The UN has estimated that almost 170 million people will require humanitarian assistance in 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating an already difficult situation for people in countries affected by crisis and conflict. With registered cases of Covid-19 on the rise, humanitarian actors face major challenges due to the restrictions imposed to block the spread of infection.
‘In many countries, humanitarian actors operate under very difficult circumstances, often putting their own safety at risk. They meet physical and bureaucratic obstacles while attempting to deliver humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable people. Norway raises this difficult situation in our dialogues with authorities and others,’ said Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide.
Providing safe, unhindered access for relief workers is a major challenge in countries such as Syria, Yemen and South Sudan. These countries share a range of hardships, from large humanitarian needs to inadequate protection of civilians, widespread food insecurity and extremely demanding conditions for those providing humanitarian assistance. Syria, Yemen and South Sudan are among the countries receiving the most Norwegian humanitarian support. The support to Syria amounts to NOK 900 million, while NOK 175 million has been allocated so far to humanitarian efforts in Yemen and NOK 160 million to South Sudan. The money is being channelled through the UN, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Norwegian humanitarian organisations.
‘It is crucial,’ the Foreign Minister said, ‘that we continue addressing challenges that will persist or increase as a result of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, such as providing protection against sexual and gender-based violence and education for vulnerable children. Hundreds of millions of children are now out of school. At least 370 million children have also lost the daily school meal that they and their families are dependent on.’
In countries where children are now going without school meals, the World Food Programme (WFP) is working with authorities and partners to find alternative ways of ensuring that children and their families receive the nutritious food they need.
Protection is a major priority for Norway’s humanitarian efforts. Norway will provide about NOK 325 million in support of efforts to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence in 2020, while protection of civilians from landmines and other explosives will receive approximately NOK 300 million.
‘In these demanding times, we greatly appreciate the close dialogue with our partners. In recent weeks I have had a number of talks with leaders of Norwegian and international humanitarian organisations. It is important for us to understand the challenges they face, so we can adjust Norway’s humanitarian assistance appropriately,’ Ms Eriksen Søreide said.
In addition to supporting efforts at country level, Norway supports thematic initiatives, and the work of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and UN organisations by providing unearmarked support that can be used where needs are greatest. Examples include NOK 300 million to WFP and NOK 380 million for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide humanitarian assistance and protection for refugees and internally displaced people.
An increased portion of the humanitarian budget is being held in reserve to enable quick response as needs arise during the year. Several countries may therefore receive additional support later in the year.
‘The high degree of flexibility and unearmarked funds gives our partners the ability to focus their efforts where the needs are most pressing. Transferring funds early in the year provides predictability and improves their ability to plan for the response,’ said Ms Eriksen Søreide.