on our overall budget for 2020-2021.


Almost two-thirds of our cash donors fall into the vulnerable people category (over 70) and therefore we are particularly sensitive to the incredibly difficult situation our long-standing supporters find themselves in and the limitations that this current context puts on their ability to support. Furthermore, a number of trusts and foundations well known to us have paused their annual applications because of investment falls and therefore this income is now unstable. We will be making difficult decisions around staffing and resources at a time when the need to respond internationally has never been greater.


In light of these challenges, we underline the importance of UK match funding for our supporters and fundraising work. Our sense is that, aside from the material benefit it represents, it has helped us in fundraising and strengthened a sense of common purpose between government and our supporters on development and humanitarian goals. We would like to see this support continue and increase, as this demonstrates well a sense of unity and purpose within the UK to address the wider needs to respond to Covid-19 in the developing world. Additional funding to NGOs through the DFID Rapid Response Framework (RRF) would also be welcome. [10]








[5] Keeping The Faith & ODI study – insert references

[6] Please find a link here to a ODI/HPN article reflecting on experiences of FBO’s in the Ebola response in DRC with recommendations of relevance to the Covid-19 response (co-authored by CAFOD and a Congolese national NGO partner).

[7] CAFOD, Christian Aid, Tearfund and Islamic Relief, Keeping the Faith: The Role of Faith Leaders in the Ebola Response, 2015 (

[8] Interview, February 2020.

[9] Disaster and Emergencies Preparedness (DEPP) programme: Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) programme:


[10] For more information: Howard Mollett, Head of Humanitarian Policy, CAFOD,