Lead Republican McCaul: The Global Fragility Act provides the tools to address long-term impacts of COVID 

By: House Foreign Affairs Lead Republican Michael McCaul (R-TX)

The Hill

August 4, 2020

Last December, the president signed the Global Fragility Act into law. I was pleased to join my friends, Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Chris Coons (D-Del.) in championing this important legislation. This bipartisan success story is already driving the U.S. government to take a more multi-faceted approach to stabilizing conflict-affected areas by addressing the root causes of fragility before conflict arises.

The enactment could not have come at a more important time. We are now dealing with a pandemic that has reached every corner of the world. The economic, political and physical ramifications of COVID-19 puts countries and regions that were already considered fragile at risk of further destabilization.

As governments focus on reversing the health and economic fallout in their home countries, the international community must also consider the indirect effects of COVID-19 around the world and prioritize investments in fragile countries. Without assistance, the virus will likely hurt the most vulnerable people most, including women, children and displaced people. Globally, almost 80 million people are displaced, over 80 percent of which live in lower- and middle-income countries – numbers that will likely rise due to the economic strain of COVID-19.

Refugee camps represent some of the most densely populated areas in the world. Access to adequate shelter, clean water and disinfectants is extremely limited in most camps, and proper social distancing is almost impossible, making them ripe for an outbreak that could result in massive loss of human life. In June, Cox Bazaar in Bangladesh reported its second COVID-19 death, the same day the surrounding community reported a record number of over 3,000 new cases and 45 deaths over 24 hours in the country. There are over 850,000 refugees living in Cox Bazaar and, in some places, more than 100,000 people live in one square mile. There are also confirmed cases in a camp in South Sudan, a country which has one of the world’s weakest health systems after years of conflict and crises. In other words, we are on the verge of a massive humanitarian crisis if the virus spreads as rapidly in refugee camps or in fragile states as it has done in some U.S. cities.

The global humanitarian system is already strained addressing existing humanitarian crises and there is great concern countries on a positive trajectory could devolve into chaos. Sudan’s civilian-led government was formed less than one year ago after the ouster of 30-year dictator Omar al-Bashir, and was already in economic crisis before the pandemic hit. Ethiopia’s first ever multi-party elections, scheduled for August, have been suspended due to COVID-19. Both of these countries challenges are compounded not by the largest locust outbreak in over 70 years, but also by COVID-19.

As this virus spreads chaos and fear, authoritarian regimes, terrorist groups, and hostile nation states will try to take advantage. In June, the UN Under Secretary for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix testified to the UN Security Council that terrorist groups are trying to capitalize on the pandemic to undermine and destabilize governments in the Sahel. The Chinese Communist Party, acting both as the arsonist and the firefighter, is leveraging this pandemic to project their power and influence through economic dependencies seeded by their Belt and Road Initiative. The U.S. must band with likeminded partners and democratic nations to push back against these growing threats.

The U.S. has been a leader in providing global health and development assistance for decades. So far, the U.S. has given $1.5 billion to help control the spread of this deadly disease and mitigate its impact, including support for refugees and for humanitarian assistance in fragile states. The State Department, USAID and the Pentagon must effectively implement the long-term planning required by the Global Fragility Act and prioritize our assistance to prevent further conflict and destabilization. We must also address the long-term impacts of COVID-19, including its impact on election preparedness, democratic governance, counter terrorism operations, vaccination campaigns, education systems, food security, and on supply chains. If we do not, the destabilization caused by COVID-19 will be exponentially more. I look forward to working with the administration and my colleagues in Congress to ensure that the goals of the Global Fragility Act are applied to this dynamic reality.

This op-ed originally appeared in The Hill on August 4, 2020.