Six humanitarian lessons from the COVID-19 crisis

WFP registers people in need in Yemen, while respecting physical distancing. Credit: WFP/Mohammed Awadh

Choose public good over public bad

Multilateralism is the way forward, said Franck Bousquet, the World Bank’s Head of Fragility, Conflict and Violence. “2020 made us realize the importance of global public good and global public bad.” The Gates Foundation’s Norris acknowledged: “The multilateral system can be frustrating — we sit through interminable meetings, but now we’ve seen what the alternative looks like: people playing a zero-sum game, looking only at their bottom line. We have to find ways to cooperate, otherwise the human toll is just absolutely unbearable.” As Butch Meily, President of IdeaSpace and the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation and member of the Connecting Business initiative, put it: “We are stronger together.”

Give control to local organizations

Local civil society organization, Greencode, in Nigeria, delivers water to displaced people in Borno State, with support from the Nigeria Humanitarian Fund. Credit: OCHA/Eve Sabbagh
An evacuation centre in San Jose, in the Philippines where people fled after the Taal Volcano. Credit: OCHA/Pierre Peron

Donors, it’s time to re-evaluate risk

Most humanitarian funding still passes through layers of intermediaries before reaching national NGOs, with each intermediary taking a significant cut, stressed Jan Egeland. That’s why it took six months for some COVID-19 funding to reach people on the ground. But the pandemic catalysed more flexible, unearmarked funding among some donors, said Pascale Meige at the IFRC and Kim Eling, an Expert in the Cabinet of the European Commission’s Commissioner for Crisis Management. We are likely to see more of this, as the humanitarian system showed what it could deliver when funding is flexible.

Take time to build capacity, partnerships and preparedness

Partnerships need to be built before disasters occur. This view was shared by Ekeledo, Nicole Clifton at the UPS Foundation, and Salvatore Vicari, MSF’s Regional Humanitarian Affairs Advisor. This is vital in a pandemic where, as with Ebola, trust runs low when treatment facilities operate with high mortality rates and low visitor access.

Access and civilian protection remain among most urgent priorities for action

The pandemic has exacerbated the drivers of fragility, and lack of access or protection are as critical as ever, said Egeland, who had just returned from the Sudan-Ethiopia border, home to thousands of Tigrayans who had fled fighting.

Use technology for the benefit of all

Students follow a social studies on TV in Nairobi, Kenya. Credit: Brian Otiento/



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