Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the launch of the global humanitarian response plan for COVID-19, in New York today:
The world faces an unprecedented threat. The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly covered the globe. It has spread suffering, disrupted billions of lives and endangered the global economy.
COVID-19 is menacing the whole of humanity — and so the whole of humanity must fight back. Individual country responses are not going to be enough. Wealthy countries with strong health systems are buckling under the pressure. Now, the virus is arriving in countries already in the midst of humanitarian crises caused by conflicts, natural disasters and climate change.
These are places where people who have been forced to flee their homes because of bombs, violence or floods are living under plastic sheets in fields or crammed into refugee camps or informal settlements. They do not have homes in which to socially distance or self-isolate. They lack clean water and soap with which to do that most basic act of self-protection against the virus — washing their hands. And should they become critically ill, they have no way of accessing a health care system that can provide a hospital bed and a ventilator.
We must come to the aid of the ultra-vulnerable — millions upon millions of people who are least able to protect themselves. This is a matter of basic human solidarity. It is also crucial for combating the virus.
The world is only as strong as our weakest health system. If we do not act decisively now, I fear the virus will establish a foothold in the most fragile countries, leaving the whole world vulnerable as it continues to circle the planet, paying no mind to borders.
This is the moment to step up for the vulnerable. Older persons, persons with chronic illness and persons with disabilities face particular, disproportionate risks, and require an all-out effort to save their lives and protect their future. We are also aware of the heavy impact the crisis is having on the world’s women across many fronts, in particular losses of livelihood, increased burdens of unpaid care labour and heightened exposure to domestic violence.
Today we are launching a $2 billion global humanitarian response plan to fund the fight against COVID-19 in the world’s poorest countries. Coordinated by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, this inter-agency plan brings together existing appeals from the World Health Organization and other United Nations partners and identifies new needs as well.
Properly funded, it will save many lives and arm humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations with laboratory supplies for testing, and with medical equipment to treat the sick while protecting health-care workers. The plan also includes additional measures to support host communities that continue to generously open their homes and towns to refugees and displaced persons.
We need to act now to stem the impact of COVID-19 in already vulnerable humanitarian contexts. And we need to maintain support for existing humanitarian response plans on which 100 million people depend.
If such funding is diverted, the consequences could be catastrophic: The further spread of cholera, measles and meningitis; greater levels of child malnutrition; and a blow to the ability of these countries to combat the virus. Let us do everything we can to prevent COVID-19 from wreaking havoc in places with limited health-care capacity and resilience.
At the same time, we are doing our utmost to plan for and respond to early recovery in the countries around the globe that will need it most so that we achieve a new sustainable and inclusive economy that leaves no one behind. I have asked United Nations Resident Coordinators and United Nations country teams to support countries around the world in addressing the socioeconomic implications of this pandemic, [which] will require an adequate funding mechanism.
But now we need to support this humanitarian response plan, which is a necessity for global health security. It is a moral imperative and in everyone’s interests. And it is a crucial part of winning this fight. I appeal to Governments to give it their full support.