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Why we must act now to help the millions facing deadly threat of virus in world's most fragile states

Claire Hanna


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Crisis point: a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh where the struggle against Covid-19 highlights the scale of the humanitarian challenge

Crisis point: a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh where the struggle against Covid-19 highlights the scale of the humanitarian challenge

PA

Crisis point: a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh where the struggle against Covid-19 highlights the scale of the humanitarian challenge

The past number of months have been tough on us all. Many have unfortunately lost loved ones in the most tragic of circumstances. Some have lost their jobs and for all of us, our normal day-to-day lives have been turned upside down. Thankfully, we are now at a stage where restrictions are being eased and some semblance of normality is being restored.

Sadly, this is not the case across the world. In fact, for millions of refugees and people in the world's most fragile states like Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Afghanistan to name but a few, the struggle against coronavirus is really just beginning.

It has been reported that there are 24 million internally displaced people in total in these fragile states, and an additional 850,000 Rohingya people living in Cox's Bazar - the world's biggest refugee camp in Bangladesh. This is the scale of the humanitarian challenge facing us all.

These are families and people forced to flee their homes after years of war and instability, who are now presented with the deadly new threat posed by Covid-19. The World Health Organisation has noted that in Yemen, where 50% of health services have been destroyed, one in four people who are contracting Covid-19 are dying.

Even with the best facilities and our amazing NHS, we struggled to contain the virus. Just imagine how vulnerable these people who are living in cramped conditions with limited access to adequate healthcare or even handwashing facilities are to this virus. Reports from Somalia of people in displacement camps using ashes to wash their hands due to the lack of soap conveys the reality of the situation facing the poorest in these fragile places. A vital component of our success in containing the virus at home has been social distancing, but how do you social distance in crowded refugee camps such as the Rohingya camp in Bangladesh, which is one and a half times more densely populated than New York City? Without urgent assistance from aid organisations, millions of lives are at risk if we collectively allow this virus to go unchecked and spread freely.

This is where the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) plays a vital role. In bringing together 14 of the leading aid charities from across the UK with vast experience in the field, they are well placed to respond to this challenging environment and protect the most vulnerable today.

Having previously worked for Concern, I am hugely passionate about international development and humanitarian issues. I witnessed first-hand the remarkable efforts shown by this organisation in fragile places throughout the world. The same is true of the work carried out by Tearfund and Red Cross as well as others.

Despite our own difficulties, we all have a responsibility now more than ever to support the millions of people facing this new deadly threat in incredibly challenging circumstances. The consequences of our inaction in these places is unthinkable. As Dr Mike Ryan of the World Health Organisation rightly pointed out: "None of us are safe, until all of us are safe."

To help in the fight against coronavirus in the most fragile places in the world, please visit: www.dec.org.uk/appeal/coronavirus-appeal

Claire Hanna is the MP for South Belfast and previously worked for Concern Worldwide To donate, go to dec.org.uk; phone 0370 60 60 900; SMS: Text SUPPORT to 70150 to donate £10. Texts cost £10 and the whole £10 goes to the DEC CORONAVIRUS APPEAL. You must be 16 or over and ask the bill payer's permission. Or send a cheque to DEC Coronavirus Appeal, PO Box 999, London EC3A 3AA

Belfast Telegraph