Humanitarian Crisis Monitoring- Impact of Coronavirus


International Development Committee


Written evidence submitted by Christian Aid


17th April 2020










1.      Introduction

1.1              Christian Aid is a Christian organisation that insists the world can and must be swiftly changed to one where everyone can live a full life, free from poverty. We work globally in 25 countries for profound change that eradicates the causes of poverty, striving to achieve equality, dignity and freedom for all, regardless of faith or nationality. We are part of a wider movement for social justice. For example, the Act Alliance has 137 members in 100 countries. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance where need is great, tackling the effects of poverty as well as its root causes.

1.2  In May 2016, representatives from across the humanitarian system- States, governmental donors,

UN agencies, international and national NGOs, and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, agreed on a set of transformative action to render a more effective and efficient humanitarian system during the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS). To advance this, many international donors, including the UK government, agreed a Grand Bargain including measures to:

Ensure greater support and funding to local and national humanitarian actors, including a commitment to channel at least 25% of funds “as directly as possible” to local and national NGOs by 2020;

Scale up and improve the use of cash within affected communities;

Create a “participation revolution” so that people affected by crises are always at the centre of humanitarian action; and

harmonise and simplify reporting requirements across donors.

During the Summit, the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action was adopted, and The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction was created.


Our submission is made against this backdrop and the urgent action that the UK government must take to bridge the gap between its commitments and action as COVID-19 takes hold in many countries affected by concurrent humanitarian and coronavirus crises where Christian Aid works. Our key messages are that the UK Government should significantly enhance its efforts to ensure that sufficient funding flows rapidly to local and national actors, given widespread recognition of the critical role that local and national actors will have to play in this crisis; and that the UK Government should invest in local faith actors, whose special reach, relationship and trust with communities will be critical in facilitating the behaviour change needed to reduce the impact of the pandemic in the poorest countries: a lesson from the response to the Ebola epidemics.


1.3              We welcome this opportunity to provide written evidence. We would be keen to provide oral evidence and to further discuss these issues with the Committee. (Contact: Jane Backhurst, Senior Adviser, Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy, , 07726433125, and Daisy-Rose Srblin, Srblin, Senior UK Advocacy Adviser,


2. The direct and indirect impacts of the outbreak on developing countries, and specific risks and threats (particularly relating to countries with existing humanitarian crises and/or substantial populations of refugees or internally displaced persons)

2.1 Christian Aid has identified four key impacts related to humanitarian response, the economy, health and human rights.


2.2 Humanitarian – the coronavirus response, and the social and economic disruption this is causing, risks diverting attention and resources from humanitarian crises, disrupting life-saving operations, and threatens to further marginalise, and increase the number of, those vulnerable such as refugees and internally displaced people. This worsens the precarity for those living in IDP or refugee camps working in the informal sector or employed in jobs that are cash in hand. With restrictions on movement and to civic space humanitarian access has been impeded in many countries. 

South Sudan (ranked third), Afghanistan, (5th), DRC (6th), Haiti (7th), Burundi (8th), Burkina Faso (9th), all countries in which Christian Aid works, are ranked as the most vulnerable to COVID impacts (INFORM COVID 19 risk index) , and these countries will also have the highest numbers of people facing food crises (IPC ranking 3 or above, Global Report on Food Crises 2020).  WFP has warned that 2020 forecasts predict a “hunger pandemic” alongside the coronavirus pandemic.

Investment is needed now in a) frontline local organisations able to provide immediate assistance, including faith based organisations, and b) forecasting medium to long term risks and consequently funds for scaling up disaster risk management and resilience for communities whose resources have been depleted by the virus and who are facing increased risks associated with escalating conflicts or natural hazards such as increasingly climate-induced flood, cyclones and droughts.


Risks facing specific countries

2.2. 1 Over a million people fled from Myanmar to camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. 33% of people living in these camps do not own soap and lack water, making regularly handwashing difficult. Their cramped conditions and paltry access to basic infrastructure also impede safe distancing and hygiene measures. Fake news and rumours, such as “Allah will save us from the virus”, put lives at risk. With partners, we have also developed a fake news tracking sheet and shared this with doctors working in health facilities to help combat rumours and reduce panic surrounding the pandemic. Christian Aid has worked with local partners to ensure that health facilities in the camps have screening and isolation areas in order to treat suspected cases without spreading the virus further.

2.2.2 Measures to contain the locust infestation since October 2019 across the Horn and Eastern African Region (Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Tanzania, Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda) are being hampered due to the pandemic affecting the supply and logistical chain, including the procurement of bio-pesticides. Up to 20 million people are likely to be in food crisis (IPC 3) by June. Most farmers are having to plant during the current rainy season in arid or semi-arid areas which the infestation favours. Predictions suggest a fresh locust infestation around June/July from the breeding grounds in Yemen which will be ten times stronger than the present infestation. Christian Aid has already noted in North East Kenya, and South Omo, Ethiopia, that the infestation is at larval stage during this planting season. Vulnerabilities have been exacerbated by the impact of a range of shocks and stresses: drought in Kenya (April – July 2019), flooding (September – November 2019); drought in Ethiopia (April-July 2019) and a cholera outbreak (December 2019 - February 2020).

2.2.3 Our programmes in Latin America and the Caribbean report that COVID-19 is emphasising inequalities, exacerbating situations of violence, for example in Colombia, and compounding vulnerabilities, including in Haiti which faces an urgent triple threat of a rapid spread in the virus, the hurricane season in June, and the current lean season driving millions into crisis levels of hunger and weakening their immunity. Christian Aid is consequently tackling vulnerabilities driven by conflict, inequalities and climate change within its response to coronavirus across the region.

2.2.4 In Syria, the humanitarian crisis is now in its tenth year. There are 11 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and more than 6 million people internally displaced. Since December 2019, more than 1 million were displaced towards the Turkish border due to the aerial bombing of towns and villages by the regime and its allies. This extreme crisis is now exacerbated further by the onset of the pandemic, which is occurring in a country in severe economic crisis with a health sector decimated by more than 9 years of war and displacement. For those who are living in displacement camps, the options to socially distance and to wash hands regularly are moot. The issues of access to aid are deepened by cross-border access points having been decreased from four to two since January 2020. In addition to this, the WHO’s mandate to work through the Ministry of Health faces immediate issues when there is no assurance that this ministry will ensure aid reaches all parts of Syria, in particular areas under opposition control. Our partners in the North West and North East of Syria are currently reorganising their ongoing education and social cohesion programmes alongside humanitarian distributions. Our partner CCSD has written public letters to the UN Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire, for a whole-of-Syria approach to the C-19 response, and for detainees and abductees to be released on humanitarian grounds.

2.2.5 In Iraq also, the humanitarian displacement crisis, with more than four million in need of humanitarian assistance, is now exacerbated. Concerns have been raised that the real number of those who have contracted the virus is far greater than official statistics. Receiving only 2.5% of the annual budget, the public health sector in Iraq is dismally under-resourced, and not prepared to tackle a crisis of this magnitude, particularly once the virus reaches into the communities of the internally displaced, of which there are 1.4 million, who live in unsanitary crowded conditions, whether in camps or outside camps in temporary shelters.

2.2.6 Gaza has one of the highest population densities in the world, with around two million people, almost two-thirds of whom are refugees living within 140 square miles. This strip of land, while part of occupied Palestinian territory, is bordered by Israel to the east and Egypt to the south. These days it is often described as ‘the world’s biggest prison’ as a result of a 13-year Israeli imposed blockade. Most Palestinians who live there cannot travel beyond the Strip. The brutal wars between Gaza’s de facto rulers, Hamas and Israel, have had a horrific impact on the population and left critical infrastructure dangerously at risk.

The WHO, ICRC and Christian Aid partner, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), have warned that Gaza’s healthcare system would not be able to cope with an outbreak of COVID-19. The healthcare facilities in Gaza are already on the verge of collapse due to the long-term closure and Israeli-blockade on the Gaza Strip. The strain on Gaza’s health system has been further exacerbated over the past two years due to the high casualty toll from the events surrounding the “Great March of Return.” Should COVID-19 spread more widely through Gaza, there are only 65 ventilators and 120 ICU beds to ensure patients’ recovery, most of which are already in use for non-COVID-19 critical patients (WHO). Personal Protective Equipment is in limited supply. All non-emergency surgeries have also been suspended and primary healthcare is restricted to 14 centres, which provide essential services only. There is a perpetual shortage of essential drugs, medical devices and an insufficient number of specialized health professionals; rendering the system unable to meet the basic medical needs of the population in normal times. This is exacerbated by the fact that Gaza’s population is already a physically more vulnerable population due to deteriorating living conditions, and a lack of clean water and malnutrition. Given the population density, physical distancing is not a real option for most people. With the month of Ramadan, there will be added pressure on vulnerable households in Gaza, particularly for women and girls.

The de facto government in Gaza is maintaining a “contain and suppress” approach to continue to limit community transmission, recognising that there will be significant economic, social and cultural impact on citizens. With existing high levels of unemployment, poverty and urban density, the authorities in West Bank and Gaza are requesting support from the aid community.

2.3 Economy - As coronavirus takes hold, the initial macro and micro-economic impact of government restrictions and coronavirus has meant loss in government revenues, a spike in unemployment, and lost trade and investment. Many people in humanitarian contexts lack social protection. Movement restrictions impact the agricultural sector as people avoid markets, the prices of food commodities in some humanitarian contexts are already falling for farmers due to the decreased mobility of traders, but are increasing in urban areas. Infrastructure and government services are already minimal and overstretched in many conflict and disaster-affected contexts, and these will be further exhausted by the coronavirus crisis. Together, this could deepen poverty for hundreds of millions of people, and drive millions more into extreme poverty. Nearly half of all jobs in Africa could be lost and income losses could be $220 billion.


In Bangladesh, some of the most vulnerable families are already affected by losing jobs because of the country’s partial lockdown. Christian Aid is distributing cash and food, including rice and potatoes, as well and hygiene kits, including soap and washing powder, to 10,000 people living in Satkhira, Khulna and Dhaka urban slums.

In Afghanistan, to reduce the risk of the spread of coronavirus within crowded displacement camps, our local partner, RAADA, is providing nearly 300 families displaced by violence and drought in Bagdhis province $270 to voluntarily and safely return home, and additional cash for house repairs.

2.4 Health – Half of the world’s population cannot access adequate healthcare. In the countries in which Christian Aid works, Covid-19 risks exacerbating pre-existing problems, including poor maternal and child health, and sexual and reproductive health. As health services are overwhelmed in dealing with the response to the pandemic, deaths from other causes could increase. Restrictions on movement and damage to livelihoods could reduce access to food and increase malnutrition, increasing vulnerability to infectious disease. Health workers are most at risk (“Keeping the Faith”, 2015, see 4), so Christian Aid is helping partners, including in Nepal and Indonesia, to support remote health clinics with personal protection equipment.

2.5 Human Rights – as governments introduce ‘emergency laws’ alongside lock-downs, there is a real risk of further restrictions on civil society space, greater centralisation of power and an acceleration of human rights abuses with impunity in many of the countries in which we work.

In the camps for Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, child abuse cases increase daily alongside a rise in gender-based violence.

In Afghanistan, Christian Aid’s local partner CRDSA is working on awareness raising of coronavirus to 450 Human Right Defenders and Community Based Human Right Committees on coronavirus in Herat and Badghis Provinces.


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

3.1 The WHS’ Grand Bargain commitment to channel 25% of funds as directly as possible to local and national actors is far from being met. While there is some discussion about what constitutes “as directly as possible”, there is a massive gap between the aspiration that this sets and total “direct” funds to national and local NGOs. In 2018, 3.1 % of humanitarian funding was disbursed directly to local and national actors. However, the proportion to local and national NGOs fell from 17% in 2017 to 15% in 2018. Overall, local and national NGOs received only 0.5% of international humanitarian assistance in 2018 (Global Humanitarian Assistance report, 2019). Yet learning from the Ebola response (see 4. below) is that these actors, and especially faith-based organisations, are at the frontline of this response. While the UK has recently committed a further £200 million to the response, only 9% of this, £18 million, was set aside for NGOs for 15 countries, and only those with pre-approved partnerships with DFID. This is woefully inadequate. While DFID requires that its partners declare the amount of funding reaching frontline partners, and that overheads should be shared equally with partners, this is a welcome, but only a first, step towards funding local and national NGOs “as directly as possible” since the WHS in 2016. 

While the Global Humanitarian Response Plan highlights the importance of “involving and supporting local organisations”, out of a $2 billion package, the recent Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19 allocates only 100 million of this to NGOs via the Country Based Pooled Funds. The rest will take precious time to funnel through the UN agency system. This will cost lives.


3.2 Our recommendations with regards to the UK’s immediate response relate to i) the level of aid funding and how these funds are spent; ii) debt cancellation as a macro-economic measure to enable the effectiveness of aid; and iii) to diplomatic efforts to support aid delivery.

3.2.1 To meet its WHS commitments, and in line with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Principals’ acknowledgement of the role of local partners in the coronavirus response, (our local partners who are critical enablers in the overall response”), DFID should invest in an acceleration in localisation efforts, ensuring that frontline responders in communities, including faith-based organisations, receive direct funds for operational costs, cash interventions which enhance social protection, and for disaster preparedness and resilience measures, all in line with the Core Humanitarian Standard.

The response is highly dependent on local and national actors, as international staff are restricted from travel or unable to freely deploy to field operations, global logistics are fragmented, and organisations face many challenges to their usual ways of working. This represents a significant shift from existing practice in the international humanitarian system, which is highly dependent upon the surge of international staff between emergencies and the free flow of relief items and expertise. Past experience has shown that health-related humanitarian operations have the potential to be securitised, politicised and to lead to mistrust and stigmatisation if not conducted in a manner that is understanding of local context and culture. Local and national NGOs will often be best placed to bridge this gap, including understanding local community perspectives. Local actors may be best placed not only to understand the implications of the health emergency for the communities they serve, but also to ensure that communities themselves are able to drive humanitarian decision-making and response adaptation. The potentially serious health risk associated with the COVID-19 response add to the need to ensure that local and national partners are appropriately supplied and supported to effectively respond while caring for the health, safety and security of their staff. This is a compelling argument for all donors to urgently and comprehensively increase the level of unrestricted core funding support to local and national actors. Currently, when local partners are recipients of humanitarian funding their allowable indirect costs are typically limited. This impedes the ability of local partners to develop the necessary systems to improve staff capacity, ensure accountability, and provide for staff care and safety.


3.2.2 In line with the recent Inter-Agency Standing Committee guidance on the flexibility of funding during the COVID-19 response, DFID should demonstrate flexibility within existing grant budgets and allow a timely reprogramming of funds, expedite new grants and ensure that funding mechanisms are more accessible to frontline responders by simplifying due diligence and risk management processes, and to enable full cost recovery and adequate indirect cost rates. DFID should ensure that all it partners, including UN agencies, urgently cascade these conditions to their partners;


3.2.3 DFID should shape the next iteration of the Global Humanitarian Response Plan so that at least 25% of humanitarian assistance is channelled directly to support national and local NGO frontline response, a massive increase in the Country Based Pooled Fund allocation, and the opening of the CBPF to new local and national NGO partners;


3.2.4 The UK government should help broker a deal at the IMF for the cancellation of debt payments of the poorest countries. While Christian Aid welcomes the announcement by the G20 to suspend debt payments this year, we are appealing for outright cancellation of payments in 2020, and a long term debt relief package, which includes suspension of all payments at least until the end of 2021.  Without this, the poorest countries will not have a realistic exit route from the economic crisis.


3.2.5 In order to facilitate greater and safer humanitarian access to affected populations in crises, we urge DFID to work closely with the FCO and through the UK’s Representative in New York to promote and shape the UN Security Council Resolution in support of the UN Secretary Generals call for a global ceasefire.


4. 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.

4.1 In March 2020, as the coronavirus spread to communities with which we work, Christian Aid submitted a letter to the Secretary of State for International Development, jointly with Islamic Relief, CAFOD and Tearfund, which explained the critical and urgent need of investing in the frontline response of faith-based organisations, providing the lessons below from working with local partners during Ebola responses.

4.2 Learning from Ebola – complementing the Global Humanitarian Response

Christian Aid has gained a deep and broad experience from the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2015 and we applied this to the Ebola response in the DRC over the last 18 months. We documented the experience and lessons working with faith actors in an inter-agency report, “Keeping the Faith”:

One of the most important lessons from the Ebola response is the importance of going beyond traditional response models for non-traditional crises. Ebola could not be addressed by the secular humanitarian system and neither could it be brought under control as a consequence of the actions of faith communities alone; it was both of these, plus traditional leaders, working together, that offered potential to improve the situation. Additionally, future responses must involve faith communities and invest in faith-based organisations very early in the response in order to save lives.

The confidence that initially existed in a purely medical approach to the Ebola virus disease outbreak was misplaced; health facilities, treatment units and case management were important. But they missed an essential element: to mobilise communities to change behaviour. In many cases neither health staff nor government could 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.

In Sierra Leone, Christian and Muslim faith leaders established an important ground rule: to focus on issues that united them against the virus. This led to conversation on how to address the Ebola outbreak and to find similarities in their religious texts in how to promote behaviour change. The coherence in messaging of the two major religions and the unity of message delivery was a key platform for change.

The international humanitarian system has historically been weak in engaging local communities in the provision of assistance. The engagement of faith leaders in the Ebola response as community representatives in two-way discussions permitted the contextualisation of behaviour change messages. The response offers a rare example of power being shifted from the international to the local level and serves as an important example for the humanitarian system elsewhere.

5. Whether there are particular risks of transfer of the coronavirus from conflicted and fragile environments to other countries.

Further to the above points in 4., our specific appeal for urgent and massive investment in the delivery of frontline prevention and humanitarian delivery by local and national NGOs, including faith-based organisations, is made bearing in mind the risks that displacement will bring to those fleeing conflict and the coronavirus if that support is not available imminently. Without this, those already displaced and living in camps or with host communities will need to move as a coping mechanism which may clearly increase the risks of the virus spreading.


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

Christian Aid Week has been a fixture in May across UK churches for decades. Throughout the week, events are organised in communities across the UK, most of which have had to be cancelled this year. Christian Aid Week normally generates between £7-8 million annually for our programmes.

Loss in this crucial income comes at a time when Christian Aid requires additional funds to significantly and rapidly adapt humanitarian and development programmes to prevent the spread of the virus. Additionally, unforeseen costs have arisen due to the need to mitigate the impact of event cancellations by engaging our supporters in a meaningful way through on-line activities.

With other Bond members, we are calling for a “stabilisation fund” to help all UK charities to stay afloat, so that staff can continue operations during the pandemic.


7. The impact of the outbreak on UK aid funding in the longer term.

Christian Aid supports Bond’s NGO position statement. In addition, our key concerns are three-fold.


7.1 As infrastructure and government services are already minimal in many conflict and disaster-affected contexts, and these will be further exhausted by the coronavirus crisis, investment is needed now in forecasting medium to long term risks, and consequently funds for scaling up disaster risk management and resilience for communities whose resources have been depleted by the virus and who are facing increased risks associated with escalating conflicts or natural hazards such as increasingly climate-induced flood, cyclones and droughts. In the longer term, to meet its WHS commitments to “anticipate and not react”, “reinforce and not replace local capacities” and to strengthen the humanitarian - development nexus, an investment of 5% of overall ODA on resilience and disaster risk reduction, and an investment of 10% of humanitarian assistance on resilience and disaster risk reduction is overdue.


7.2 We would urge DFID to start to gather lessons now from its country offices about how in the future their funding mechanisms can be activated quickly to adequately fund local and national frontline NGOs and faith-based actors from the outset, when it is already clear that they will need to deliver the bulk of the response and remote management will not be adequate;


7.3 The economic impacts will outlast the pandemic. Now is the moment for the IMF to use their gold reserves, estimated to be worth $160 billion, to support this approach. Gold prices are at a historical high. It would be unconscionable for the IMF to sit on them in the face of the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s. Creditor countries should be working now on a longer-term debt relief package, which includes suspension of all payments at least until the end of 2021. Without this, the poorest countries will not have a realistic exit route from the economic crisis.