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Sustaining disaster aid in the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic

Natalia Jones, PhD, Roger Few, PhD, Iain Lake, PhD, Kelly Wooster, BA


The COVID-19 pandemic had a global reach and impact, introducing stay at home orders, social distancing, facemask wearing, and closing national and international borders. Yet, the need for international disaster aid as a result of previous disasters and ongoing crises remained present. Interviews with staff from United Kingdom aid agencies and their partner organizations examined how development and humanitarian activities changed during the first six months of the pandemic. Seven key themes were highlighted. The need to recognize individual country contexts and experiences when dealing with a pandemic was emphasized, together with appropriate strategic decisions around guidance and supporting staff and the value of learning from previous experiences. Restrictions limited agencies’ ability to monitor programs and ensure accountability effectively, but relationships between partners adjusted, with a move to a greater reliance on local partners and increased empowerment in these groups. Trust was vital to allow for the continuation of programs and services during the first months of the pandemic. Most programs continued but with significant adaptations. An enhanced use of communication technology was a key adaptation, though caveats remained around access. Concern around safeguarding and stigmatization of vulnerable groups was reported as an increasing issue in some contexts. The impact of COVID-19 restrictions on ongoing disaster aid was rapid and extensive, forcing aid agencies at different scales to work swiftly to try to ensure as little disruption as possible, and generating important lessons for both the ongoing and future crises.



COVID-19, disaster aid, aid agencies, low- and middle-income countries, strategy, partner relationships, program adaptation, communication technology

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