Silenced humanitarian action: the pandemic collateral damage we can…

Silenced humanitarian action: the pandemic collateral damage we can no longer ignore

Blog post by Dr. Roopa Suppiah, Co-founder of Water Well-ness Project – Get free updates of new blog posts here.

The COVID-19 pandemic situation has stressed our world in countless ways. It’s hard to imagine that a single issue – a virus – can lead to this much chaos in every part of the globe and in every sector of our lives. The pandemic has tested the capacity of our health systems, brought economies to their knees, interrupted the education of millions of students, and fundamentally changed the way each and every person is living his or her life.

We can consider all of these effects as the collateral damage from the pandemic. But another form of collateral damage not yet mentioned also warrants some attention too. It’s the silencing of the voices and efforts fighting for other problems in our world. The fundraisers, the projects, the demonstrations, the conferences, the fieldwork focused on so many worthy causes have been placed on hold and impacted big time. Funding has been reduced or delayed, humanpower diverted, infrastructure cut off. This slowing of momentum poses real issue because each of those causes have merit – making this world safer, healthier, more inclusive, fairer, more beautiful.

We can turn to current large-scale examples of crises that are feeling the overshadowing by COVID-19. First is the situation in East Africa and the Middle East where locusts, a grasshopper species of insect, are ravaging crops at unimaginable rates pushing countries like Somalia and Kenya into near famine. When what these countries need is concerted effort with all hands-on-deck, what they are experiencing unfortunately is restriction, for example airplanes that now cannot deliver food desperately needed by the population.

The ongoing civil wars in Syria and Yemen are similarly big crises that could benefit from greater attention. Millions of men, women and children are displaced, living in refugee camps, and suffering with both physical and psychological health issues. This isn’t a new problem – it’s an ongoing one that needs drastic and immediate action from local and global policy makers to help resolve. Innocent civilians are dying needlessly in refugee camps and in their own streets. How much longer can we watch and wait?

The strategy of halting our world in its tracks mandated by our governments is by no means wrong – it was exactly what was and is needed to control the spread of this virus for the sake of human health. But, acknowledging that our attention has converged onto one issue, in a world where innumerable exist, is crucial.

So, where do we go from here? Do we continue to stay solely focused on controlling the pandemic or do we start to pivot back to the many causes that were not long ago top of mind. In my view, the answer is a bit of both options and who takes what next steps depends on their role in their community.For example, those that are on the front lines, involved in pandemic control measures, or have responsibilities to take care of sick loved ones or support a stressed family unsurprisingly should continue what they are doing. Those that are more peripheral and not directly involved or affected could realistically pivot back to the community and global causes they were passionate about before this pandemic hit. Doing so is not disrespectful. It is actually socially responsible in a world where there are always people that are hungry, homeless, scared, thirsty, or oppressed. By reorienting, we can prevent the complete fizzle and fade of momentum for non-COVID causes.

Practically, to re-engage now in a socially-distanced world, we will all need to reimagine our work, creatively finding solutions. It may take the form of online meetings, virtual conferences, or focusing on the creative brainstorming and preparation that lies behind the physical execution of events, demonstrations, conferences or fieldwork. Adapting, not folding, is critical to ensure we don’t take steps backwards in the fight for change in every sector of our world.

Local and global community action and humanitarianism will have to look different for now. But let’s all remember that different doesn’t have to mean unproductive. Please give yourself the permission to think about the causes you gave your efforts to before COVID-19 and determine if now could be the time to re-engage for the good of humanity.


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