As COVID-19 continues to spread around the world and to conflict zones like South Sudan and Yemen and refugee camps like in Greece, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has published a new report, “COVID-19 in humanitarian crises: a double emergency,” exposing the devastating impact of COVID-19 on fragile countries. The report raises the alarm not only on the lack of capacity of these health systems to handle the outbreak itself, but the significant and destabilizing impacts -- including escalation of conflict, political and economic instability -- the pandemic will provoke.

The four countries detailed in this report-- South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen-- as well as large refugee camps-- show particular vulnerabilities to this pandemic. While COVID-19 has already overwhelmed even the most advanced and prepared health systems in countries like the United States and United Kingdom, which measure ventilators, intensive care units and protective equipment in the thousands, these conflict-affected and fragile countries and many like them have close to none. Making up only 0.6% of world GDP, nearly half (46%) of the people in these four countries lack access to basic health services, while also facing acute shortages of supplies vital to fighting COVID-19. These fragile states are simply unable to deploy the strategies of wealthier countries against the virus, and will be severely affected by disruptions to humanitarian aid, risking an escalation of violence and economic and political instability:

Other fragile countries facing grave ventilator and ICU bed shortages include:

Meanwhile, camps in Syria, Greece and Bangladesh represent some of the most densely populated areas in the world -- up to 8.5 times more densely populated than the Diamond Princes cruise ship, where transmission of the virus was four times faster than in Wuhan, China. In parts of Moria camp, Greece, over 1,300 people share one tap and over 200 share a latrine.

David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said: “The IRC’s analysis paints a dire picture: the scale, severity and speed of the outbreak will be magnified in fragile countries. The double crisis needs a double response. First, immediate activity to prevent the spread of the disease is imperative. Without handwashing facilities the disease takes root, and without effective triaging of people it runs rife. One need only glance at the shocking disparity in ventilator and ICU numbers in crisis-affected states to understand the very real threat this poses to life and limb. Now is the opportunity to take advantage of the short window of time in places like Yemen and Syria to forestall the disease running rampant.

“Second, the lesson of the crisis is that the weakest links in the global health chain are a threat to health everywhere. We cannot afford these weak links, and must strengthen the efforts in war-torn countries and communities to lift their life chances. This is why the IRC has launched a $30 million appeal for our global COVID 19 response- serving the most vulnerable and ensuring vulnerable groups like refugees are not left behind. The international community must equally ensure that underlying humanitarian vulnerabilities across these countries are not left to fester or to multiply. The call to abide by a global ceasefire launched by the UN Secretary General has never been more obvious. The global economic response, defined for instance by the G20, must cater to the needs of fragile and conflict-affected states. Should we fail, not only will the most vulnerable pay the price today for the inaction of the international community, the consequences will be felt across the globe for years, if not decades, to come.”

The IRC has launched a US $30 million appeal to help us mitigate the spread of coronavirus among the world’s most vulnerable populations. We are working across three key areas: to mitigate and respond to the spread of coronavirus within vulnerable communities, protect IRC staff, and ensure the continuation of our life-saving programming as much as possible across more than 40 countries worldwide.

Download the full reporthere.

Download images from the report here.