Fourteen of the UK's leading aid charities have launched a joint appeal to protect millions in refugee and displacement camps from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) aims to raise millions for those in Yemen, Syria, Somalia, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, and Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh.
The British government has said it will match donations pound-for-pound up to a total of £5m.
Overcrowded camps filled with those left destitute fleeing war, persecution, drought and famine are poorly prepared to withstand the new coronavirus and could see huge casualties, aid workers fear.
“These temporary settlements do not have enough clean running water and soap for people to protect themselves or basic medical supplies to treat those who fall ill, let alone enough ventilators and specialist equipment,” said a statement.
The first confirmed case last week in the mainly rebel-held province of Idlib in north-west Syria has sparked fears of a potentially devastating outbreak in the area's crowded camps.
The pandemic is already tearing through Yemen and Afghanistan, where huge numbers have fled war and drought.
Aid groups have long warned that the estimated 850,000 Rohingya refugees living in the world’s biggest refugee camp in Bangladesh could find themselves in a new epicentre of the pandemic.
The charity coalition includes some of the UK's biggest aid names, including Oxfam, Save the Children and the Red Cross.
Money raised will go to improve hygiene and medical care in camps, and provide food and clean water.Simple measures like providing soap and water can have a significant effect in stopping the spread of the disease.
Saleh Saeed, DEC chief executive, said it was the first time in the alliance's 57 year history it had faced a simultaneous disaster in the UK and internationally. The appeal will target some of the world's most fragile states.
He said: “Just imagine for a moment having to live in one of those fragile states where there isn't a National Health Service, little or no medical care, no safety net.
“Having to flee your job and home and leave everything behind, possibly end up being in an overcrowded displacement camp or refugee camp, with no running water and little or no food and now having to face this new, deadly but silent threat in Covid-19.”
The virus is now worsening existing problems of starvation, lack of healthcare and slumping economies. For example in Yemen, beyond the risk of infection, it has caused remittances from migrant workers in the Gulfto collapse as work dries up under lockdown, increasing poverty and hunger for many. Food prices have soared as land borders have closed. Vaccination campaigns for many widespread illnesses have stopped and many are now steering clear of hospitals for fear they will be taken sick with Covid if the seek treatment for other conditions.
“This appeal is about what happens when Covid-19 meets the most vulnerable people in the world,” said Alexander Matheou, of the British Red Cross.
“People who were already food insecure now face a major hunger crisis. People who were already poor have lost the little income they had. People who were dependent on aid are no longer getting that aid. People who were at risk of domestic violence are now locked down with the people who threaten them.”
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, international development secretary, said: “We are matching generous donations from the British people to the emergency appeal pound for pound, meaning your money will go twice as far in helping to protect millions of the world’s most vulnerable people from the deadly effects of coronavirus.
“Clean water and healthcare in refugee camps are essential in containing coronavirus in the developing world – helping stop the spread of the pandemic and protecting the UK from further waves of infection.”
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