In March 2020, the Minister for International Development, Karina Gould, announced what she referred to as the first phase of Canada’s support to combat the global COVID-19 pandemic. The $159.5 million was largely allocated to multilateral institutions and included funds for vaccine development and for responding to requests from Canada’s development partner countries. On June 27, the government announced another $300 million allocated to global COVID-19 response. These funds come from existing unallocated pool(s) within Canada’s overall aid envelope.
While Canada has sent positive signals regarding its pandemic support, there will be a need for all countries, including Canada, to step up their aid contributions. On one hand, Canada has committed to “staying the course” with respect to existing development priorities, offering partners flexibility to adapt programs to some extent, recognizing that long term development priorities remain critical even as the world adjusts to the COVID-19 reality. At the same time, Canadian aid and other financial flows were already insufficient to meet global ambitions to achieve the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The United Nations Inter-Agency Task force on Financing for Sustainable Development’s 2020 annual report noted a number of very concerning trends affecting financing for global development. These included backsliding on aid spending in 2018 (though marginal increases were seen in 2019 in real terms), growing financial risks, high debt risk in developing countries even prior to the pandemic, increasing trade restrictions and the detrimental impacts of environmental shocks with losses from weather–related events between 2014 and 2018 increasing by 30% over the previous five years. Analysis of recent aid spending suggests that we will likely see a significant drop in overall levels by 2021 as governments shift resources toward domestic spending to respond to COVID-19.
While already strained funds are shrinking, the needs are growing. Many countries were already facing sustainable development crises in other forms before the pandemic. These crises have been exacerbated and are expected to continue to worsen as a result of COVID-19 and the secondary impacts of the virus. In Africa, these included locusts, droughts and foreign exchange losses. The situation for countries already facing food shortages will only deteriorate as measures to contain the pandemic unfold, including lockdowns and border closures. All over the world, COVID-19 will disproportionately affect women and girls by putting them more at risk of experiencing gender-based violence, child marriage, reduced access to SRHR services, loss of schooling, among other threats. In many countries, government pandemic response interventions including lockdowns and border closures, risk prompting a regression to isolationism, populism, and authoritarianism, creating environments ripe for repressive measures including human rights violations, closing civic space and the spread of disinformation. Many of these concerns were also raised in the recent report titled “A Global Crisis Requires a Global Response” by Hon Bob Rae, Special Envoy of Prime Minister on Humanitarian and Refugee Issues.
This reality raises at least three issues for the Government of Canada to consider in providing additional funding to a global COVID-19 response.
Existing resources are not going to be enough
As the world grapples with multiple crises from COVID-19, climate change and economic fallout, there is a real risk that existing resources will simply not be enough in the face of significant needs. African Ministers of Finance suggest that an additional $100 billion will be needed to weather the health crisis and its related economic impacts across the continent. Indeed, the short-term response to COVID-19 must be balanced with ongoing attention to existing crises.
To date, the funds committed are far from the $100 billion benchmark set by African Ministers of Finance. The European Union announced a 15 billion Euro package to support the COVID-19 response in early April – with no new money and funding re-oriented from existing programs and funds, followed by another 6.15 billion Euros in commitments during The Global Goal: Unite for our Future’ Summit. The Joint Statement by the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation’s Development Assistance Committee makes no mention of mounting a globally ambitious COVID-19 response matched by equally ambitious resources. Relative to the scale of the needs, these commitments are modest at best, and do not match the ambition needed to safeguard past development gains and avert the potential catastrophic global implications of COVID-19.
As citizens in high-income countries grapple with job losses, containment, and concerns over ever rising public debt, governments face a political reality in which allocating new and additional funding to supporting global efforts is unlikely to garner popular support. Yet, the reality is without concerted global effort, Canada and the world will see further waves of COVID-19 outbreaks. As the Government of Canada considers its next phase of its support to the pandemic, there is an urgent and pressing need for Canada to respond to the immediate and secondary impacts of COVID with new and additional funds. This investment would need to be paired with a plan to increase overall spending on Official Development Assistance. Already stretched resources can only be stretched so far, without an injection of the necessary funds that will contribute to a safer, healthier world and as such a safer, healthier Canada.
We cannot work in silos to solve this
The international development community has a long history of pre-occupation with the need to integrate humanitarian responses with development programming, what the sector has termed “the nexus” or new ways of working. The COVID-19 pandemic further reminds us of the importance of aligning and coordinating humanitarian, peace and development programming for a cohesive response, especially in the context of complex and protracted crises. The Government of Canada should ensure partner organizations have the ability to flexibly use development and humanitarian funds in their responses to address urgent and emerging community and individual needs. This will accelerate impact and improve organizations’ ability to reach the most vulnerable people by avoiding the administrative burden of project-by-project adjustments.
The crisis won’t be over when the pandemic is contained
Estimates show a growth in the amount of people living in extreme poverty globally as a result of the pandemic. While exact figures will depend on how much the global economy contracts, a modest five percent scenario puts more than 80 million people below the US$1.9/day poverty line relative to 2018 according to a recent research paper. Scenarios for a contraction at 10 percent put the global headcount at 180 million. These figures do not include the many people who will become “new poor” with incomes falling below US$3.20 and US$5.50 per day. Even once the virus has been contained, the crisis will not be over.
Signals from Canada’s Minister for International Development, including during a Town Hall she hosted with the Canadian Council for International Co-operation and other partners in early April, indicate that Canada will “stay the course” in terms of existing programs. While partners have been encouraged to adapt their programs according to the current context, the government of Canada is keeping an eye on long–term sustainable development priorities, including as part of COVID-19 recovery. This will be critical in the months ahead.
Shannon Kindornay is the Director of Research, Policy and Practice at the Canadian Council for International Co-operation
Erika Richter is the ODA Campaign Coordinator at the Canadian Council for International Co-operation