Just don’t keep your distance

The corona crisis will hit the developing countries much harder than us, writes Joachim Nagel from the KfW Executive Board in a guest article. Failure to act could prove to be a boomerang: the deeper the global recession, the more an export nation like Germany is affected.

Social distancing is difficult in the favela Cidade de Deus in Rio de Janeiro.  Developing countries in particular need financial help due to the Corona crisis, demands Joachim Nagel from KfW.

Dhe Corona crisis demands a level of sacrifice from us that we have not known since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany; medically anyway, but also socially and economically. Unfortunately, no one can seriously predict how long the situation will last and, when it finally stops, what damage the pandemic will have left behind. “The situation is serious,” said the Chancellor in one of her speeches, swearing us to face tough times.

But despite all the imponderables and challenges that Germany is currently facing, we should not turn our backs on the world. The closed borders, which are appropriate and useful to contain the virus, must not also wall us in mentally and block our view of other countries and continents. For humanitarian reasons, but also out of self-interest.

High number of unreported cases

The virus is currently causing the biggest problems with the highest official case and casualty figures in the northern hemisphere, but that could change quickly. Countries like Brazil, in which there were only two officially registered cases at the beginning of March, now have more than 18,000 – and that with probably insufficient testing. The same applies to Chile and Ecuador; there, too, the number of cases has grown rapidly. The curve also rises in the Philippines and South Africa.

Almost no country is still free from Corona, not even in Africa, which initially seemed to have been spared. Whether Chad or Zambia, Kenya or Tanzania, cases are added almost every day. The WHO reported 10,000 confirmed cases in Africa a few days ago, and the number of unreported cases is likely to be high.

Diseases spread faster in poor neighborhoods

The consequences for people and the economy will be much more serious there than in Europe. If only because diseases – examples such as Ebola or Zika show – in the slums, where people live close together, usually spread much faster than in “middle class areas”. How should social distance be practiced in favelas, refugee camps and townships? How can people comply with hygiene rules when there is no clean water, no soap and no toilets?

Added to this are hunger or malnutrition, poor immune defenses due to previous illnesses such as HIV – more than half of all infected people live in sub-Saharan Africa – as well as crises and conflicts. In a country like Yemen, already shaken by a civil war that has been going on for more than four years, the spread of Corona would have devastating effects. Syria and Iraq, Lebanon or Jordan would also quickly be overwhelmed with a rapidly increasing number of infected people. The same applies to almost all countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Joachim Nagel, member of the KfW Executive Board, in front of a solar system in Zataari, Jordan.
Joachim Nagel, member of the KfW Executive Board, in front of a solar system in Zataari, Jordan. : Image: EPA

Even at normal times, health systems in developing countries are inadequately equipped; this is especially true during a pandemic. There are allegedly fewer ICU beds in Uganda than cabinet members; The Democratic Republic of the Congo, with roughly the same number of inhabitants as Germany, only has an estimated 300 intensive care beds (in this country there are around 28,000 and there are even more). It is estimated that Tanzania has less than two dozen ventilators; Jordan also only has about 200. And the nine-million city Dhaka in Bangladesh can currently build on just a handful of corona test centers. The lack of suitable equipment is palpable everywhere. Under such circumstances, the spread of Corona can hardly be stopped, the number of victims can only be guessed at.

Unfortunately, the more or less rigid shutdowns, as those responsible have now imposed almost everywhere in the world, only help to a limited extent. In India we just saw how hundreds of thousands of day laborers from the construction, gastronomy and transport industries lost their jobs overnight due to a three-week curfew. Because they can no longer earn any money, they made their way home, partly on foot, partly in completely overcrowded buses. Containing the virus will be difficult under these circumstances.