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COMMENTARY: Steep costs of pandemic will cut foreign aid funding when it’s needed most


With the coronavirus now spreading at a horrific pace through much of Latin America, the executive director of the World Food Programme has declared that nations in the developing world would soon face a mega-famine of “Biblical proportions.”

The explanation for this is that while COVID-19 will not directly beget famines, because so many people living in the world’s most fragile economies have no work, they will not be able to pay for food for their families and farmers will have no money for seed or fertilizer.

With so many people and companies clamouring for help, it is easy to understand why the WFP’s David Beasley invoked the Bible at a meeting in Geneva.

Facing so much competition, the WFP needs to bang the drum loudly because developing countries have few resources to deal with any downturns and the fallout from COVID-19 will cripple their fragile economies far worse than they will those of China or the West.

Still, with China and almost all the western economies facing steep costs and rising demands for assistance from their own citizens because of the lockdowns that have been imposed to try to halt the spread of COVID-19, it is difficult to see how an urgent appeal by the UN for $6.7 billion in food aid will be met.

As it is, it will be hard enough to raise the more modest $90 million in assistance that the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance says will be required to help the starving and hundreds of millions more people who already live in poverty and will be hungrier because of the pandemic.

In a transparent attempt to promote Canada’s chances for a non-permanent and veto-less seat on the UN Security Council in a vote that is only a few weeks away, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicized the need for international collaboration Thursday when he co-hosted an hour-long UN video conference.

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The UN had called the electronic gathering so that dozens of leaders could express support for mitigating the economic impacts of COVID-19.

The pandemic has given Trudeau a serious issue that he can try to make his own before the UN Security Council vote. But the prime minister’s brief speech did not offer any new money to help the UN.

Nor was there any prescription from Trudeau or anyone else for how the world might get from here to there. It was, rather, a rehash of familiar themes.

“For the global economy to recover, and for our domestic economies to bounce back, we need a global, coordinated plan,” Trudeau said.


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