Optimism about 2021 is emerging in wealthier corners of the world, with both the United States and the United Kingdom beginning Covid-19 vaccinations and other nations close behind. But for many countries, the long tail of the pandemic could make next year even more devastating than 2020.
The coronavirus, combined with climate change and conflict, is expected to exacerbate already long-running crises in many developing countries next year, according to a new report from the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a major US humanitarian group.
Despite the gravity of the pandemic, the direct impact of Covid-19 in areas where the IRC operates was less damaging than feared, the organization’s CEO David Milliband said on Tuesday. But it came with disastrous side effects, he added, including disrupting supply chains, causing food insecurity in some countries, and driving people away from hospitals, resulting in poor treatment for other diseases, including malaria.
Many of these are worsening life in the countries named on IRC’s annual emergency watchlist, which identifies places at risk of humanitarian catastrophe. Extreme poverty caused by lockdowns and border closures, for example, could trigger famines in South Sudan, Burkina Faso, and Yemen, it warns.
Yemen is at the top of the organization’s watchlist this year, raising particular concern as a nation that has also been plagued by years of war. Conflict-torn Afghanistan, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia make up the list’s top five countries.
In all, the 20 countries on IRC’s list represent just 10% of the global population, but account for 85% of those in humanitarian need, it says. “Watchlist 2021 reveals that the world is facing both unprecedented humanitarian emergencies as well as a political crisis of inaction and global retreat from humanitarian obligations,” the IRC said in a statement Monday.
While Milliband described the development Covid-19 vaccines as an immensely positive story because of the cooperation of private companies and public entities in researching and developing a wide range of vaccines in record time, he highlighted the difficulty of securing and distributing doses for countries where both financing and health infrastructure are limited.
Asked by CNN about the possible delivery of vaccines to developing nations next year, the IRC chief was not optimistic. “Shortages of supply of Covid-19 vaccines mean the vast majority of people in fragile and humanitarian contexts- and in low-income and many middle- income states- will not be able to access a Covid-19 vaccine in 2021, and possibly for multiple years ahead,” he said.