USAID plans for global recovery from COVID-19

Patricia Dhaka is one of about 1.8 million people in Zimbabwe receiving USAID-funded food aid, part of efforts to address the dire humanitarian situation and food insecurity during the COVID-19 lockdown. / Tatenda Macheka, WFP
A man climbs a hill and looks toward the sunset. As part of a review called Over the Horizon, USAID conducted a data-driven and evidence-based analysis of the impacts of COVID-19. / Kelly Lynch, USAID
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is preparing to help international partners overcome economic and humanitarian hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

USAID Acting Deputy Administrator John Barsa on October 28 announced the agency’s Over the Horizon Strategic Review, a new initiative to plan for a world altered by COVID-19 by helping partner nations on their path to recovery and their journey to self-reliance.

“USAID’s unique on-the-ground expertise and assistance toolkit are more essential than ever,” the agency says in a report supporting the initiative. “To be as effective as possible, USAID must exercise leadership, equip itself to be agile, and prepare for heightened uncertainty.”

Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative, trained Nelia, a farmer in Mozambique, to help improve sustainable practices in her community. (Land O’Lakes Venture37 & Cine International Limited/USAID)

In remarks at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, Barsa said the pandemic has hit low- and middle-income nations especially hard and that USAID will fight not only the current health care crisis, but also the economic and humanitarian impacts that have come with it.

“Economic downturns and pandemics are always toughest on marginalized groups and tend to promote autocracy, corruption, and unrest,” Barsa said. “Going forward, we’ll continue to lead efforts to ensure the donor community is coordinated in its immediate and long-term response.”

More than 52 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported worldwide, leading to the deaths of more than 1.2 million people, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University and reported by the website MarketWatch. The United States is supporting research on vaccines and treatments to address the disease, including several potential vaccines currently in the final stages of testing.

But COVID-19 is more than a health care crisis, Barsa said, and requires a new way of thinking about the agency’s humanitarian and development work. The economic and humanitarian disaster is pushing tens of millions of people into poverty and hunger. Supply chains have been disrupted, immunizations and elections have been delayed, and many people are out of school or work.

“There’ll be billions of victims of this pandemic who never caught the virus,” Barsa said.

Patricia Dhaka is one of about 1.8 million people in Zimbabwe receiving USAID-funded food aid, part of efforts to address the dire humanitarian situation and food insecurity during the COVID-19 lockdown. /Tatenda Macheka, WFP

As part of the Over the Horizon initiative, USAID conducted a strategic review to determine how best to adapt to the volatile global context. The agency set three strategic objectives to guide its future work:

  • Building resilience in countries that are increasingly fragile due to COVID-19.
  • Responding to rising poverty, food insecurity and lost educational opportunities.
  • Strengthening strained public and private health systems and health security.

The blueprint also calls for focusing on hard-hit regions, such as Central America and East Africa, that could backslide on recent development gains.

USAID will also create a strategic foresight unit to anticipate future crises and ensure that technical approaches address emerging challenges.

With these and other new approaches, “USAID will play a vital role in helping the countries in which we work to rebuild and recover,” Barsa said.