(CN) – With the coronavirus pandemic spreading into the developing world, global agencies on Friday said the fight to contain the virus needs to be bolstered by debt relief, ceasefires and funneling emergency funds to the world’s poorest and most troubled countries.
In the past three months, the new coronavirus has emerged with ferocity in parts of Asia, Iran, Europe and North America, killing more than 58,000 people and infecting more than 1 million.
This week has been particularly tragic in Europe with more nations reporting extremely high daily death tolls. On Friday, the hardest-hit nations – Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and France – reported the deaths of nearly 3,000 more people, bringing Europe’s death toll to nearly 40,000.
But the virus is now spreading with increasing speed around the planet and threatening to unleash catastrophic human suffering and economic disaster in the developing world where medical systems are often rudimentary, economies fragile and populations are crammed in slums.
“The same way the virus hits vulnerable people with preexisting health conditions the hardest, this crisis hits vulnerable economies the hardest,” said Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, during an online news conference on Friday in conjunction with the World Health Organization.
WHO, the IMF and the World Bank also are calling for debt relief to avoid exacerbating problems caused by the pandemic.
Georgieva said the IMF has begun funneling emergency funds to help developing countries build up their health care systems and help their citizens survive what she said is a pandemic-caused recession “way worse than the global financial crisis.”
She said there has been a massive outflow of capital leaving developing countries due to the financial uncertainty engulfing the world.
The IMF says it is working to distribute up to $100 billion in emergency funds. Georgieva said more than 90 nations have asked for such aid. In all, she said the IMF has a “$1 trillion war chest” at its disposal.
“We are determined to use as much as necessary to protect the economy,” she said.
On late Thursday, the IMF announced Rwanda will receive $109 million in emergency funds. It was the first African nation to get financial help from the multilateral financial organization to handle the pandemic.
Although Rwanda has found only 84 confirmed coronavirus cases and reported no deaths, the Rwandan government imposed a lockdown to stop the virus spreading and these restrictions have helped spark a sharp rise in food prices. The IMF says the emergency funds can be used to support households and businesses and strengthen medical systems.
The World Food Program warned on Friday the pandemic could leave hundreds of millions of people struggling to find food and that the largest threat is in Africa.
“Generally, we are used to dealing with a supply-side shock, like a drought, or a demand-side shock like a recession – but here it is both … and at a global level,” said Arif Husain, the chief economist at WFP, according to Deutsche Welle, a German news agency.
The agency, which is the food assistance branch of the United Nations, says in a new report that “the economic consequences will be more devastating than the disease itself” for many poorer countries.
Georgieva said the IMF is deeply concerned the pandemic will hurt economic strides African nations have made in recent years.
“We are risking to lose this momentum and even worse, reverse it,” she said. “We want [nations] to have money for fighting the virus and for keeping people too in good shape.”
During the same news conference, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, called on rich nations to provide debt relief to poorer ones. He said debt relief is essential for some countries “to avoid economic collapse.”
“We are in a shared struggle to both protect lives and livelihoods,” Tedros said.
Georgieva said the IMF is working to help countries handle their debt. The IMF says it is increasing its capacity to ease debt service obligations of its poorest members through a relief trust.
“This is in my lifetime humanity’s darkest hour, a big threat to the whole world,” she said. “This is a crisis like no other. Never in the history of the IMF have we witnessed the world economy coming to a standstill.”
Also on Friday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres renewed a call for a global ceasefire in all ongoing conflicts, such as those in Syria, Libya and Yemen. He said combatants need to lay down their weapons and fight the pandemic instead.
“The worst is yet to come,” Guterres said. “The Covid-19 storm is now coming to all these theaters of conflict.”
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.