AP Interview: UN Aid Chief: Tackling Root Causes of Suffering

UNITED NATIONS (PA) – Outgoing UN humanitarian chief warns “explosion” in humanitarian aid needs in recent years will continue to escalate until major powers tackle root causes of hunger and despair – conflict, extremism, climate change, bad governance, corruption and violence, to name a few.

Mark Lowcock, who resigns Friday after four years, said in an interview with The Associated Press that sadly the world is struggling with symptoms, including people displaced by fighting and natural disasters or threatened with famine, who are now stalking the besieged Tigray in Ethiopia. region and Yemen.

In a very divided world, where the geopolitical system has not handled conflicts very well, he said, there has been a “failure of the great powers” to tackle the causes.

“If the world wants to see less humanitarian suffering, you have to tackle the causes of that suffering,” Lowcock said. “If you tackle the causes, you can move forward, you can improve people’s lives. “

During his lifetime, the 58-year-old British economist said the world had fallen from more than half of the world’s population living in “the most extreme poverty” to less than 10% in this dire situation before the pandemic of COVID-19 in early 2020.

The people and countries excluded from this economic progress are “those who are entangled in humanitarian suffering,” he said.

Lowcock strongly criticized the rich countries of the world, and in particular the major industrialized countries of the Group of Seven, for “not acting much more aggressively and generously and protecting the poorest countries emerging from the pandemic”, not only with vaccines but supporting their economies, which “have taken the biggest hit in relative terms” and are “under enormous pressure”.

Rich countries have injected billions of dollars into their economies to protect their citizens and their nations, and “it is the right thing to do,” he said.

“But it would also have been a smart thing as well as a kind and generous thing to have spent some of that money to protect the poorest countries,” Lowcock said in Wednesday’s virtual interview.

It is also in the interest of the richer countries, he said, because the problems that can arise in fragile countries – becoming havens for terrorism, places where climate change is most difficult to reach. fight, sites where new diseases emerge and old diseases like Ebola reappear. – «come back to bite you if you do not invest enough to contain the problems. “

Lowcock called for a much bigger effort to help poorer countries come out of the pandemic.

Rather than just announcing that they were donating vaccines, he said, the G-7 should have made it clear that what they were doing was “a small down payment” and that they would work with the larger group of people. 20 Big Savings To Do A Lot Suite.

G-7 leaders have pledged 1 billion doses for vaccine hungry countries, well below the 11 billion doses that the World Health Organization says are needed to inoculate at least 70% of the world’s population and truly end the pandemic.

Lowcock said the announcement of the G-7 – including 500 million doses from the United States and 100 million each from Britain and Canada – is basically enough vaccine to reach about 10% of people who have it. need in low- and middle-income countries.

He said the G-7 had not announced money to get the manufacturer’s vaccine into syringes for health workers who can immunize people, stressing that there are “huge costs in the system. delivery”. Some of the poorest countries that received some vaccine but did not have a delivery system returned some of it, he said.

The G-7 should have made “a much more comprehensive longer-term commitment” to fund vaccine needs, he said, and it should also challenge the G-20 “to scale up and cover some on the part of the costs as well “. “

By way of comparison, he recalled that during the much more modest financial crisis of 2007-2008, “the main G-20 countries asked the international financial institutions to provide a lot of aid to the most vulnerable countries, and they funded this ”.

Over the past 15 months, Lowcock said, he has pressured the G-7 and G-20 to provide much more economic aid to the poorest countries.

“This did not happen during this crisis,” he said. “If more resources don’t come, then the pandemic will last much longer than it otherwise would, and it will end up hurting rich countries while adding to the misery and suffering of the poorest countries.”

Lowcock called his last four years as UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs “difficult”, in particular because “the causes of humanitarian suffering have multiplied.”

He said that the UN and the wider humanitarian community, whose “true courage” he has come to admire, were able “to avoid the worst consequences of these great disasters, mainly because we raised a lot of money. “.

In its first year, the UN raised $ 14 billion for its global humanitarian appeals, Lowcock said, and four years later, “we have raised $ 20 billion, an increase of about 40% over the period”.

But he said he feared funding for humanitarian aid was voluntary and that there would be too much dependence on a small number of countries. As an example, he said, 70% of the $ 20 billion raised last year came from the United States, Germany, the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Historically, the humanitarian aid system has been “far too responsive,” Lowcock said. “He waited until the problem became almost overwhelming before he did anything, and we tried to act a lot sooner when we knew a problem was coming, and a lot faster.”

He said an earlier and faster response to a humanitarian crisis is cheaper and “it’s also more humane”.

“We reach 100 million people a year,” Lowcock said. “We have certainly saved millions of lives. “

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