Plea to end COVID for all as virus grips poverty-stricken nations

We should be remembered as a country that stepped up its assistance to address the worst effect of this international crisis, writes Reverend Tim Costello for the Herald Sun.

Living in lockdown in Melbourne’s outer suburbs as cases of COVID-19 rise at home and across the developing world is particularly strange for me.

I spent my career at World Vision reporting from the world’s worst crises explaining what I was seeing to the Australian public.

Frustratingly, I can’t do that right now. Yet, this pandemic is humanity’s biggest test since World War Two. And it is now taking hold in the poorest nations.

Image: Yemeni workers use an excavator to dig graves for COVID-19 victims in Taez.

Confirmed cases in developing countries (excluding China) are increasing by about 70,000 a day, compared with around 30,000 in developed countries.

I’m anguished to think about the Rohingya refugees who have fled persecution. In the camps of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, up to 90,000 people live in one square kilometre of land and access to clean water and sanitation is woefully limited.

Just imagine living with this virus in war-torn Yemen or Syria.

Image: The Rohingya people from Myanmar have been fleeing persecution.

Closer to home, many think “the Pacific has been spared”. It hasn’t. While cases have been mercifully low, the economic impact of COVID-19 could result in an additional 1.2 million people in the Pacific and Timor-Leste being pushed into extreme poverty.

During his announcement of a new defence spending package this week, the Prime Minister said we were heading for “a post-COVID world that is poorer, more dangerous and more disorderly.”

I share his concerns and the need to ensure we have the right capabilities. But I am sure he would agree that the solution to a poorer world is not more missiles.

As we face COVID-19 and its implications, we should build bridges between nations and scale up Australia’s tools of peace and stability: international aid and diplomacy. That is how we avoid the worst-case scenario of war and conflict.

But in recent years, we have cut Australia’s aid program to historically low levels, when its power to reduce poverty, create prosperity and strengthen relationships is the perfect antidote to COVID-19 and its implications. For every $1 we spend on aid, we spend $9 on defence. That balance just isn’t right.

We should be remembered for a nation that stepped up its assistance to address the worst effect of this international crisis.

I would invite you to join the #EndCOVIDForAll campaign which will show how Australia can bring our people, our expertise and our values of generosity and compassion to bear on this pandemic.

Reverend Tim Costello AO is leading the #EndCOVIDForAll campaign to support Australian assistance to vulnerable nations facing COVID-19.

Visit endcovidforall.com

This article originally appeared in the Herald Sun as an Opinion Piece.

Main image: A Syrian refugee woman puts a face mask on a boy as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus, in al-Wazzani area, in southern Lebanon on March 14, 2020 [Ali Hashisho/Reuters]