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No one safe until we are all safe: NZ aid agencies call for global action on pandemic

Fourteen leading New Zealand aid agencies have today called on the New Zealand government to step in with immediate humanitarian assistance to save millions of lives in the world’s worst crisis and emergency situations.

The organisations have published a joint statement calling for extra humanitarian funding for people in places less able to fight the coronavirus pandemic, to prevent a catastrophic human toll in conflict areas and developing countries.

Ian McInnes, Council for International Development Chair and Tearfund CEO said: “New Zealand is in the extraordinary position of potentially beating Covid-19, but we can’t stop here. Opening our borders and resuming life as normal requires we now act to support communities far more vulnerable than our own, in countries with far weaker health systems and just as much to lose.”

“The severe challenges responding to the devastation of Cyclone Harold in places like Vanuatu show, right on our doorstep, the double-whammy of a crisis situation with coronavirus. In crises like this, people are living in makeshift shelters, crowded close together, sharing water sources with often hundreds of others, and very basic, or no, health services.”

“Pandemics know no borders, and neither does compassion. We must not leave anyone behind as we fight this virus. The New Zealand government is rightly taking radical action to eradicate it from our nation and support people through these hard times, even as many of us worry about our health and our jobs. Across the world the coronavirus is threatening to set the fight against poverty back by decades, but we can turn the tide by increasing funds for vital humanitarian work, especially through NGOs who know their local communities and have strong relationships with people in need.”

According to the group, millions of lives are at stake in developing countries that have limited resources, weak health systems and high debt levels. Imperial College estimates that without interventions at least 40 million people across the world may die.

As a first step towards New Zealand’s fair share, the letter calls on the government to provide NZ$25million in immediate, additional humanitarian funding as part of an emergency coronavirus response to boost life-saving assistance for people already living in the world’s worst crisis and emergency situations.

Needs were already high before coronavirus hit. Now they are even higher, the agencies say we must provide more resources and not divert support already committed to poor countries. The group asks the New Zealand government to help free up spending for global public health by advocating for the immediate cancellation of all external debt payments due to be made in 2020 by developing country governments, and to protect and maintain existing commitments to aid and climate finance.

The aid agencies are currently responding to the global pandemic in developing countries, partnering with local organisations to provide access to soap and clean water, promote good hygiene, and provide accurate information to communities on how to protect themselves against the virus.

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Notes to editors:

Signatories to the open letter include Care, Caritas, CWS, Council for International Development, Engineers Without Borders, FairTrade A/NZ, Family Planning, Hagar New Zealand, Oxfam, Rotary New Zealand, Tearfund, Transparency International New Zealand, UnionAid, World Vision.

  • The new OECD data shows that overall aid spending from 30 OECD members totalled USD 152.8 billion in 2019. This was a 1.4 percent increase from 2018. Rich countries only committed 0.30 percent of their gross national income (GNI) to development aid, down from 0.31 percent in 2018, and well below the 0.7 percent they promised back in 1970. In 2019, just five countries – Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and the United Kingdom – have lived up to this promise. Overall, despite significant need, total humanitarian assistance fell by 2.9 percent in 2019.
  • The proportion of bilateral aid spent in low income countries was up by 0.4 percent.
  • New Zealand gave NZ$46 million in humanitarian assistance in 2018, which was 11 percent of the total aid budget. This was an increase on previous years, placing New Zealand in about the middle of the pack for humanitarian assistance amongst OECD peers.
  • New Zealand gives approximately 0.28% of Gross National Income to overseas aid. The internationally agreed target is 0.7% of GNI to overseas aid.
  • The coronavirus will most likely have a devastating impact in developing countries.
  • With limited resources, high debt levels, massive capital outflows and weak, underfunded and unequal health systems, poor countries are ill-equipped to protect their populations and their economies. Without urgent action, the economic, social and health toll in these countries will be incomparably devastating. The recent Oxfam report ‘Dignity not Destitution’ found that the economic fallout of the pandemic could force half a billion people into poverty unless dramatic action is taken. This could set back the fight against poverty by a decade, and as much as 30 years in some regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa.
  • The United Nations has called for US$2 billion in urgent humanitarian assistance for the people living in the worst crisis situations, to begin to fund the Global Humanitarian Response Plan. UN estimates developing countries need US$500bn in aid to face the Coronavirus. On 30 March 2020, the UN called for a US$2.5 trillion coronavirus crisis package for developing countries. This includes: a US$1 trillion liquidity injections to be made available through the expanded use of special drawing rights; the cancellation of US$1 trillion of debts owed by developing countries this year; and US$500 billion in overseas aid to fund a Marshall Plan for health recovery and dispersed as grants.