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Coronavirus: WFP ready to rise to the challenge

Agency puts expertise and infrastructure at the service of pandemic response and appeals for US$ 350 million as part of consolidated UN funding call
, Simona Beltrami

True to its nature as an agency that is always on the frontline of the toughest emergencies, WFP is already providing support in the response to the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and adapting its planning to ensure operations can carry on in a highly volatile environment. Whether it is a crisis caused by conflict, disaster, or a health emergency, such as the Ebola outbreaks in recent years, WFP always stands prepared to help.

As part of a global appeal to raise a USS$ 2 billion for COVID-19 response, launched by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on 25 March, WFP is calling for US$ 350 million to support vital aviation, shipping, storage and transport, and engineering services in areas affected by the pandemic.

WFP is working to mimimize the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic on the lives of millions of already vulnerable people. Photo: WFP/Gabriela Vivacqua

"The survival of millions of people depends on us," WFP Executive Director, David Beasley, said in the week when the COVID-19 pandemic gripped global attention. "We must rise up to the occasion and be there for them."

Immediate response

Among a number of immediate actions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, WFP has provided support to the Chinese government's efforts to curb the spread of the virus by delivering lifesaving medical equipment to hospitals in Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak.

In Iran, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus, a generous donation by Japan is enabling WFP to provide a two-month supply of personal protection equipment — masks, gloves and coverall gowns — for more than 2,000 staff and volunteers from the Iranian Red Crescent Society. The items will be airlifted into Iran from the United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot in Dubai within coming weeks.

WFP will also continue to provide food and cash to 31,000 Afghan and Iraqi refugees living in settlements across the country to ensure that their food needs are maintained at an acceptable level during the pandemic.

Refugees and people displaced by conflict or disasters are among the world's most vulnerable. In the picture: a food distribution in northwestern Syria. Photo: WFP/Fadi Halabi

Elsewhere, WFP is providing support to governments' preparedness and response efforts — one such case is El Salvador, where the organization has provided the Government with technical and financial support for setting up warehouses, and for storing and delivering items donated for people in quarantine. Also, WFP has provided immediate food assistance to people in isolation and is working closely with partners to ensure these people have access to nutritious foods.

Getting ready for what's to come

Amid mounting concerns about the spread of the virus and the consequences that this — and the protective measures taken to contain it — might have on food systems, WFP is using its long-standing expertise to monitor markets, supply chains and prices.

Analysis is also extended to identifying areas of vulnerability, both in terms of locations and programmes, with school feeding being particularly affected by school closures in dozens of countries. As schools close across the world, many millions of children will lose the nutritious daily meals and snacks that they normally received in their place of learning.

School closures mean millions of children will not receive daily nutritious school meals and snacks. Photo: WFP/Charlie Musoka

Data collected on possible supply chain breaks, food shortages or price spikes will help WFP to ensure that the 86 million people it aims to serve this year will continue to receive the food assistance they need, when they need it.

Having food in place — and the flexibility to switch from in-kind assistance to cash or vice versa — is key to this. WFP is currently aiming to pre-position stocks of food to be easily accessible and readily available, even in case of trade or movement restrictions, or other disruptions that may occur due to social unrest.

Vital partnerships

At a time like this, it is critical that substantial, fully flexible funding is made available to enable contingency planning that will allow operations to continue running smoothly. WFP is in regular dialogue with donor governments to update them on the evolving situation and ensure that the right decisions are made on funding priorities to provide a guaranteed flow of vital food assistance to vulnerable populations.

UNHRD Panama is preparing to dispatch personal protective equipment (PPE) items for the World Health Organization (WHO) to support healthcare workers in 13 countries in South America. Photo: WFP/Photolibrary

As the lead agency of the Logistics and Emergency Telecommunications Clusters, WFP is also ready to lend the expertise and infrastructure other UN and humanitarian agencies might need as they join the response to the virus. In previous global emergencies this has been a valuable asset alongside the use of the strategically positioned UN Humanitarian Response Depots that WFP has placed as staging areas to load and deliver vital supplies across the world.

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