As governments scramble to respond to the unprecedented coronavirus crisis, which is threatening the lives of millions and the livelihoods of billions of people, aid organisations like Oxfam are racing to scale up their lifesaving work.
Announcing an emergency appeal to help the world’s most vulnerable communities in the face of the crisis, Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Lyn Morgain said the consequences of failing to get aid to those who needed it most could be devastating.
“For those living in overcrowded conditions such as refugee camps, and those without access to clean water, sanitation, and healthcare support, the coronavirus could be catastrophic,” Ms Morgain said.
For example, the sprawling Rohingya refugee camp at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh is severely overcrowded with 40,000 people per square kilometre. Malnutrition and diseases like dysentery, cholera and typhoid are already rampant, undermining the health of these communities, and there is very limited access to healthcare.
“Unchecked, the virus will sweep like wildfire through places like Cox’s Bazar. Globally, it could kill millions and leave half the global population in poverty,” Ms Morgain said.
Oxfam’s recent report Dignity Not Destitution warned that an extra half a billion people could be pushed into poverty by the economic fallout of the virus if insufficient action is taken.
Meanwhile, global progress in tackling poverty could be set back by a decade, and as much as 30 years in some regions, such as Africa and the Middle East, with women among the worst impacted.
At the same time, millions of lives are under threat by coronavirus in regions such as East Africa, where several countries are already facing the twin threats of a hunger crisis and locust plague, both exacerbated by climate change.
Oxfam Australia Humanitarian Manager Josh Hallwright said the organisation was working to help keep communities informed through accurate public health messages, to try to contain any outbreak.
“But we’re already seeing confirmed cases increase and that’s very concerning, because in countries that have weaker public health systems the number of confirmed cases is a very small percentage of the true number of cases,” Mr Hallwright said.
“Unfortunately, it looks like things are going to get a lot worse, and I can imagine how difficult it would be for communities in the region to have both the visible threat of locust swarms tearing through your village, on top of the invisible threat of COVID-19.”
But Ms Morgain said that together, we could create a very different future.
“Oxfam is already on the ground in some of the poorest countries, distributing essential supplies including personal protective equipment such as masks, and hygiene kits,” she said.
“We are providing emergency materials and food to households, upgrading water and sanitation systems at refugee camps and health facilities, and continuing training and awareness-raising activities. We are also supporting women’s rights organisations to ensure women are kept safe at a time of increased risk of gender-based violence.”
She said Oxfam was well-placed to support the response with considerable expertise in water and sanitation activities, including during the recent Ebola crisis.
“We’re doing everything we can – but we need your help to do more,” Ms Morgain said.
“Anything you can give today will make a difference and help us continue our life-saving work. Together, we have what it takes.”
To donate to Oxfam’s Coronavirus Emergency Appeal, visit oxfam.org.au/coronavirus.