The head of the world's largest humanitarian network is urging governments to start thinking about tackling the economic damage from the coronavirus with something like the Marshall Plan used by the United States to help countries recover after World War II.
Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which operates in 192 countries, warned Friday of the risk of social unrest, hunger and starvation as a result of the pandemic.
"We need to plan together with institutions a social response before it is too late," he said.
Rocca said during a video news conference that the lack of any source of income for millions of people because of lockdowns was "a huge concern for us, both in Western countries as well as in the countries in fragile and protracted crisis."
Without a major economic recovery program, he said, people will abandon their communities if "their only option is hunger and starvation," which will increase migration.
Rocca, who also heads Italy's Red Cross, said this "should give a wake-up a call to the international community."
Postwar help for Western Europe
The Marshall Plan was an American initiative approved in 1948 to help Western Europe recover after the defeat of Nazi Germany. The U.S. transferred $12 billion to West European countries to spur their economic recovery, which according to one estimate would be equivalent to over $128 billion in 2020.
Rocca said he thought a similar economic initiative "is an imperative on which the governments should start to think."
He cited a number of problems as the world deals with COVID-19: people not respecting lockdowns, including those needing to find food; loss of income for those put out of work; a lack of safe water, adequate sanitation and reliable energy for homes; and insufficient means with which to communicate and obtain information.
Rocca also cited the challenges of getting medical supplies and equipment to countries in need, and sanctions creating additional barriers to the flow of humanitarian aid.
He said every decision political leaders make must be "an informed decision" taken after consulting with scientists, and they should strike "the balance of the economy and the human rights, to protect the health and life of the communities."
Calling for global unity, Rocca said Red Cross and Red Crescent teams were supporting the most vulnerable communities affected by the crisis.
Work in Syria
Citing Syria, he said Red Crescent volunteers in protective gear were distributing food door to door and operating ambulances around the clock. Before COVID-19, he said, more than 6 million Syrians were at risk of food insecurity, "and now, due to the economic crisis, the number could rise to between 9 [million] and 10 million."
In Bangladesh, where more than 1 million Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar have swelled the population, Rocca said volunteer teams had set up water distribution points and were going home to home to teach more than 372,000 people handwashing skills. In Venezuela, teams have worked to provide more than 40 tons of humanitarian aid, including medical supplies and hygiene items, to those most in need, he said.
Rocca warned that in 43 out of 55 African countries, there are just 5,000 intensive care beds, which means five beds for every million people, compared with Europe, where there are 4,000 beds for every million people.
"We are only starting to see glimpses of the impact COVID-19 might have on the African continent," he said.