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United Nations in South Africa launches Emergency Flash Appeal for the Impact of COVID-19

On 30 April 2020 the United Nations in South Africa launched a US$136 million (R2.5 billion) emergency appeal to assist about 10 million vulnerable South Africans facing various risks caused by COVID-19 pandemic in the areas of health, water and sanitation, food security and gender-based violence, among others.

The emergency or flash appeal was launched on the eve of the gradual relaxation of a 35-day nation-wide lockdown that saw the closure of borders and a strict social distance regime to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. These measures, along with the global economic shock caused by COVID-19, are expected to generate rising needs among South Africans requiring urgent emergency response.

Speaking at the virtual launch in Pretoria, the head of the UN in South Africa and Resident Coordinator, Nardos Bekele-Thomas, said: “The United Nations is in full support of the Government’s commitment to a whole-of-society and a whole-of-government approach.” She added that she was “encouraged by the President’s consistent message that post COVID-19 will usher in a different model of doing development, focusing more on inclusiveness, guided by the motto of leaving no one behind.”

The Resident Coordinator told the virtual launch, which connected about 170 participants from across several continents, that for over three months the UN family had been working closely with several partners including the Government, the Solidarity Fund, the business community, the civil society and other community-based organizations, while also delivering services to vulnerable communities.

“We are particularly grateful for the focus on refugees and migrants,” said the Minister of Health, Dr. Zweli Mkhize, who was one of the three ministers who spoke at the launch. Noting that his department’s key challenges were limited supplies of protective gears, swaps and test kits, among others, the minister added, “The appeal compliments the Government of South Africa’s strategy which includes intensifying the public health response to slow down the rate of transmission and reducing infections.”

This Emergency Appeal for South Africa prioritizes the response necessary to address the immediate public health crisis and the secondary impacts of the #COVID19 pandemic, and key to UNFPA, ensuring the continuity of Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights services during the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa and responding to the emergency needs women, girls and other marginalised and vulnerable groups. The UN’s appeal is expected to benefit 9.9 million of the 33.3 million people in South Africa who need emergency assistance. It is also believed that that the pandemic is highly likely to worsen existing gender inequalities and increase risks of gender-based violence.

In her remarks, Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu acknowledged that South Africa “needs cooperation and solidarity with like-minded and progressive global development partners like the UN as the pandemic cuts into the heart of our common humanity.”

The importance of solidarity was also highlighted by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, who noted that, “This pandemic needs not only united action but also solidarity” and that South Africa had been a beneficiary of solidarity in the past.

Despite being an upper middle-income country, nearly half of all households in South Africa struggle to meet their basic food needs. Informal labourers, and small farmers, especially women, who do not have access to social grants, are hardest hit.

The latest quarterly labour force survey for 2019 indicates that one in five workers, or about 3 million people, work in the informal sector and would require assistance to compensate for income losses from movement restrictions.

There is also strong concern for people with compromised immune systems, including 2.5 million people living with HIV who are not on antiretroviral treatment. South Africa has the largest number of people living with HIV globally (7.5 million), including 1.5 million who are aged 50 or more.

The effects of the coronavirus outbreak are significant, particularly for many of the communities and for the 273,400 refugees and asylum seekers hosted in South Africa. In addition, the country has more than 2,700 informal settlements hosting an estimated 6.8 million people in overcrowded conditions with limited access to water and sanitation. Weeks of lockdown mean that vulnerable members of these communities are struggling to make ends meet.

More than 13 million children have been affected by the closure of schools with 9 million children who normally benefit from the government school-feeding programme not having access to a nutritious meal. Further, school closures may exacerbate inequalities, as some vulnerable families may not send their children (particularly adolescent girls) back to school. In addition, school health programmes have been disrupted and some children are more vulnerable to abuse and violence out of the learning environment. While distance-learning mechanisms are being attempted, they do not reach all children and youth, thus disadvantaging those without internet access or adult supervision.

Several members of the diplomatic corps, including the ambassador of the European Union, Norway, Japan, Zimbabwe and Ireland, delivered messages in support of the appeal and commended the UN’s focus on communities that have been hit hardest by the pandemic. In her message, Pumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women, paid tribute to the UN’s work in helping the most vulnerable.

Leaders from the South African National AIDS Council, the Global Compact Network South Africa, C-19 People’s Coalition, the Solidarity Fund, and the Blended Capital Group also offered their messages in support of the emergency appeal.

“It’s not only the journey of the pandemic but also the journey of recovery for all South Africans,” said the Resident Coordinator, Ms. Bekele-Thomas.