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World Health envoy warns of unrest in poor nations without action to combat virus

by Laurie Goering | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 21 April 2020 19:55 GMT

People wearing face masks walk under a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) awareness billboard during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Abidjan, Ivory Coast April 21, 2020. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

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Without help to combat the pandemic, poor countries could see 'ungovernability', World Health Organization envoy says

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By Laurie Goering

LONDON, April 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The World Health Organization's COVID-19 special envoy warned on Tuesday that people in poor nations would lose faith in authorities without effective action to combat the coronavirus that has claimed more than 170,000 lives.

Special envoy David Nabarro said if poor nations fail to combat the coronavirus pandemic because they cannot access enough resources, the world could see "ungovernability in many nations".

"(If) people lose faith in the capacity of their leaders to lead ... this will lead to ungovernability in many nations throughout our world," said Nabarro, who also served as the United Nations special envoy on Ebola.

He said as the virus moved into poorer nations in regions such as Africa, many countries were struggling to find funding, protective equipment, and tests to combat the pandemic.

That could lead to many unnecessary deaths, he said.

"Health workers in poor countries can't be protected. Rich countries have commandeered the majority of the protective equipment," the former U.N. envoy on climate change and sustainable development said during a webinar.

He called for more global cooperation and aid to weaker countries to help them combat a health crisis "nothing like anything else we've ever seen in my professional life".

The alternative, he said, is that "the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and global solidarity falls apart".

Globally the pandemic is already creating threats for older people and those losing jobs, as well as spurring "a massive hunger crisis" with food supply chains disrupted, he said.

Paul Polman, the former CEO of Unilever and now head of sustainability foundation Imagine, said some poorer nations need to mount a response to the virus even as their income dries up and vital remittances from jobs abroad to families decline.

He pointed to 75 countries around the world that have put in place export barriers on personal protective equipment for medical staff, with some simultaneously easing import restrictions to try to bring in more of it.

"That is close to asocial behavior," he said, calling for more aid and "global solidarity".

"There is no global mechanism that is dealing with this."

Thomas Hale, a global public policy professor and political scientist at the University of Oxford, said the pandemic had shown how ill-prepared countries are to work together on global threats - a concern as the impact of climate change worsens.

"What scares me most about COVID-19 is not the disease itself but how it's shown the fragility of some of our global and national governance systems," Hale said.

Read more:

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Health experts call virus pandemic a window into future climate threats

Has India's 'airpocalyse' put the poor more at risk from coronavirus?

(Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering; editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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