Evidence to the International Development Select Committee on the impact of Coronavirus

May 2020

About Scotland’s International Development Alliance

 

  1. Scotland’s International Development Alliance (the Alliance) is the membership body in Scotland for everyone committed to creating a fairer world, free from poverty, injustice and environmental threats. Our membership brings together a diverse range of organisations and individuals including over 160 NGOs, businesses, academic institutions and public sector bodies that operate in over 100 countries.

 

  1. This submission will focus on two key elements of the committee’s inquiry: the impacts on aid recipient countries, such as we know them at this time, and the impacts on our members.  Our recommendations are informed by a rapid member research exercise using mixed methods, through: three quantitative surveys (an annual membership survey issued on 1 April, two polls taken during a COVID-19 webinar on 14 April and an Alliance Community poll open from 30 March) and one qualitative semi-structured survey (14 phone interviews conducted between 9 and 24 April).   Seventy-two organisations and individuals responded. (33% of our organisational membership).  This research was published on 5 May 2020[1] and is available at https://www.intdevalliance.scot/news/impacts-covid-19-our-members-and-their-partners.

 

  1. For this submission, the above research was augmented by information provided by our humanitarian implementing members, all members of the Humanitarian Emergency Fund panel in Scotland[2].

 

Summary of key recommendations

 

  1. We recommend that the UK should match its financial support to vaccine development with a broader global leadership role in supporting local community-led responses, including by drawing on and supporting the expertise of NGOs and in leading country coalitions.

 

  1. We recommend that the UK should support a locally-led global response[3] to Covid-19 that recognises the disproportionate impact of this pandemic on vulnerable groups in aid recipient countries (including refugees, IDPs and women and girls) and prioritises investment in WASH, public awareness communications and health services.

 

  1. We recommend that urgent priority must be given by DFID to invite and support proposals for preventive and mitigating actions while this brief window exists, before the pandemic takes hold in the global south. In doing so, DFID should make greater use of NGOs, universities and broader civil society in the global south, including promotion of South-South cooperation.

 

  1. We recommend that the Alliance membership and key stakeholders in Scotland come together with the UK Government urgently to discuss and decide how best we can maximise our collective strengths to respond with our full capacity to the needs of our partners in the global south.

 

Overview of situation from our members’ perspective

 

  1. COVID-19 is the worst pandemic in living memory, and the long-term impacts will be extensive and painful. For many of the least-developed countries in the world, the disease is yet to fully take hold. However, we expect that in the coming months we could see a humanitarian catastrophe amongst the poorest communities in the world.  There are lessons to be learned already around why these communities are so vulnerable, and actions to be taken rapidly to reduce this vulnerability.

 

  1. They are vulnerable because their health services are underfunded and ill-equipped, because there has been a lack of prioritisation of basic Water, Sanitation and Hygiene services (WASH), and because of conflict and internal displacement. In light of this, our response must be to rapidly promote investment in health services and WASH as the first line of defence, and extensive diplomatic efforts made to ensure the health security of people living in conflict situations.

 

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

 

  1. Investment in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) is one of the most cost-effective strategies for increasing pandemic preparedness, particularly in low income countries and in resource constrained contexts. Where WASH and waste management practices are consistently applied they can serve as barriers to human-to-human transmission of the COVID-19 virus. 

 

  1. WASH services and hygiene practices within health care facilities are fundamental to the provision of safety, quality and dignity in healthcare for patients and health workers alike. Without WASH in health care facilities, staff cannot deliver high quality, safe healthcare, putting the lives of patients in danger. This is especially true in the case of vulnerable groups such as those who are already sick for other reasons such as mothers, newborn babies and older people. Yet these basics are frequently lacking: Nearly half (45%) of healthcare facilities in least-developed countries, and one in four globally (26%), do not have clean water on site. That's 896 million people who have no clean water at all at their healthcare facility.[4]

 

  1. The experience of Ebola offers insight into the longer-term socio-economic impacts of the pandemic. Demonstrable increases in food prices and contractions in the regional economies across West Africa characterised the Ebola Crisis. This will only be heightened in the case of Covid-19 – the World Food Programme estimates that the number of people experiencing hunger will double in 2020 as a result of Covid-19.

 

  1. Furthermore, the tourism sector, a key foreign exchange earner for impacted countries in West Africa, did not start to recover until the Ebola outbreak was completely over. Countries across the Global South will struggle to cope with this economic impact until there is a globally available vaccine.

 

  1. The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board reviewed recommendations from previous high-level panels and commissions following the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic and the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak, along with its own commissioned reports and other data[5]. It should be highlighted that many of their recommendations have not been implemented by the UK Government through DFID’s Global Health Strategy.

 

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

 

  1. With porous borders and a lack of medical facilities, the risks of transfer from countries such as Syria and Yemen are enormous and so action to support fragile states should be stepped up.

 

  1. However, it should be emphasised that helping to end these conflicts should be a priority regardless of COVID-19. Addressing the causes and consequences of conflict is the only way to do this. This includes heightened effort to address weapons control, environmental change and resource scarcity. An immediate action the UK Government can take is stopping arms sales to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

 

  1. With increasing reports of zoonotic transmission to other species (dogs, cats, mink, etc), there is a high risk of new reservoirs of disease emerging, whether street dogs in slums, or the prospect of wildlife tourism (especially involving close species, such as gorillas and monkeys) being decimated in those countries that have a high dependence on this segment, particularly in West Africa and Southeast Asia.

 

 

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)

 

  1. The pandemic has moved very fast in countries in Asia, Europe and North America, from the time of the first recorded infections to the first signs of the rate of daily fatalities starting to peak and lessen.   The threat of humanitarian tragedy of catastrophic proportions looms in the global south, where public health services, access to basic hygiene needs and government financial support for individuals and businesses are not comparable to those in much wealthier societies.  

 

  1. Across the world, it is the poorest and most vulnerable people who will be worst hit by this pandemic and the ensuing socio-economic crisis, and in some cases they are also being excluded from the response. People living in informal settlements cannot follow ‘social distancing’ and lack the basic sanitation to keep their environment clean. They cannot stay at home in isolation, if they do not have access to safe water or a working toilet at home. The poorest who work in insecure jobs for meagre daily wages cannot ‘work from home’ and cannot afford the bills to keep their water flowing. The public health advice being given by governments is often impossible to follow for people with disabilities, unable to use inaccessible facilities or excluded from services because of stigma. Around the world, women already carry the burden of the majority of care-taking and health-giving work – burdens exacerbated in the current crisis. 

 

  1. It has been said that this disease “does not discriminate” - but that’s not true. If you are already a marginalised or vulnerable group, this pandemic will affect you more.

 

  1. Our Alliance Members have also told us about the concerns they are hearing from in-country partners and networks.  Key concerns flagged include:
  1. We recommend that the UK should support a locally-led global response to Covid-19 that recognises the disproportionate impact of this pandemic on vulnerable groups in developing countries (including refugees, IDPs and women and girls) and prioritises investment in WASH, community-level public awareness communications and health services.

 

  1. We recommend that any UK government support to UK businesses should be tied to a condition that they continue to support their partners (both suppliers and buyers) in the Global South, whether this means fulfilling contractual obligations to RMG workers in Bangladesh or hotel operators in Kenya. The private sector needs to adopt an approach that has a greater commitment to social justice beyond the UK.

 

The impact of the outbreak and mitigation measures on fundraising by UK-based development NGOs

 

  1. The loss of charitable funding has hit much of the sector hard. This has serious implications for almost all our members and threatens the very future of some.  At the same time, requests from overseas partners are growing.  Flexibility from donors is of great importance to our members with institutional funding.  Humanitarian actors have not always been quick to release funds in response to the pandemic. We welcome the UK’s commitment to supporting partner countries through its recently announced £200m aid package, but would note that it is important to resource civil society in humanitarian response.

 

  1. “We have been inundated with emergency requests for support.  Our Board has released £1m from reserves to fund this emergency”.[6]

 

  1. Our members encourage DFID to be more consistent and flexible with rescheduling activities and extending deadlines where appropriate. Grantees are seeking reassurance on paying staff salaries where overseas activities have been paused.   The Secretary of State’s letter of 1 May 2020 sets out ‘pragmatic and sensible’ measures to help civil society organisations maintain delivery of essential programmes including where necessary altering milestones, adjusting workplans and offering support for continued cash flow where programmes are paused.  However, our members can offer examples where this approach has not yet fed into the grant management relationship in practice.

 

  1. We recommend that urgent priority must be given by DFID to invite and support proposals for preventive and mitigating actions while this brief window exists, before the pandemic takes hold in the global south.  

 

  1. We recommend that the UK should match its financial support to vaccine development with a broader global leadership role in supporting local community-led responses, including by drawing on and supporting the expertise of UK NGOs and in leading country coalitions.

 

  1. We recommend that the Alliance membership and key stakeholders in Scotland come together with the UK Government urgently to discuss and decide how best we can maximise our collective strengths to respond with our full capacity to the needs of our partners in the global south.

 

  1. This is a dynamic situation and Scotland’s International Development Alliance will continue to work closely with our members to understand the impacts and response in developing countries and within the international development sector.

[1] The Impacts of COVID-19, Scotland’s International Development Alliance, May 2020, https://www.intdevalliance.scot/news/impacts-covid-19-our-members-and-their-partners

[2] Humanitarian Emergency Fund https://www.gov.scot/policies/international-development/responding-to-humanitarian-crises/

[3] Coordinated, context specific, bottom-up and designed for the medium term. See Mapping local capacities and support for more effective humanitarian responses, ODI, Nov 2019: https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/resource-documents/capacity_and_financing_pb_web_0.pdf

[4] WHO and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (2019) WASH in health care facilities: Global Baseline Report 2019. Available at: https://washdata.org/sites/default/files/documents/reports/2019-04/JMP-2019-wash-in-hcf.pdf

 

[5] https://apps.who.int/gpmb/annual_report.html

[6] Member quoted in The Impacts of COVID-19, Scotland’s International Development Alliance, May 2020, https://www.intdevalliance.scot/news/impacts-covid-19-our-members-and-their-partners