Pandemic slows aid ops, boosts prison access: Red Cross
The coronavirus crisis has created towering challenges for humanitarian operations worldwide, the Red Cross said Thursday, adding though that the pandemic had also spurred authorities to open more prisons to its inspections.
he coronavirus crisis has created towering challenges for humanitarian operations worldwide, the Red Cross said Thursday, adding though that the pandemic had also spurred authorities to open more prisons to its inspections.
Peter Maurer, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, told reporters in Geneva that his organisation had seen its operations reduced to 85 percent of previous capacity.
Considering the significant logistical challenges created by the pandemic, the lockdowns and other measures imposed to halt the spread of the virus, a slowdown of just 15 percent was “surprisingly good”, he said.
Lockdowns, border closures and flight cancellations have significantly complicated accessing areas in need.
“What is really increasingly complicated is that each and every country has active and passive restrictive measures in place, and not only countries but sub-entities of countries,” Maurer said.
Humanitarian groups he said, have been spending “an increasing amount of time and energy… clarifying what the (COVID-19) situation is” in different areas, and negotiating with various authorities and armed groups about what measures were needed before aid operations could go ahead.
his is slowing down aid operations at a time when, in a range of countries, the pandemic is compounding exploding needs driven by violence and economic crises.
“This is a new reality which COVID certainly imposes on us,” he said.
At the same time, donor countries are increasingly focusing on crises raging at home, and are more reticent to provide funds for international humanitarian work, casting once reliable resources into doubt, Maurer said, adding that the situation was “very difficult”.
– ‘Positive surprise’ –
But the pandemic has also had a positive effect on one important aspect of ICRC’s work, he said, pointing out that the organisation had gained access to a range of detention facilities that had previously been off limits.
ICRC inspects prisons and other places of detention around the world to help ensure that detainees are held in humane and dignified conditions.
“Worldwide, I would say that COVID has facilitated and created a broader understanding of the importance of ICRC’s visits,” Maurer said.
In Africa especially, “we have quite a list of countries where we gained or increased access to facilities,” he said, adding that access has also been increased in Latin America and Asia.
his, he explained, is linked to significant fears among authorities over rampant COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons, and the possibility of the virus spreading to surrounding communities.
“COVID has scared the hell out of some in the detention justice infrastructure,” Maurer said.
In the Ivory Coast for instance, ICRC helped set up a quarantine area outside the main prison in Abidjan and provided hygiene items to prisons across the country, including facilities it normally does not support.
Greater detention facility access “is maybe the only big positive surprise” of the pandemic, said Maurer.