CARE warns: Short window for international community and donors to respond before it’s too late to COVID-19 pandemic in world’s most vulnerable countries

Window for preparing the world’s most vulnerable countries for the COVID-19 pandemic is quickly closing due to global travel restrictions

GENEVA, 19 March 2020 – As the world faces the unprecedented challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, the international aid organization CARE commits to adapting its programming and where possible scaling up its work. This will focus mainly on support for clean water and sanitation services in countries with weak infrastructure.

"At the moment, the global aid community is not prepared for a major outbreak a COVID-19 in our most precarious humanitarian crises. This is the reality we need to face and do what we can to support immediately. Now is the time to show solidarity with countries yet to be critically affected and that have insufficient health services to cope with an outbreak of COVID-19. We are calling on international donors to coordinate more closely and make their funding flexible so we can help the world’s most vulnerable people before it is too late," said Sally Austin, CARE International’s Head of Emergency Operations.

"In Iraq, many donors have continuously reduced their emergency funding. In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, CARE is one of only a few remaining aid organizations delivering water and sanitation services to camps and local communities We could scale this up if the health security situation permits, but there is simply not enough funding," said Wendy Barron, CARE Iraq’s Country Director.

Access problems for aid workers are worsening the already tense situation in many contexts. "For months we have been facing serious access issues in some of the humanitarian hotspots such as Yemen, Syria, or Iraq," said Austin. "If COVID-19 spreads in those hard-to-reach places, the consequences could be devastating. People here are already weakened by months and years of violence, lack of health services, and malnourishment."

To help contain the pandemic, personal hygiene such as hand washing, disinfecting surfaces, and using clean water to drink and cook is crucial. While populations in developed countries are in quarantine for the most part, and have tap water and soap to use, the situation looks vastly different in many parts of the world.

The COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t only pose a big threat to conflict hotspots as mentioned above. "We are also tremendously worried about big refugee camps such as in Bangladesh or Kenya and not least for local communities in regions that have suffered from chronic poverty and poor health, from Niger to Laos to Papua New Guinea," said CARE’s Sally Austin. "I’ve worked on many emergencies in the past 20 years but the scale and speed of the COVID-19 pandemic really is unprecedented. We need to be very cautious not to lose sight of the most vulnerable populations."

CARE is currently working in 23 countries to increase water and sanitation support, while 14 country teams are scaling up health and reproductive health services and a further 19 countries are working on needs such as income, shelter, and education. In other countries, programmes have been forced to close as national lockdowns are imposed and this is likely to have a devastating impact on the most vulnerable communities in the days and weeks to come.

"We have a limited period of time in which to act and continue programming before the situation gets really bad and COVID-19 related travel restrictions stop our work. We are already seeing this scenario playing out in many of the most vulnerable countries where we work – it is crucial we act now, before it is too late."


CARE has spokespeople available. For media inquiries, please contact:

Lama Alsafi | 613-228-5641

About CARE Canada

Founded in 1945 with the creation of the CARE Package®, CARE develops solutions alongside women and girls in developing countries to lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of poverty and out of crisis. CARE stands with women and girls around the world in economic empowerment. We bring women, girls, and their communities together to challenge inequality while facing issues like food insecurity, climate change, and emergency relief in times of crisis or disaster. CARE works in 100 countries around the world.

To learn more about CARE Canada, visit