Today is Giving Tuesday Now, a day for the world to unite against the new coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19. UNICEF was among the first to mobilize to fight COVID-19, and there are many ways donors and supporters can help UNICEF continue to send lifesaving relief to children and families who are struggling to stay healthy.
Even before the World Health Organization declared the crisis a global health emergency, UNICEF had already shipped six metric tons of supplies. Since then, UNICEF has been responding in over 80 countries, with its international warehouse — the largest humanitarian warehouse in the world — on overdrive, packing and shipping essential items to protect children, their families and the health workers putting their lives on the line to keep others safe. In many parts of the world, staying safe is a tremendous challenge.
Especially in fragile health systems and among those most vulnerable, social distancing is critical to mitigating the impact of COVID-19. But for many of the 70 million people forced by persecution, conflict and violence to flee their homes for overcrowded refugee and displacement camps, this preventive measure isn't an option. Close quarters also pose significant risks for health workers who treat the sick. It's only a matter of time before the new, highly contagious coronavirus reaches those who are least able to fend it off.
COVID-19 will almost certainly gain a foothold in refugee camps, crowded reception centers or detention facilities holding migrant families. Given how quickly the virus is spreading, such a scenario is looking imminent. — UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore
"COVID-19 will almost certainly gain a foothold in refugee camps, crowded reception centers or detention facilities holding migrant families. Given how quickly the virus is spreading, such a scenario is looking imminent," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Today, there are 31 million children who have been uprooted from their homes, including over 17 million internally displaced, 12.7 million refugees and 1.1 million asylum seekers. All of them need some form of assistance."
UNICEF supporters' donations help fund that relief. But it's also possible to send supplies through UNICEF Inspired Gifts. The collection offers a variety of water and sanitation supplies to meet families' needs during just such crises, and new gifts have just been added. For $25, you can send 100 bars of soap to help the 40 percent of the world's population that lives without the most basic handwashing supplies. And now UNICEF Inspired Gifts can help health workers, too.
For just $40, you can send one health worker all the gear he or she needs to ward off the rapidly spreading coronavirus. UNICEF Inspired Gifts can make a critical difference to children's health and safety.
In Bangladesh, where more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees now live in the overpopulated settlements of Cox's Bazar, personal space is minimal, as are so many of life's necessities. The camps of Cox’s Bazar have acquired some sense of stability since the crisis began in 2017, and hand pumps provide water to many. But problems with contamination persist as UNICEF works to extend a piped supply of safe water to reach everyone. Overcrowding and families' limited understanding of safe hygiene also make the camps a perfect breeding ground for the coronavirus.
In a recent interview with the U.N.’s Global Dispatches podcast, Paul Spiegel, a humanitarian health expert at Johns Hopkins University, warned that a COVID-19 outbreak in the sprawling camps would quickly “overwhelm” Bangladesh’s national health system.
When the Rohingya first began arriving in Bangladesh, emergency water and hygiene kits helped traumatized families keep their children safe as they began setting up provisional households in the camps of Cox's Bazar. As the coronavirus threat looms for the Rohingya, such supplies will be critical to survival.
Europe and Central Asia
Despite widescale containment, all but two countries in Europe and Central Asia have coronavirus cases. All but three have closed schools, affecting over 50 million children. COVID-19 is taking the heaviest toll on refugees, migrants, minorities and low-income families. They can't afford the soap, running water and housing that can insulate more affluent communities from infection. Children living in residential care — many with disabilities — and in detention facilities are in even greater danger. Countries in the region are still struggling to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) for health and social services personnel and medical equipment for health facilities.
UNICEF is employing a multipronged approach to deal with the inequity that leaves migrants and refugees especially exposed to COVID-19. In Rome, UNICEF and partners are sending mobile health clinics into refugee and migrant communities to provide basic health care and coronavirus prevention messages. The communities living in informal settlements often have limited access to health services in the best of times. Now the COVID-19 pandemic puts them at even greater risk. The mobile clinics provide health screenings, distribute vital hygiene supplies and educate children and families on what they can do to protect themselves and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
For just $25 you can send 100 bars of soap to health centers and medical facilities, where regular handwashing is vital to preventing cross contamination. Your gift will also ensure children can keep their hands clean when they are at school and visiting UNICEF Child-Friendly spaces.
Five years of conflict have pushed Yemen to the brink of collapse and left millions without health care and water — essentials for COVID-19 prevention and treatment. Though Yemen's first case of COVID-19 wasn't reported until April 10, UNICEF and partners had been preparing for the impact since mid-March, supporting the establishment of 49 quarantine facilities and 10 isolation centers across the country. UNICEF has also been trucking water into the country and helping to install water tanks, emergency latrines and handwashing facilities and distributing thousands of family hygiene kits. To address the nation's weakened health care infrastructure and equipment shortages, UNICEF Yemen is also coordinating the procurement and prepositioning of ventilators and personal protective equipment for health care workers.
In Syria, where some 4.8 million children have been born since the civil war began nine years ago, conflict has destroyed the water treatment facilities so critical to families' daily lives and their ability to fight off disease.
UNICEF and partners have been providing safe water, sanitation and hygiene supplies to 7.3 million people in Syria and the 2.5 million Syrian children who are living as refugees in neighboring countries. Ten-year-old Diaa is one. Since fleeing Syria in 2012, he has lived with his grandmother and other family members in Jordan’s Za’atari Refugee Camp.
Before his family was connected to the water network UNICEF helped build at the refugee camp, Diaa had to haul 12 buckets of water a day from the communal tap stands. “We used to go far away, where the water was,” he recalls. “It would take us an hour to bring the water all the way home.” To protect Diaa and children like him from the new coronavirus, UNICEF has provided nearly 17,000 families with soap and hygiene kits. UNICEF is also helping to provide personal protective equipment for frontline workers.
UNICEF has worked long and hard to keep safe water flowing to war-weary Syrians — both to the 7.3 million who are waiting out the long civil war at home and to those who fled to neighboring countries. UNICEF has improved water supply systems damaged by the conflict and has delivered water, sanitation and hygiene services and supplies. It will cost $682 million to maintain these lifesaving programs. But funding is already short and the weakened infrastructure may not hold up under COVID-19, exposing millions to deadly infection. Violence in Syria's northwest, which has displaced over 875,000 Syrians — 80 percent of them women and children — only heightens the risks.
UNICEF works nonstop to deliver lifesaving nutrition, health care, education and protection to children in over 190 countries and territories. UNICEF Inspired Gifts are an opportunity for donors to support these efforts by purchasing specific items to help vulnerable children survive and thrive.
Top photo: At Syrian refugee camps like Akrabat, located near the Turkish border, the large numbers of people living in close proximity with limited sanitation facilities make COVID-19 a potentially devastating health risk. © UNICEF/UNI326167/Albam