Cape Town – The United Nations in South Africa has launched a $136 million (R2.5 billion) emergency appeal to assist up to 10 million people in vulnerable communities facing various risks caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in the areas of health, water and sanitation, food security and gender-based violence, among others.
The head of the UN in South Africa and resident co-ordinator, Nardos Bekele-Thomas, said on Friday: “The United Nations is in full support of the government’s commitment to a whole-of-society and a whole-of-government approach.”
She added she was encouraged by President Cyril Ramaphosa's consistent message that the post-Covid-19 era will usher in a different model of doing development, focusing more on inclusiveness, guided by the motto of "leaving no one behind".
“We are particularly grateful for the focus on refugees and migrants,” said Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, who was one of the three ministers who spoke at the launch.
Mkhize noted his department’s key challenges included limited supplies of protective gear, swabs and test kits.
“The appeal complements the government of South Africa’s strategy, which includes intensifying the public health response to slow down the rate of transmission and reducing infections,” he said.
The public health emergency caused by Covid-19 is unfolding into suffering that is affecting the country’s marginalised and vulnerable communities, said the UN.
The UN’s appeal is expected to benefit 9.9 million of the 33.3 million people in South Africa who need emergency assistance. It is also believed that the pandemic is highly likely to worsen existing gender inequalities and increase risks of gender-based violence.
Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu acknowledged South Africa “needs co-operation and solidarity with like-minded and progressive global development partners like the UN as the pandemic cuts into the heart of our common humanity”.
The importance of solidarity was also highlighted by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, who noted this pandemic needs not only united action but also solidarity and that South Africa had been a beneficiary of solidarity in the past.
The UN added that despite South Africa being an upper-middle-income country, nearly half of all households in South Africa struggle to meet their basic food needs. Informal labourers and small-scale farmers, especially women, who do not have access to social grants, are hardest hit.
The latest quarterly labour force survey for 2019 indicates that one in five workers, or about 3 million people, work in the informal sector and would require assistance to compensate for income losses from movement restrictions.
Furthermore, there is also strong concern for people with compromised immune systems, including 2.5 million people living with HIV who are not on antiretroviral treatment. South Africa has the largest number of people living with HIV globally (7.5 million), including 1.5 million who are aged 50 and above.
The effects of the coronavirus outbreak are significant, particularly for many of the communities and for the 273 400 refugees and asylum seekers hosted in South Africa.
In addition, the country has more than 2 700 informal settlements with an estimated 6.8 million people in overcrowded conditions with limited access to water and sanitation. Weeks of lockdown mean that vulnerable members of these communities are struggling to make ends meet.
More than 13 million children have been affected by the closure of schools, with 9 million children who normally benefit from the government school feeding programme not having access to a nutritious meal.
School closures may exacerbate inequalities, as some vulnerable families may not send their children (particularly adolescent girls) back to school. In addition, school health programmes have been disrupted and some children are more vulnerable to abuse and violence outside the learning environment.
While distance-learning mechanisms are being attempted, they do not reach all children and youth, thus disadvantaging those without internet access or adult supervision.
Meanwhile, several members of the diplomatic corps delivered messages in support of the appeal and commended the UN’s focus on communities that have been hit hardest by the pandemic, the UN added.
In her message, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the executive director of UN Women, paid tribute to the UN’s work in helping the most vulnerable.
Leaders from the South African National Aids Council, the Global Compact Network South Africa, C-19 People’s Coalition, the Solidarity Fund and the Blended Capital Group also offered their messages in support of the emergency appeal.