International Development Committee

Inquiry Evidence: Humanitarian Crises Monitoring – Impact of Coronavirus

Submitted by The HALO Trust




International Development Committee
House of Commons



8 May 2020


Dear Ms Champion MP,


Inquiry Evidence: Humanitarian Crises Monitoring – Impact of Coronavirus


The HALO Trust welcomes this inquiry and is pleased to provide evidence.


The attached evidence focuses on the impact of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) as an interconnected global public health, economic and humanitarian crisis. It makes concrete recommendations for greater UK leadership at the global level. These include urgent need for the government to fund, and draw on, the currently underutilised capacity of British NGOs overseas.


HALO’s evidence draws on our expertise as a unique international NGO sitting at the confluence of security, development and humanitarian work. It also reflects our status as a key DFID partner, having delivered work with Her Majesty’s Government in 15 countries over the past 32 years.


HALO is committed to ensuring that the UK remains a global humanitarian and demining centre of excellence. We remain equally committed to supporting Global Britain as an influential force for good in the world, especially against a backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and its inevitable impact on conflict, humanitarian crises and poverty eradication.


We look forward to working with you on this inquiry and the broader work of the Committee.


Yours sincerely,


Chris Loughran                                                                                                  Camille Wallen

Senior Policy & Advocacy Advisor                                                        Director of Strategy



  1.               Introduction


1.1.             The HALO Trust (HALO) values the opportunity to contribute to the International Development Committee (IDC) inquiry into humanitarian crises monitoring and the impact of COVID-19 (Coronavirus). The following evidence to the inquiry focusses on the humanitarian and developmental impacts of COVID-19, the UK’s global response to date and the need for greater UK leadership going forward.


1.2.             HALO’s evidence also highlights the existing capacity and capability of the UK’s international NGOs overseas that is currently underutilised and underfunded.


  1. The HALO Trust


2.1.             HALO’s mission is to protect lives and restore livelihoods of people affected by conflict. Founded in the UK in 1988, HALO is a world leader in humanitarian mine action (clearance of landmines, unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive devices, IEDs) as well as weapons control. It is the UK’s eighth largest international NGO, with 8,500 staff in 25 countries and territories around the world.


2.2.             HALO is committed to reducing human suffering caused by former conflict and armed violence, while working proactively to address the causes and consequences of instability, conflict and crises that entrench poverty and inequality. HALO’s work and approach places it at the nexus of global humanitarian, development and security concerns, making its expertise and experience relevant to the work of the IDC and the scope of this inquiry.


2.3.             HALO is a key partner of Her Majesty’s government through projects under the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF), and the multi-year Global Mine Action Programme (GMAP) led by the Department for International Development (DFID). HALO has played a pivotal role in the administration and implementation of both GMAP1 (2014-2018) and GMAP2 (2018-2021). Since 2018 alone, GMAP has helped 460 million people to live safely until landmine contamination can be cleared.


2.4.             As well as being a global leader in mine action, HALO has a solid track record of applying its expertise and capability to emergency response in the face of protracted and sudden onset emergencies. In 2004, HALO redirected landmine clearance capacity to humanitarian response when a tsunami decimated Sri Lanka’s coastline communities. Now, HALO has proactively applied its knowledge, capacity and expertise to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.


2.5.             HALO is providing logistical support to front line medical efforts, providing ambulances and transporting vital supplies, improving water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, and raising awareness about COVID-19 responses in rural communities. HALO is also working with local partners to address the secondary impacts of COVID-19, including by providing psycho-social support to women and children at increased risk of sexual exploitation and abuse and gender-based violence.



  1. Key Recommendations


3.1.             HALO makes the following key recommendations through this inquiry:


  1. The government should deliver on its commitment to leadership in global COVID-19. It should forge and lead global coalitions to address COVID-19 as an interconnected and protracted global emergency.


This UK should draw on the capacity of the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to forge coalitions that will address the public health, socio-economic development and macro-economic impacts of COVID-19. The government should better leverage its networks, including the knowledge, experience and capacity of the UK’s international NGOs.


  1. The government should match its support to global vaccine development with support to the UK’s international NGOs already positioned on the global COVID-19 response front line.


DFID should mobilise and disperse funds, while also activating existing funding mechanisms to support UK international NGO capacity that is underutilised and under-funded. This will save countless lives, support poverty reduction and promote longer-term socio-economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. It will also reflect the values of a Global Britain.


  1. The government should urgently enhance and diversify its consultation with UK NGOs in the development and delivery of a global COVID-19 response strategy.


The UK’s international NGOs have a wealth of localised knowledge, as well as diverse expertise and experience in responding to complex crises and their long-term humanitarian and developmental impacts. They already have partnerships withand access tocommunities in fragile and conflict affected areas. DFID should harness this though increased strategic engagement with a more diverse group of UK NGOs.


  1. The government must draw further on networks held by UK overseas missions, including national and international NGOs.


This will ensure that the UK’s COVID-19 strategy is as informed as far as possible by expertise at the local and national level. It will also enhance linkage to national strategies and coordination systems, promoting national ownership and localisation.


  1. DFID should continue to embrace flexibility in its funding and procurement, and work with NGOs to ensure that the UK remains a humanitarian centre of excellence.


Maintaining the UK as a global centre of excellence in humanitarian, development and demining response will be essential in ensuring long-term response to the global impact of COVID-19. It is also in the UK’s moral and national interest, and part of a forward-looking Global Britain that is an influential force for good in the world. Achieving this should be a shared endeavour between the government and NGOs.

  1. COVID-19 as an Interconnected and Protracted Global Emergency


4.1.             COVID-19 is already a protracted global crisis that knows no borders. Its impacts are already reaching every corner of the globe, but it will be felt hardest by the world’s poorest and in fragile conflict affected areas. While prioritisation of the home front is vital, the biggest mistake of any government during this crisis will be failure to take a global view to an interconnected issue. Effectively tackling the transmission of the disease and its consequences requires global leadership that is currently lacking.


4.2.             Governments and NGOs must step forward together as partners to tackle the growing humanitarian uncertainty and interconnected impacts of the disease. The UK should play a key role in this. It must do more to draw on the strengths and expertise of NGO partners to respond to the crisis, particularly in hard to reach and insecure contexts. The long-term security and vitality of Global Britain also relies on securing the stability and safety of those beyond its borders.


  1. COVID-19’s Direct and Indirect Impact in Developing Countries


5.1.             Disruption to trade and the paralysis of business activity caused by the pandemic could drive between 14 to 22 million people into poverty.[i] The International Labour Organisations has stated that the risk is higher for informal workers, whose rate of relative poverty is expected to increase by 34% globally.[ii] Meanwhile, the World Food Programme has assessed that the secondary impacts of COVID-19 will include a doubling of the number of people experiencing acute hunger to a quarter of a billion by the end of 2020.[iii] Countries affected by climate change and conflict will be most impacted.


5.2.             The virus has already reached countries with higher levels of poverty and weaker healthcare systems. Social distancing is a privilege not shared by all, especially not by those living in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). Meanwhile, 30% percent of the world’s urban population live in slums, meaning this is not only a problem for those in remote rural areas. According to Wateraid, one in ten people globally do not have access to clean water.[iv] One in six healthcare facilities globally have no basic hygiene services, including access to soap and water. There are only 2,000 ventilators spread across 41 African States. Ten African countries, including Somalia, have no ventilators at all.


5.3.             Women and girls will experience the indirect impacts of the pandemic disproportionately. Women are more likely to work in informal or low-paid jobs at risk of disruption during the crisis.[v] Gender based violence has reportedly increased globally.[vi] Access to sexual and reproductive health services are restricted under lockdown conditions, particularly in contexts already experiencing humanitarian emergencies. This has significant long-term implications for women and girls’ education and participation in the workforce. Of the 89 percent of children globally out of school because of COVID-19, this includes 743 million girls across 185 countries.[vii]


5.4.             To effectively turn the tide against COVID-19, women, girls, boys and men must be afforded equal access to health services. This includes the 71 million refugees hosted by 122 countries.[viii] Many refugees and IDPs are in camps and overcrowded towns, ripe for COVID-19 transmission. Camps will need to be repurposed to support social distancing and provide adequate health services.


5.5.             Lockdowns buy precious time to put in place COVID-19 prevention and mitigation measures as a vaccine is sought. But there are significant economic and social consequences which require us to act fast and at scale to prevent transmission. If COVID-19 is left to spread in fragile contexts, millions will be at risk and the virus will have the opportunity to circle back around the globe.


  1. The UK’s Global COVID-19 Response


6.1.             The Foreign Secretary and Secretary for State for International Development have both committed to the UK taking a leading role in global COVID-19 response. The UK has made substantial contributions to global appeals on COVID-19, totalling approximately £750 million. While the UK has become one of the leading donors to the global effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, the government has not, to date, delivered on its commitment to UK leadership. This is a missed opportunity that should be rectified urgently in both the moral and national interest.


6.2.             The UK has been slow to match support to vaccination and UN appeals with funding and programming to global front-line response to COVID-19’s primary and secondary impact. A recent DFID Rapid Release Fund for humanitarian NGOs amounts to less than three percent of the UK’s global funding to COVID-19 response. Out of 92 proposals submitted by NGOs, only seven were funded. This demonstrates clearly that there is underutilised and underfunded British capacity that could be drawn on to fulfil the government’s commitments to global leadership.


6.3.             The inquiry should recommend that the UK matches its support to vaccination development with funds to British expert NGOs on the front line. This is essential to prevent further waves of COVID-19, including in the UK. It is also necessary to prevent and mitigate secondary impacts of COVID-19. Failure to fund and programme an agile front-line response risks undoing the impact of previous UK Official Development Assistance (ODA). It also risks escalating conflict and environmental harm, while exacerbating violence, especially against women and girls.


6.4.             The government, through DFID, should demonstrate strategic leadership by mobilising existing implementation mechanisms through frameworks such as the International Multi-Disciplinary Programme. Like other British NGOs, HALO is present in diverse, conflict affected and often remote regions of the world with substantial capacity to scale up both traditional activities and COVID-19 response work. The inquiry should recommend that the government embrace every opportunity to draw on British expertise and show leadership in a world changed dramatically by COVID-19.


6.5.             To deliver on its commitment to global leadership, the UK should draw further on the capacity of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Global Britain’s diplomatic footprint to forge and lead country coalitions to address COVID-19 as an interconnected protracted global crisis. Coalitions should address the public health, socio-economic development and macro-economic economic impacts of COVID-19. This would save countless lives, promote longer-term economic and socio-economic recovery and demonstrate the values and influence of a Global Britain.


6.6.             National and international NGOs routinely engage with communities and public authorities. They are well placed to inform strategies that will address the primary and secondary impacts of COVID-19. NGOs are also connected to humanitarian coordination systems at regional and national levels. The inquiry should also recommend that the government draws more on its existing global networks, including through its diplomatic missions. It should also recommend that the government makes greater use of these structures to target funding in COVID-19 response.


6.7.             While DFID has a strong track record of consultation with NGOs, the inquiry should also recommend that DFID broadens and diversified the NGOs and perspectives on which it draws for strategic policy guidance. This will enable the government to make better use of the full range of British expertise at its disposal, and increase the effectiveness of UK aid in general and COVID-19 response in particular.


  1. Lessons Identified from the Ebola Response


7.1.             A global pandemic spreading at the speed and scale of COVID-19 has not been experienced in recent history. However, experiences from the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa highlight many lessons on which the global community can draw. Following its response to previous infectious diseases, the World Health Organisation (WHO) advocates that responding rapidly is essential and striving for perfection before acting will present unnecessary delays. The UK should therefore use all tools at its disposal to address the pandemic as quickly as possible and not be unduly delayed by process.


7.2.             Ebola further highlights that disease outbreaks are not just public health crises to be managed through a single lens of intervention. Ebola affected regional economies, childhood education, supply chains and caused increased food insecurity. The government’s global response to COVID-19 must recognise and be built up on the interconnected nature of disease outbreaks and their impact. This level of response necessitates leadership in establishing and leading coalitions. The UK should embrace this and demonstrate greater global leadership, in line with its stated public commitment.


  1. COVID-19 in Contexts affected by Conflict & Insecurity


8.1.             Without collaborative interventions and implementation of a vaccine programme, COVID-19 will spread within communities and across borders to conflict affected and fragile regions. States are already responding to the crisis with protectionist border-closure policies, further risking the safety of asylum seekers and refugees already extremely vulnerable to stigma, violence and persecution. The real and perceived threat of the virus in border camps has prompted displaced persons in war-torn Syria to attempt to return home despite the risk of renewed conflict.[ix] Without concerted collaborative efforts by global leaders to protect the world’s most vulnerable, those in conflict affected regions will become more at risk.


8.2.             A vaccination programme to eradicate COVID-19 will require full global coverage, including access to conflict-affected and ‘hard to reach’ areas. Even programmes to eradicate other diseases such as Polio and Ebola have struggled in the face of ongoing conflict, and in gaining access and consent to those living in areas under the control of non-state actors and migratory populations. NGOs have a key role to play in this, based on the trust and consent of communities and armed groups in fragile areas. The government should draw on that more.


  1. COVID-19 and Future UK Aid Strategy 


9.1.             The government should continue to demonstrate flexibility in COVID-19 response, making greater effort to draw on existing but underutilised and underfunded capability of British NGOs. In the short to medium term, DFID should continue to demonstrate flexibility in reshaping contractual activities, including adjusting contractual deadlines for output delivery. Critically, this must include conditional continuation of local staff salaries, the absence of which would be extremely detrimental to communities.


9.2.             Looking to the longer-term, the COVID-19 pandemic will create a need for future humanitarian and development assistance, particularly in ensuring community resilience and addressing the causes and consequences of instability and conflict. The UK’s NGOs and their expertise will have a critical role to play in delivering this. The inquiry should recommend that the government enhances its work with the UK’s international NGOs to ensure continued viability of the British international NGO sector that is equipped to respond to the long-lasting impacts of COVID-19 and future crises.


9.3.             It is in the moral and national interest for the government to ensure the UK remains a centre of excellence humanitarian, development and demining response.