NGOs – with Local Groups in the Lead – are on COVID-19 Frontlines

Civil Society, Featured, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, TerraViva United Nations


Abby Maxman is President & CEO of Oxfam America

Credit: Oxfam America

BOSTON, USA, May 11 2020 (IPS) – NGOs, at the international, national – and most of all local – level are on the frontlines every day.

I just heard from Oxfam staff in Bangladesh, that when asked whether they were scared to continue our response with the Rohingya communities in Cox’s Bazar, they replied: “They are now my relatives. I care about them — and this is the time they need us most.’”

These people – and those that they and others are supporting around the globe – are at the heart of this crisis and response.

As we talk about global figures and strategies, we must remember we are talking about parents who must decide whether they should stay home and practice social distancing or go to work to earn and buy food so their children won’t go hungry; women who constitute 70% of the workers in the health and social sector globally; people with disabilities and their carers; those who are already far from home or caught in conflict; people who don’t know what information to believe and follow, as rumours swirl.

Looking more broadly, we see that the COVID-19 crisis is exposing our broken and unprepared system, and it is also testing our values as a global community. COVID-19 is adding new and exacerbating existing threats of conflict, displacement, gender-based violence, climate change, hunger and inequality, and too many are being forced to respond without the proper resources – simple things like clean water, soap, health care and shelter. We must be creative and nimble to adapt our response in this new reality.

Most vulnerable communities

We know too well that when crisis hits, women, gender diverse persons, people with disabilities and their carers, the elderly, the poor, and the displaced suffer the worst impacts as existing gender, racial, economic and political inequalities are exposed.

Abby Maxman

These communities need to be at the center of our response, and we, as the international community, must listen to their needs, concerns and solutions.


As we continue to ramp up our response, we must have access to the communities most in need. Likewise, COVID-19 cannot be used as an excuse to stop those greatest in need from accessing humanitarian aid.

Border closures are squeezing relief supply and procurement chains; Lockdowns and quarantines are blocking relief operations; And travel restrictions for aid workers have been put in place, disrupting their ability to work in emergency response programs.

Authorities should absolutely take precautions to keep communities safe, but we need to work at all levels to also ensure life-saving aid can still get through and people’s rights are upheld.

Local and national NGOs are on the frontline of the COVID-19 response, and communities’ access to the essential services and lifesaving assistance they provide must be protected. We also know that with effective community engagement, we can gain better and more effective access to communities.

Humanitarian NGOs and partners are adapting our approaches to continue vital humanitarian support while fulfilling our obligation to “do no harm.”

This adaptive approach, and our experience of ‘safe programming,’ shifting to remote management where possible; and scaling back some operations where necessary—will all be crucial as COVID-19 restrictions continue to amplify protection concerns and risk of sexual exploitation and abuse.


To mount an effective response, we must draw on our collective experience, but this crisis also offers an opportunity to change the way we work, including setting up new funding mechanisms to allow our system to leverage the complementary roles we all play in a humanitarian response.

Overall, NGOs urgently need funding that is flexible, adaptive, and aligned with Grand Bargain commitments. Our work is well underway, but more is needed to get resources to the frontlines.

We need to better resource country based pooled funds, which are crucial for national and local NGOs. Now more than ever, donors must support flexible mechanisms to increase funding flows to NGO partners.

Next Steps

In closing, the international community needs to come together to battle this pandemic in an inclusive and a responsive way that puts communities at the heart of solutions. Even while we respond in our own communities, we must see and act beyond borders if we are ever to fully control this pandemic.

The planning and response to COVID-19 need to be directly inclusive of local and national NGOs, women’s rights organizations, and refugee-led organizations leaders. We must address this new threat, while still responding to other pressing needs for a holistic response.
This means continuing our response to the looming hunger crisis, maintaining access to humanitarian aid, and supporting existing services including sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence services.

We need to ensure humanitarian access is protected to reach the most vulnerable.

And funding needs to be quickly mobilized through multiple channels to reach NGOs and must be flexible both between needs and countries.

This much is clear: We cannot address this crisis for some and not others. We cannot do it alone. The virus can affect anyone but disproportionately affects the most marginalized. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that our global response includes everyone.

We owe it to those dedicated staff and their honorary “relatives” in Cox’s Bazar, and all those like them around the globe, to get this right.

This article was adapted from Abby Maxman’s comments as the NGO representative at the UN’s Launch of the Updated COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan on May 7, 2020.


Collaboration Can Help Eradicate COVID-19

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Education, Featured, Global, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, TerraViva United Nations


Rev Liberato C. Bautista is assistant general secretary for United Nations and International Affairs of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. He also serves as president of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations.

Coronavirus pandemic threatens crises-ravaged communities, UN appeals for global support. Credit: United Nations

NEW YORK, Apr 23 2020 (IPS) – Since the founding of the United Nations in 1945, space for multilateral policy development and commitment has grown. Its growth in the global health field augurs well as we find ways to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Multilateralism is a difficult word, often misconstrued to be about the global and not the local and daily life. Perception plays a major role in how the public perceives multilateralism. This is in part due to the complexity of modern global challenges, which are well beyond the capacity of any one state or even a small group of states to resolve by themselves.

The novel coronavirus pandemic may yet change this perception.

As the saying goes, all politics is local. My rejoinder to this is that one’s local is another’s global. The local and the global are simultaneous realities. United Methodist connectionalism is akin to multilateralism.

As a church, we address social issues central to the multilateral agenda, including health, migration, peace, climate, and concerns about global poverty, trading and commerce, sustainable development, social justice, women, children and gender justice, human rights, indigenous peoples, and more.

Holistic health, healing and wholeness are intrinsic to Methodism and its Wesleyan roots. John Wesley attended to both the care for the soul and for the biological body with his abundant tips and remedies for ailments during his time.

Throughout the United Methodist connection, we are doing advocacy on public health policies at national legislatures and multilateral settings. We are in global mission together for sustainable development and humanitarian assistance, building capacity for peoples and communities to manage their healthcare needs.

Our numerous United Methodist-affiliated clinics, hospitals, colleges and universities around the world are training medical, health, social work and pastoral care professionals.

The Rev. Liberato Bautista. Credit: Marcelo Schneider, World Council of Churches

Human rights intrinsic to health, healing and wholeness

Global pandemics such as the novel coronavirus respect no sovereign boundaries or national allegiances. The coronavirus ravages all peoples across races and social classes, but its effects are more devastating on vulnerable populations everywhere and on struggling low- and middle-income economies around the world.

To mitigate the virulent spread of COVID-19, we are called by national authorities to stay at home, wash our hands, stay in place and practice physical distancing. These public health directives imply that we have houses to stay in, water to wash our hands, and some space where we can move around and still maintain six feet distance from each other.

When Philippine government officials issued the directive for Filipinos to stay at home, Norma Dollaga, a United Methodist deaconess and justice advocate from the Philippines, reacted through her Facebook page: “Stay at home. That’s for those who have homes. How about the homeless?”

The reality is that the human rights to health, housing and water, along with human mobility, have long been imperiled in many places around the world prior to COVID-19’s onslaught. Moreover, the health crisis has been used as an excuse in other parts of the world to grab power or tighten national security laws that are assaulting civil liberties and violating democratic rights.

Neither pandemic nor political or economic exigency can derogate from the enjoyment of fundamental human rights.

That the outbreak of COVID-19 started in Wuhan City in China has resulted in undue rise in racist and xenophobic acts especially against people of Chinese origin, or Asians in general. This is on top of an ongoing surge of populism and xenophobic nationalism around the world.

Health is wealth, fund it robustly

If health is wealth, it behooves peoples and their governments to protect it. Health care workers who are on the front line against this pandemic should have all the resources they need without begging for them.

A war may have been declared in the eradication of the novel coronavirus pandemic. But it is looking more like the deployment of war rhetoric and not the funding that real wars have received.

National budgets are moral documents. Health is the true common wealth that we must invest human and budgetary resources to. Yet we know that defense spending today far outweighs the puny investments from national coffers that health care urgently needs and strategically deserves.

Global collaboration is indispensable

The role of the U.N. in forging global cooperation is crucial, in times of crisis or calm. Global cooperation in the surveillance of emerging viruses and bacteria is necessary if pandemics are to be mitigated and diseases eradicated.

Coordinating this global collaboration and leading the development of a vaccine to treat the COVID-19 disease gives the public good reason to trust global institutions like World Health Organization. Think of the eradication of smallpox — and the ongoing programs to eventually eradicate polio and malaria — as examples of how global cooperation benefits us in our local daily lives.

To triumph over COVID-19, comprehensive cooperation is needed on many fronts — medical, pharmaceutical, healthcare workers, mental health providers, healthcare facilities. Public and private coordination is necessary in ensuring that the supply chain for much needed testing kits, ventilators, as well as personal protective equipment like N95 face masks, gloves, gowns, aprons, face shields and respirators remain unbroken.

A successful multilateral response requires a “whole-of-government,” “whole-of-society” and evidence-based public health approach. Mitigation works best when countries share expertise and scientific knowledge about threats to health, to climate, to populations and to peace and security.

Social inequalities imperil public health

The Commission on the Social Determinants of Health established by WHO in 2005 elaborated on the disastrous effects of social inequalities on people’s health. The intersections of physical, mental and social health, healing and wholeness are abundantly clear.

The commission’s 2008 final report stated: “The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels.

The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities — the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries.”

The U.N. commemorates its 75th anniversary this year. It is an auspicious time to reaffirm support for its mandates, especially the securing of health for all peoples and the planet. A healthy population makes for a healthy planet.

Nongovernmental organizations, including faith-based organizations like our United Methodist representations at the U.N., are in a kairos moment to help achieve the U.N.’s mandates.

COVID-19 may have been virulent and will forever change the rules of social etiquette and socialization. But the novel coronavirus has done what multilateral negotiations have not done — pause globalization and its unbridled pursuit of profit and capital.

When the world reopens from the ravages of the virus, we have a momentous task not to return to, but to transform, global and local arrangements to protect humanity and the planet, at least from the ravages of pandemics and social inequalities.

It comforts me that not all contagions are deadly. Some are beneficial. Love and kindness are. So are hospitality, mercy and justice.

*This article 0riginally appeared in UM News”. The link follows:


Coronavirus Worsens Yemen’s Long Tale of Woe

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Middle East & North Africa, Peace, TerraViva United Nations


Abdul Mohammed is a humanitarian worker for Oxfam Yemen

Credit: United Nations

SANA’A, Yemen, Mar 26 2020 (IPS) – In every room in Yemen’s Al-Saba’een hospital, patients in critical condition waited on chairs, and still others laid on the bare ground. I saw women and girls sharing beds in pairs, and children laying close together being treated.

This is Sana’a, Yemen’s best-supplied and capital city, on what has become an ordinary day. Coronavirus hasn’t arrived in Yemen yet.

As I watch the destruction that the novel coronavirus is wreaking on wealthy and peaceful countries with developed health systems, I fear for Yemen. If cholera, diphtheria, and malnutrition can overwhelm our war-stricken health system, I can only imagine the devastation that this fast-spreading, uncurable virus could unleash.

The impact of COVID-19 would mirror the impact of the war to date: no one would be safe, but the most vulnerable would bear a disproportionate share of the burden.

Credit: UNOCHA

The world is now getting a glimpse of the reality we have faced in Yemen for the past five years since war here escalated: life-threatening illness, deepening economic pressure, fewer and worse options for parents and caregivers, and a dizzyingly constant change in routine.

Millions now live in overcrowded shelters, without safe water, proper nutrition or proper health care. The basic steps others are taking to curtail the spread of COVID-19 are virtually impossible here. Should it take hold, the results would be unthinkable.

Public health crises don’t just threaten the well-being of the afflicted; their impacts ripple widely across families and societies. I think about Ahmed, a young man from Ibb, who lost his father to cholera, and then was suddenly thrust into the role of sole provider and caregiver for his entire family.

“I am not ready for this,” he shared in desperation. Feeling ill-equipped but required to take on extraordinary responsibilities – and with little time for grief or sentiment – is one that most Yemenis can identify with.

As we mark five years since a US-backed, Saudi-led coalition intervened and escalated the war in our country, we find ourselves defenseless against even basic maladies like diphtheria and cholera. These stone-age pathogens are held at bay in most societies by taking basic public health measures, drinking safe water, and eating nutritious food.

But parties to this on-going fighting since 2015 – have damaged or destroyed more than half of Yemen’s hospitals and other health facilities through bombing and shelling. The fighting has destroyed water and sanitation infrastructure in an already water-poor country, leaving more than two-thirds of the country with only unsafe water to drink.

As a result, Yemen now has the unenviable distinction of having experienced the world’s worst diphtheria outbreak in 30 years and the largest cholera outbreak ever recorded.

Even when it comes to critical patients who can be saved, this protracting war shown no mercy. Tens of thousands of Yemenis with life-threatening but manageable conditions have sought medical treatment abroad.

But the Saudi-led coalition, which has controlled Yemeni airspace on behalf of Yemen’s recognized government, has shut down commercial air traffic in and out of Sana’a. Only this year did the government and coalition consent to allow a long-promised medical air bridge to Cairo. 24 patients have been transported thus far. Tens of thousands have died waiting.

Credit: United Nations

Millions of Yemenis have already been forced from their homes, some of them multiple times to escape violence or pursue scarce opportunities for work. But even basic sanitation and health care in camps for displaced people are often unavailable.

Even with a massive aid response, as the conflict continues, we are fighting a rising tide. It goes without saying that in these cramped quarters, where social distancing is a fanciful notion and suppressed immunity the norm, a single infection would lead to countless deaths. The coronavirus epidemic would write new stories of suffering in Yemen’s already long tale of woe.

The conflict in Yemen must end before it claims any more lives. Yemen’s military and political leaders have shown too often these past five years that they are not willing to make even small compromises for the sake of their country and its people.

And the international community, so far, has failed to muster the resolve to demand the ceasefire and political settlement that can bring the life-saving peace that Yemen’s people demand.

With coronavirus knocking on Yemen’s door, we need humanitarian aid to restore our health systems, tackle the diseases currently ravaging our people, and prevent a new catastrophe. We cannot afford to wait for the next crisis to hits.


There Can Be No Green Peace Without Gender Equality

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations


This article is part of special IPS coverage of International Women’s Day on March 8 2020


Jennifer Morgan is the Executive Director of Greenpeace International

AMSTERDAM, the Netherlands, Mar 5 2020 (IPS) – Gender inequality – like the climate emergency – is not inevitable, but is kept in place by the poor choices too many cis men make on a daily basis. And it is not just womxn who are hurt and trapped by this patriarchal problem, but girls and non-binary people too, as well as many boys and men.

For millennia, gender inequality has been working very well for the majority of men. Globally, men hold 85% of senior leadership roles in companies, for example, while the 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all of the womxn in Africa. None of this is by accident and many men are reluctant to change a system they think benefits them.

Meanwhile womxn remain on the frontlines of gender inequality and the climate emergency. And due to the patriarchy, unsurprisingly they are rarely heard on issues that deeply impact them, which as a result, affects society as a whole.

A great number of men do believe in gender equality and this needs to be acknowledged. But it is easy for men to merely ‘believe’ in something they subsequently reap social rewards for. Accepting that gender inequality exists – as much as the climate emergency – and taking positive action is crucial if we are to achieve a more equitable, peaceful and green planet.

Because the fact is equity across the world and spectrum would lead to more life satisfaction, better security and economies, and more sustainable solutions to climate change.

That’s why this International Women’s Day, I call on men to be more than feminist; to do more than just celebrate womxn.

For a start, we need men to be anti-patriarchal and anti-misogynist, and to be actively campaigning against climate denial, for the benefit of all. Only then would we begin to get closer to the #IWD2020 theme of equality.

Jennifer Morgan

What I am calling for may sound overwhelming, but small individual changes in attitude can lead to huge progressive shifts in the stale social norms that are damaging too many people at our collective detriment.

“We are all parts of a whole. Our individual actions, conversations, behaviors and mindsets can have an impact on our larger society,” as the IWD organizers say.

Men can proactively start to promote gender equality in the spaces they dominate in many straightforward ways: by listening to womxn and not talking over them; crediting them for their ideas; rejecting male only settings; ensuring womxn are included on panels and sports teams; refusing to play into stereotypes, and calling out others who are being anti-womxn, anti-diversity and anti-science.

In my privileged position as a white Western female leading a global and diverse environmental organization, I strive to use my leadership to empower and protect, and include people of all backgrounds.

It often strikes me how I have more access to the halls of power than those with the experience of living on the frontlines of the climate emergency. Those dealing with the devastating droughts, floods and fires linked to climate change, who predominantly are womxn who are Black, Indigenous, of color, from the Global South.

They are truly powerful people, from whom I get much inspiration, and yet their voices remain too often unheard by decision-makers, policymakers, the media, and beyond, due to the patriarchy. Amplifying these womxn’s voices and increasing their access to opportunities and platforms is central to my mission, and the mission of Greenpeace.

For there can be no green peace without gender equality. At Greenpeace, we aspire to become a leader in building and supporting a workforce that more accurately reflects the diversity of the global community Greenpeace serves, as well as the values the organization espouses, and have initiatives on harassment prevention, unconscious bias and structural power.

We take a zero-tolerance position on sexual, verbal, or physical harassment, bullying and any kind of discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, faith, or any other aspect of our beings.

We will continue to examine how systematic marginalization and issues of equity intersect with our core mission and values as Greenpeace. We do this work readily because people power is linked to virtually everything Greenpeace does, from the impact we can make in the world to our ability to thrive as part of a movement.

We must always try to act in a way that sees, values, and embraces people in all their diversity. Boosting the voices of those the patriarchy actively tries to silence will lead to greater equity and better climate solutions.

Remarkable womxn are already leading the charge from Autumn Peltier and Brianna Fruean, the matriarchs of Wet’suwet’en fighting the Coastal Gas Link pipeline, to Vanessa Nakata and Winona LaDuke, among the many others.

But the patriarchy is man-made, much like climate change. It is more than time for cis men to combat gender inequality and the climate emergency alongside womxn, whom they should truly accept as their equals.