IGP Stories

A pandemic in the age of inequality

Health Mass Displacement Middle East

Ghina Mohsen

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. “This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, at a media briefing. “So every sector and every individual must be involved in the fights.”

For the first time in a long time, everyone everywhere seems to be facing the same problem. For the first time in a long time, it doesn’t matter if you lived in a majority country or one of the world’s largest economies. The coronavirus spread so fast, even some of the most powerful countries are struggling to control the situation.

“We’re all in this together,” writes Tom Hanks on his social media pages after telling the world he tested positive for Covid-19. Hanks encouraged his fans to stay at home in order to flatten the curve. He was one of the first celebrities to catch the virus which as no surprise, made people realize that anyone could catch it.

The virus knows no race, social status, or wealth.

At the same time, this virus - that knows no race, social status, or wealth has also highlighted the true depths of racial, social and economic inequality worldwide. Orders to stay at home reveals the stark number of people who do not have roofs over their heads.

While most people are staying hydrated to boost their immunity, some don’t have clean water.

While most people are practising good hygiene to avoid catching the virus, some don’t have access to soap or sanitizer. While most people are getting tested and the treatment they need, some don’t have access to adequate health care.

In the Middle East, specifically Lebanon, no group will experience these stark inequalities more than refugees. According to UNHCR, Lebanon hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees per capita, with a government estimate of 1.5 million Syrian refugees. It also hosts an additional 18,500 refugees from Ethiopia, Iraq, Sudan, and other countries, as well as more than 200,000 Palestinian refugees under UNRWA’s mandate.

“All the basic things you need to prevent an outbreak are missing,” said Misty Buswell, the Middle East policy director for the International Rescue Committee, to Foreign Policy. Aid groups are trying to distribute soap, water, and information about the virus to refugees across the world, but, it is not enough for the 70 million displaced people.

Tents at the refugee camps in Lebanon are shared by 15 family members. Social distancing is not an option for these refugees. If one person from the camp gets infected, the entire camp could get infected within days. Isolation facilities have been built to safeguard Syrian refugees in Bekaa Valley. However, these are many other camps that have been ignored.

Yes, we are all dealing with the same virus, but we are not all in it together. At least not in the same way. In times like these, it is important to remember those who don’t have the means to deal with this pandemic.

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