International Development Committee Response


Humanitarian Crises Monitoring: Impact of Coronavirus

Longer-term Issues, Implications and Lessons to be Learned

Written evidence submitted by Chemonics International, 8 May 2020



Introduction to Chemonics International

1)      Founded in 1975, Chemonics International is an employee-owned development consulting firm implementing programmes in more than 83 countries. Chemonics’ global workforce comprises 5,500 specialists, 90 per cent of whom originate in programme countries, working across 10 technical disciplines. We currently implement programmes in technical areas such as health, agriculture and food security, conflict and governance, gender and social inclusion and are implementing UK government-funded development programmes in multiple countries with protracted and ongoing humanitarian crises.



2)      On 17 April 2020, Chemonics submitted evidence to this inquiry on the current situation of coronavirus and immediate risks and threats. This second submission covers longer-term issues, implications, and lessons to be learned. This submission presents responses to three areas in the scope of the inquiry: i) the UK’s response to the spread of coronavirus; ii) lessons identified and learned/applied from our Ebola programming experience; and iii) impact of the outbreak on UK aid funding in the longer term. We make several recommendations for the UK’s response to coronavirus at a programmatic level and in its strategic funding considerations.


3)      In the section on the UK’s response to the spread of coronavirus, we detail our experience with UK aid programmes and how they can be further supported. In the section on lessons identified, we discuss three key lessons from our Ebola programming experience and how they are relevant for a stronger coronavirus response: donor coordination; community engagement and sustainable behaviour change; and recovery focussed on national development priorities. In the last section on impact of the outbreak on UK aid funding in the longer term, we detail the importance of complementing national government macro-level packages with targeted support to vulnerable households and small and microenterprises likely to be left out of the main rescue packages. We also emphasise the importance of ensuring that the UK response helps to build back better.


Key Recommendations

4)      The UK’s long-term funding to coronavirus should focus on building back better across wide sectoral areas crucial for broad based recovery. For example, in some contexts this will include investments in peace and security to rebuild trust following disruptions to public services and pressures on scarce resources. See Paragraph 20.


5)      There is a dearth of accurate, reliable, and accessible public health information in many communities of fragile and conflict-affected states. These voids are being backfilled with widespread dissemination of misinformation through informal channels (e.g. word of mouth, social media, etc.). The UK should support vulnerable communities in humanitarian settings with accurate and appropriate information on the pandemic in formats that are responsive to a variety of education levels and types of impairment (e.g. audio, video, local dialect translations, large print, brail, etc.). See Paragraph 21. 


6)      Growing economic hardship from losses in wages coupled with a general sense of disorder and distrust in government may provide an opportunity for extremist groups and non-state actors to regain support in some conflict-affected settings. The UK should support extending social protection programming, including unconditional cash transfers, to bridge periods of economic uncertainty and stimulate local economic growth. See Paragraph 18.


7)      Instances of domestic and gender-based violence are on the rise globally, as many vulnerable individuals face extended isolation with abusers. The UK should increase support for local NGOs that are delivering counselling, hotlines, shelter, legal advocacy, and/or sexual and reproductive health services in fragile and conflict-affected state settings. See Paragraph 18.


8)      Programming development aid will be particularly sensitive in fragile and conflict-affected states where existing distrust in national and international bodies is amplified by the wider social and economic fallout of the pandemic. For example, if aid distribution is unequal (or even perceived as such) between communities of different sects in Iraq, this could risk fuelling suspicion of the motives of donor agencies (particularly Western) and could heighten tension between or within villages. Wherever possible, the UK should encourage its suppliers to consult and engage local NGOs/community-based organisations in humanitarian aid distribution to curb potential adverse consequences and a rise in tension or conflict. See Paragraphs 20-21.


The UK’s Response to the Spread of Coronavirus

9)      The UK’s response to coronavirus has been, understandably, subject to the dynamic and country-specific challenges of the pandemic. During the earliest weeks of the crisis, across our portfolio of UK aid-funded programmes (in Iraq, Mali, Nepal, Syria, and Yemen), DFID and FCO staff demonstrated a strong interest in and willingness to explore innovative ways of adapting programme activities to support preparedness, response, and recovery efforts. This was coupled with resounding energy and enthusiasm for achieving as much continuity and programme delivery as possible given the circumstances. DFID and FCO’s initial flexibility was also supported by the issuance of multiple Procurement Policy Notes (PPNs) from the UK government, allowing for more commercial flexibility in the delivery and modification of existing contracts.


10)  Initially, many of these dialogues were led and managed at a project level, reflecting the decentralised operations of DFID and FCO. In recent weeks, DFID augmented these discussions with wider industry engagement around a government-wide response strategy. This included hosting weekly roundtables with suppliers to provide updates on how the UK’s overarching development aid approach is evolving in light of the crisis and solicit feedback from NGO and private sector suppliers.


11)  Although a UK government-wide ODA strategy in light of coronavirus is essential in the mid- to long-term, some critical short-term opportunities could be accessed by empowering ongoing projects and their UK government representatives with more space to use existing platforms and respond nimbly to the specific coronavirus-related gaps they identify. Such opportunities may include, for example, leveraging programming to disseminate messaging related to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) and behaviour change or to research impacts of coronavirus in the interim until new coronavirus response projects come online. These early efforts would also yield learning and evidence that could improve the quality of medium- to long-term interventions at scale.


12)  DFID has fostered a vibrant development sector in the UK. It remains the principal donor in the UK, with many development organisations receiving a large proportion of their funding directly from DFID. Continued DFID procurement processes in the medium and long term is important for business continuity in many of these organisations and for the continued competitiveness of the UK development sector. It is encouraging that DFID has maintained a focus on continuing its procurement processes through this pandemic. Clarity on the pipeline will ensure that development organisations remain poised to offer the UK government ingenuity and value for money in their tenders. It will also assist organisations in their financial planning to remain viable in the long term and ensure they are able to contribute more effectively to the much-needed recovery effort.


Lessons Identified and Learned/Applied from Our Ebola Programming Experience

13)  Throughout the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Chemonics implemented programmes across all impacted countries, including our global Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) and Human Resources for Health Capacity Building Programme (HRH). From these experiences, we have identified three lessons relevant to aid programming in response to the coronavirus pandemic.


14)  Strong donor coordination. Throughout the Ebola response, different donors took different approaches. For example, some built permanent and semi-permanent medical units, whilst others focussed on rapid temporary facilities to meet immediate health needs. Valuable lessons could have been drawn earlier from the different approaches, which would have ensured stronger evidence-based funding decisions going forward. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, donors should institutionalise virtual donor roundtable events to enhance learning and ensure collaboration at the programme level.


15)  Community engagement and sustainable behaviour change. The Ebola response rightly included a heavy focus on hygiene promotion and transfer of knowledge around good practices in this area. However, many traditional leaders were critical of pushing for behaviour change at the local level. Donors should enlist local leaders and cultural institutions in behavioural change practices to ensure that local people view disease prevention and response measures with greater legitimacy.


16)  Recovery focussed on national development priorities. Following the Ebola outbreak, donor support across a wide range of priority sectors was essential in the recovery effort. This included in education, social welfare, private sector development, energy, water and governance. Whilst a coordinated coronavirus recovery platform in countries is essential, it should remain clearly aligned to existing national development priorities.


Impact of the Outbreak on UK Aid Funding in the Longer Term

17)  As national governments roll out macro-level support packages, likely to be funded through the World Bank and IMF, many vulnerable households and micro- and small enterprises may fall through the net, particularly microenterprises in the informal sector. Donor funding will be needed to complement and augment national rescue packages. Our current programming presence in a number of fragile and conflict-affected states indicates that support for recovery is needed across wide sectoral areas and presents an important opportunity to build back better in the areas outlined below.


18)  Access to capital for investment in livelihoods and other household-level recovery areas. As the crisis lengthens, the economic toll will grow exponentially as micro- and small enterprises are forced to remain shut. In countries like Iraq, where communities were just beginning to recover from long periods of violence, micro- and small enterprises are particularly vulnerable to shocks and ill-prepared to weather the current crisis. The UK should support savings and loans groups that allow women, in particular, to recover their income-generating initiatives/microenterprises. The UK should also support microfinance institutions to overcome liquidity issues from coronavirus fallout and provide crucial recovery capital to households and microentrepreneurs, as microfinance institutions play an important role in recovery from disasters at this level.


19)  Public financial management. National governments face a growing budget deficit and high levels of indebtedness from the current situation. UK support will be crucial in helping national governments to mobilise domestic resources and manage public finances responsibly.


20)  Peace and security. The coronavirus situation poses significant risks to peace and security in fragile states like Iraq, Mali, Syria, and Yemen. Disruptions to public service delivery and supply chains place increased pressure on local resources such as fuel and water, potentially harming community-state relations. This is happening at a time when governments are having to redirect assets to manage the pandemic, and whilst security forces are responsible for enforcing social and travel restrictions. As these countries move from containment to recovery, donor support will be increasingly crucial for peace and security efforts. In Iraq, for example, addressing issues of trust in society will remain essential to stemming the rise and severity of conflict and insecurity that could be brought on by the realities of the pandemic.


21)  Health and WASH. Prior to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare systems and infrastructure in many fragile and conflict-affected states were already under-invested and stretched to their limits. In northwest Syria for example, daily bombing and shelling has put more than 80 hospitals out of service since the start of the year. In Yemen, the health care system is largely dismantled and incapable of providing the most basic of services as a result of the ongoing conflict. Investment in health systems is more urgent than ever. In the long term, the focus should remain on risk mitigation to prevent subsequent waves of the virus and on health preparedness. This includes support for WASH, health early warning systems, and behaviour change communications. Consistent, trusted, and context-appropriate sources of public health information is needed, as well as strengthening national health workforce coverage and preparedness, including at the community level.