In reviewing 2019, we remarked that, as the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (ROLAC), “we must draw on our ability to adapt and position ourselves to become even more agile and better prepared to provide core readiness and response support wherever and whenever it is needed in the decade to come.”
Little did we know that the new decade would begin with a global emergency that would affect every facet of life for the more than 650 million people in our region, an emergency that has tested, and will continue to test, OCHA ROLAC’s ability to adapt like nothing that has come before.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, the global COVID-19 pandemic found social, economic and humanitarian vulnerabilities that all but guaranteed that any such pandemic would swiftly evolve from an outside threat to monitor to a grim homegrown nightmare. At the end of 2020, Latin America and the Caribbean’s cumulative caseload accounted for more than a fifth of the global tally, while the regional death toll accounted for more than a quarter of all global deaths, despite accounting for under a tenth of the world’s population.
The growth in humanitarian needs in our region during 2020 can only be described as unprecedented, with the pandemic’s compounding effects on extant needs pushing millions deeper into vulnerability. Looking into 2021 and beyond, we fear the pandemic will continue to do so even with the prospect of hope on the horizon with ongoing vaccination campaigns.
Even with this unparalleled growth in needs and response, Latin America and the Caribbean must still deal with being the world’s second most disaster-prone region. The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season became the most active season in recorded history, with Eta and Iota battering Central America in November and creating serious needs for an estimated 8 million people living an area spanning south-eastern Mexico to western Panama.
To meet the challenges posed by the pandemic, the region’s protracted crises and the impacts of recurring climate phenomena, UN agencies, funds and programmes and humanitarian partners required a level of financial support for their plans that easily eclipsed requirements of years past, several times over.
Through the implementation of these plans, OCHA ROLAC and partners received a sobering glimpse of the potential escalation of humanitarian crises in our region; we saw 2020 begin with a global pandemic taking root in the region and end with the convergence of the painful challenges of COVID-19, scenarios in Central America featuring rising COVID-19 cases in stormbattered areas, renewed population movements from communities still plagued by weakened economies, chronic violence and limited access to increasingly strained services.
However, OCHA ROLAC also saw partners stay true to their humanitarian calling in the face of daunting circumstances, tracking about 15,000 activities covering COVID-19 response in virtually every corner of the region and hurricane response in countries in Central America severely affected by Eta and Iota. OCHA ROLAC continued to support UN Resident Coordinators in leading Humanitarian Country Teams (HCTs), providing traditional response support through nearly 50 missions across 15 countries and multiple response plans and appeals, while also adapting and providing virtual training sessions and simulations.
The scope and reach of the pandemic and its influence on traditional dynamics also allowed OCHA ROLAC to complement 17 years of hard-won relations by engaging new partnerships and strengthening existing connections. Through this outreach, OCHA ROLAC participated in newfound spaces at the highest levels of national and regional decision-making bodies.
As we progress towards a slow and arduous recovery, OCHA ROLAC must, now more than ever, continue to fulfill its core mandate of providing effective humanitarian coordination services to Member States and partners in the face of evolving challenges, concerns, partnerships and opportunities. Our mission would not be possible without our partners’ continued collaboration in preparedness and response, generous financial and material support and open and frank dialogue in helping OCHA ROLAC improve.
While it may be some time before our region returns to something close to a pre-pandemic state, OCHA ROLAC’s steadfast commitment to ensuring coherent emergency response in Latin America and the Caribbean remains resolutely in place to assist, and reduce the suffering of, its people in need.
We thank you for your continued support.
Head of Office (a.i.)
Regional Office for Latin America & the Caribbean