Posted: 12 Jun. 2020 4 min. read

Providing Aid During Crisis

COVID-19’s Impact on UN programs and NGOs


Humanitarian missions carried out by the United Nations (UN) and various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have always operated under difficult conditions. From civil wars, to areas of extreme poverty, these challenges existed pre-COVID. The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on the work these organizations carry out, the way that they function, and on the people they help who are in greater need than ever. Climbing unemployment rates worldwide have led to an additional 130 million people at risk for food insecurity. Schools are shut down, keeping 386 million children from getting the meals on which they rely – often their only real source of nutrition each day. Travel restrictions are keeping humanitarian workers from reaching those in need, and the economic slowdown could have an impact on funding moving forward.

But at a time of so much uncertainty, new opportunities are presenting themselves. NGOs may be able to learn from the challenges presented by this pandemic and even set themselves up for greater success in the future. In order to do so, they need to look inward at the impact COVID-19 is having on their operations to determine how they can help more people when the next crisis occurs.

Wide-Ranging Impact

The COVID pandemic is testing the limits of these organizations as they work to reach those in need, while keeping staff and volunteers safe. Here are some of the areas where the biggest impacts are being felt today:

  • Refugee Camps – They are often high-density areas where people do not have access to proper ventilation and hygiene, presenting a very high risk of infection spreading fast – with little to no medical care available. 80% of refugees live in countries with already weak health systems in places like Lebanon and Uganda. With refugees being a transient population and dozens of countries closing their borders, they have nowhere to go for treatment if the virus hits. In many cases, it is not safe for organizations to send in humanitarian workers at the risk of spreading the virus. For example, in South Sudan, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 came from a UN official visiting from the Netherlands. This type of situation may result in distrust and violence against aid workers, damaging the reputation of these organizations.
  • Supply Chain Disruption – With borders closed and transportation unpredictable at best, the distribution of aid has been greatly hindered. For example, the food distribution process that would normally only take one day, may now take up to a week. This is because the distribution itself is moving slower to avoid increasing the risk of spreading COVID-19 through large gatherings of people. Distribution of aid is often organized through big logistic hubs including Copenhagen and Dubai. But with governments shutting down their borders and airports to travelers, and humanitarian supplies too, the supply chain which is normally efficiently organized through these logistic hubs becomes fragile when the aid and supplies are not already on-site. This can drive up prices. And supply of some products is running low. While there may have been a significant stockpile of soap or water, for example, there was not enough stocked up to service the entire world, all at once.
  • Other Crises Remain – COVID is not the only humanitarian issue today. In parts of Africa, new cases of Ebola are still being confirmed. War is creating dangerous living conditions in Yemen, and cyclones have wreaked havoc on Eastern India and Bangladesh. We cannot lose sight of the fact that while fighting COVID-19 is important, other issues still exist and require worldwide attention. An example of this is with the vaccine and treatments being developed for COVID. There has been an 80% drop in vaccine shipments for other diseases, and many other immunization projects have been disrupted. 117 million children could miss out on measles vaccinations as a result. The global community must stay focused on these pre-COVID humanitarian issues, so they don’t blow up into crises of their own.

Opportunities in the Next Normal

For NGOs, the impact of this pandemic is shedding light on their vulnerabilities and areas where improvement can be made. As the world moves beyond the coronavirus crisis and into the “next normal,” there are three key categories in which organizations may want to make changes in order to thrive.

  • Invest in Local Partners – Localization will be key in dealing with future crises. Right now, we are seeing aid workers unable to reach those in need because they are traveling from all over the world. By investing in local partners and governments, local aid workers will already be on the ground and able to carry out critical activities without any downtime. Localization will also create a more sustainable operation for those countries, regions and communities that cannot continuously rely on humanitarian aid.
  • Conduct Impact Assessments – Many things will change in the next normal, including the vulnerabilities of each country. It will be important for humanitarian organizations to conduct detailed impact assessments of local countries and their people to assess what these new challenges are. This includes the vulnerable demographics of women, refugees, indigenous communities, etc. This is the only way to properly align their aid strategies with actual conditions in each country.
  • Strong Reporting of Funds – Organizations will need to convince major donors to continue funding their programs once this outbreak slows down. And those funds should not only be pledged towards COVID response, but also underfunded programs or causes requiring support. Massive amounts of money have been poured into organizations fighting for those impacted by the virus. Strong reporting on how funds were spent and the resulting impacts will be necessary to convince donors to pledge more money to help with future initiatives. Tying back to the importance of local partners, it will be critical to report how those local partners operate and how effective their spending of funds is in mitigating risks and executing projects to secure future funding.

Thriving in the Next Normal

While the COVID-19 pandemic will certainly introduce new tools and procedures that the UN and NGOs adopt to remain successful, their overall goal remains the same. This crisis has highlighted the essential need of humanitarian organizations as many governments do not have the ability to cope with such a crisis and donor nations are often focused on the needs of their own people. Vulnerabilities in supply chains have been exposed and the ability to localize is a critical competency. Combined with the ability to show how funding is used and the outcomes it produces, all of these areas will need to be addressed so these groups can thrive in the next normal – which undoubtedly will include other new and unexpected crises.

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Key contact

Jacques Buith

Jacques Buith

Jacques is a senior partner at Deloitte with more than 29 years' experience in advising Global clients. Currently he serves as the Global Lead Partner for the United Nations and Managing Partner Risk Advisory with Deloitte in North South Europe. In his global role Jacques is a senior advisor on the strategy, vision, development and execution of transformational client, industry and priority market plans for the Risk Advisory practice. With more than 29 years at Deloitte in Strategy Risk & Reputation, Cyber and Regulatory advisory, Jacques has a wide experience in advisory and assessment roles in the fields of Information & Communication Technology, Financial & Operational Risk Management and the delivery of strategic and operational advice. During his distinguished career in professional services Jacques has advised multinational clients in Public Sector, Financial Services, Technology, Media, Telecom, Industrial Products and Services and Automotive. Next to that Jacques was the Project Advisory to the World Economic Forum on their ‘Risk & Responsibility in a Hyper connected World’ initiative for several years between 2011 and 2015.

Bas van Rossum

Bas van Rossum

Deloitte's Global Account Manager

Bas works as Deloitte's Global Account Manager for the United Nations, focusing on delivering high quality consultancy services assisting the United Nations in some of its biggest challenges at both headquarter and field operations around the world. Through his large network and strong relations with key executives, he and his sales team drive Deloitte's services across its services lines; consulting, risk advisory, financial advisory, tax, legal, audit and assurance. Bas also serves as an elected member of the Governing Board at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) - the youngest in its 150 years existence. He traveled to over 60 countries to advocate for the interests of young people, lead high diplomatic engagements and speaks regularly at conferences around the world. Bas is a honoree on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, recognizing young innovators and disruptions who are driving change and re-inventing their industries. He has a MSc in Business Administration from the University of Amsterdam.