Becca Wertman

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The least developed countries are the most vulnerable to the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. These regions often have dense populations, highly inadequate health infrastructure, and lack basic hygiene supplies required to combat the spread of the virus.

In response, the World Health Organization (WHO) initiated a global fundraising effort to coordinate, gather, and distribute the necessary resources. The WHO, via the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA), has called on governments to donate $2 billion to the global “COVID-19 Emergency Plan.”

The contributions coming from governments are significant, with Japan pledging approximately $106 million and the EU $66 million. Others, including Australia and France, are providing sums in the $1 to $5 million range, in addition to bilateral contributions made to countries or organizations outside of the UN-WHO framework. Canada, for example, announced that it would be providing $159 million to COVID-19 related efforts, including to date $25 million to the UN campaign.

While noble in principle, this massive fundraising campaign is also risky. In past emergencies, funds meant to help desperate populations were diverted and abused, to the detriment of intended beneficiaries. In recent years, Oxfam was caught in a “sex for food” scandal in Haiti; Canadian aid was stolen by Al Qaeda-linked terrorists in Syria; and the World Food Programme has reported on its food aid being diverted to warring parties in Yemen, to name just a few.

These failures are the result of a chronic lack of oversight in the humanitarian aid process. Every year, governments provide hundreds of millions in taxpayer funds to international organizations, such as UN-OCHA and WHO, for countless projects in multiple countries and crises.