Swift action needed to prevent COVID-19 related "catastrophe"

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated deep and often hidden inequalities across the world and could tip over into "catastrophe", according to a new report.

Author, Christian Aid, said an immediate and decisive recovery plan was needed to prevent a situation that will cause "untold human suffering, entrench inequalities and slow any recovery".

An emergency food distribution centre at the village of Kasaya in the Mwandi district of western Zambia in Africa.

The report, Building Back with Justice: Dismantling Inequalities after COVID-19, is backed by a diverse range of church leaders including Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly.

He said the pandemic provides a world-changing moment to assist marginalised groups and tackle the climate crisis.

Christian Aid has criticised richer countries in the global north for failing to relieve the debt burden on countries in the global south who were already crippled with debt repayments before the pandemic struck.

It is calling for "a comprehensive 12-month cancellation of debt principal and interest for 76 low-income countries".

Massive upheaval

The charity says that debt cancellation "could be one of the fastest ways to free up resources for some of the countries worst affected by the pandemic and its economic impacts".

Dr Fair said: "As we begin to re-imagine what our future might be like, we can join with the wider faith and civil society movement in urging our leaders to prioritise issues of justice, equality and care for creation.

"Let's hear voices from civil society: from theologians, philosophers, poets and artists, and most importantly, from people who have direct and lived experience of struggling against poverty, violence and injustice.

"Throughout history, massive upheavals have led to societies taking momentous decisions.

"Following the Second World War, for example, the Government established the welfare state and the NHS to aid national recovery.

"The upheaval of the pandemic brings the opportunity to make equally momentous decisions – such as cancelling debt for the poorest nations in our world as the report recommends."

Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair
Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair.

The report is calling on governments and institutions to strengthen essential services to improve healthcare, promote tax reform and a reduction in carbon emissions and support efforts to pool research, patents and technology so that all countries have the means to tackle COVID-19.

In a foreword to the report, the Venerable JW Kofi deGraft-Johnson, General Secretary, Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, said there was unprecedented awareness of the connectedness and interdependence of the world.

"Christian Aid has used its strength in expert analysis to ask the important questions and not shy away from proposing hard answers," he wrote.

"The information and proposals in this report will serve not just in strategic and policy direction change, but also to support a very needed prophetic voice to accompany those changes."