The Covid-19 pandemic presents an excellent opportunity to re-examine a number of crucial global human security issues, such as global warming, environmental deterioration and health hazards arising from many erroneous practices. Despite how coronavirus has sown disruption and thrown societies’ agendas into disarray as governments struggle to curb its social and economic fallout, the crisis also offers regional communities a rare opportunity to reach consensus, in a humanitarian and brotherly spirit, over common concerns, from the need to resolve chronic conflicts (especially in the war-riddled Middle East) to questions of public health and environmental conservation.
The statement by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) on the regional emergency response to mitigate the impact of Covid-19, with its call for Arab governments to establish a regional social solidarity fund, is an urgent appeal to everyone in a position of responsibility to think of ways to help protect the segments of the population that face the gravest risks in the event that the current crisis continues. The statement is a declaration of the need for an immediate humanitarian truce, a call for urgent efforts to build a just and lasting peace, to end the blockade on Gaza, to lift sanctions on certain Arab states, to prevent restrictions on access to the materials and equipment needed to combat Covid-19, and to safeguard livelihoods. UN and other international reports confirm ESCWA’s alarming assessments of the social and economic repercussions of this crisis.
The ESCWA brief states: “Preliminary impact assessments are frightful: losses of invaluable lives; of millions of jobs; of billions of dollars in revenues. Millions more people are likely to be pushed into poverty; there will be disruption of humanitarian aid to millions of refugees and internally displaced; and women, as usual, will bear the brunt of further violence and increased health risks.”
The proposal of a regional social solidarity fund that supports Arab vulnerable and least developed countries (LDCs) in order to “ensure a rapid response to their needs and provide relief during food shortages and health emergencies” is an excellent idea at this perilous time given how a decade of civil wars and proxy wars have destroyed the capacities and weakened the resistance of many Arab societies.
The proposed fund is one of many possible responses to the repercussions from economic recession and severe financial straits that threaten to grip many societies in the region. It will offer much needed support to the urgent domestic programmes governments have introduced in order to establish safety nets for the most vulnerable sectors of the population as well as to safeguard small enterprises and sectors that are crucial to the economy, such as tourism, the airline industry, trade and manufacturing. It is also essential at this stage to prioritise the provision of food supplies to the most vulnerable areas, such as those inhabited by refugees and displaced persons due to war and conflict in the region.
Effective (as opposed to token or nominal) humanitarian solidarity is one of the positive things that humankind can take away from this grim tragedy. There should be no room for remiss when it comes to saving people.
“Poorer countries will take the hardest hit, especially ones that were already heavily indebted before the crisis,” World Bank President David Malpass said last week. IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said that the Covid-19 pandemic was driving the global economy to recession which would necessitate major funding to help developing nations. She warned of a global recession in 2020 that could be worse than the one triggered by the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.
Regional collective action should take the highest priority today. The Arab region has the power to turn over a new leaf, end protracted and futile conflicts and rebuild itself, its societies and its people on the basis of the logic of a shared fate.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly