Originally published on the Hamilton Spectator
The spread of COVID-19 in developing countries will have catastrophic global consequences. Ottawa’s current $50-million commitment to help developing countries deal with the pandemic is a step in the right direction. However, Canada must do more to assist developing countries to contain the spread of the virus.
To date, advanced economies such as the United States, Italy and France have been suffering the most from the virus. In Canada, more than 11,000 cases have been reported along with 153 deaths. However, the next wave of the outbreak is expected to hit developing countries and the impact will likely devastate their fragile economies and weak health care systems.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has stated its commitment to mobilize $1 trillion to help countries that are struggling with the economic impact of the coronavirus. The IMF and the World Bank are also working together on emergency programs to help member countries, particularly developing countries and emerging markets.
However, the current aid that has been made available for developing countries will not be sufficient. Since the outbreak began, more than $83 billion worth of capital had fled the emerging markets. According to the IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva, developing countries need at least $2.5 trillion in financial assistance to cope with the pandemic. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also asked world leaders to provide developing countries with $2 trillion to help them fight the outbreak.
Unlike advanced economies such as Canada, developing countries do not have the wherewithal to contain the virus. Even without the outbreak, many low-income countries relied on foreign aid to survive. Guterres argued that “there are dramatic humanitarian needs for these people even without this pandemic. But now, with COVID-19, we need to do everything possible to prevent the disease from coming to these areas.”
In sub-Saharan Africa, there is only about one doctor per 5,000 people, compared to one for every 300 in Europe. The region is also lacking basic medical tools such as ventilators, beds, and masks. In Mali, for example, there is only roughly one ventilator per one-million people.
Moreover, 41 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population is living in poverty. According to the Brookings Institute, the pandemic could reduce sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP by 2.1 percent. In a region where sustained economic growth is desperately needed to lift people out of abject poverty, the economic impact of the coronavirus will create serious economic and social problems.
The outbreak and its economic impact can also fuel political violence in the region. In 2019, political violence in sub-Saharan Africa killed over 2,000 people and displaced thousands more. In places like Kenya and South Africa, COVID-19 containment measures have already turned violent as police used excessive force to enforce lockdowns and curfews.
In the Middle East where some countries are still fighting wars, COVID-19 will escalate sectarian tensions and regional instability. For example, officials in Bahrain have accused Iran of “biological aggression.” The region’s youth unemployment rate is currently one of the highest in the world at 26.1 percent. Measures to contain the virus will likely increase this number and lead to civil unrest.
Many other countries in Asia and Latin America are also facing similar risks.
To date, the government of Canada has only earmarked $50 million to help poor countries deal with coronavirus. Some even suggested that now is not that time for Canada to use its resources to help people in other countries. In his tweet, Conservative leadership candidate Erin O-Toole said: “Foreign aid can wait. Right now, the Trudeau government should prioritize Canadians.”
But ensuring a stable international order is in Canada’s national interests. A major outbreak in developing countries can lead to global security issues such as terrorism, state violence, and refugee crises. All these problems will be detrimental to Canada’s national security.
Currently, Canada only spends about 0.28 percent of its GDP on international development assistance (ODA). Meanwhile, other OECD countries such as Norway and Ireland spend at least 0.7 percent of their GDPs on ODA. Norway has also pledged $30 million to help developing countries fight the coronavirus, despite having a GDP of a mere $402 billion. With a GDP of more than $1.6 trillion, Canada should spend at least $150 million.
The current pandemic requires Canada to step up and demonstrate its global leadership. Providing other countries with the financial resources to contain the spread of the virus will help protect Canadians now and in the future.
Luthfi Dhofier is a policy analyst based in Vancouver. He recently graduated from UBC’s Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs program.