Open letter on the development cooperation aspects of COVID-19

The development studies community of scholars in the Netherlands write to Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, asking to consider the development cooperation aspects of COVID-19.

Dear Minister Kaag,

the COVID-19 crisis has exposed the weaknesses of global inequality. If the response to address the spread of the virus is only as good as the weakest link in the chain, then the vulnerability of the poor to the sickness and their lack of access to health care world-wide will be the Achilles heel of the entire system. The UN Secretary General has highlighted this point repeatedly in his call for global solidarity. The majority of the poor live close together, have poorer health, low access to water, sanitation and health services, no stability of income and are therefore more vulnerable to the pandemic. Their very vulnerability is a risk to their health and that of others in all societies, including the Netherlands. The pandemic may also have indirect effects on peace and security with regional ripple effects. If the pandemic is not also addressed in poorer communities and in poorer countries, it is likely to affect global travel, trade and investment for months, if not years to come. So is it also in our interest to promote a global COVID-19 resistant development strategy.

At the same time, the spread of this virus is deepening inequalities and insecurities in societies. “We fear that 2020 will be a lost year in global development”, says Paul Richard Fife of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation. Inequalities are being exacerbated as daily wage earners globally are either unable to earn an income and hence access basic necessities when they are forced to stay at home, or are forced to migrate on foot to their villages in the hope that they can live off the generosity of their families. Their survival is at stake. Migrants, displaced people and refugees who already live in very difficult circumstances are also extremely exposed to the pandemic. Humanitarian challenges are being exacerbated. The elderly are dying away from loved ones in hospitals and the lock-down has exacerbated domestic abuse. Women provide 70% of health care and are in the fore-front of treatment but also exposure to the disease. Hospitals have become so efficient in terms of managing their business (i.e. with limited stocks, over reliance on few suppliers and just in time supply chains) that there is limited redundancy (i.e. back-up systems that kick in when systems fail). Such redundancy is essential for adaptive governance to cope with growing social and ecological disasters.

Importantly, this is not just a developing country problem – the COVID-19 outbreak is also affecting the poorest in the US the hardest as Human Rights Watch has pointed out. About 27.5 million people in the US did not have access to health care insurance in the US in 2019. Moreover, while it might appear that we are all fighting the same virus, it appears that we are competing with each other for access to medical supplies; that countries are retreating behind national boundaries and borders; and that global cooperation, solidarity and the multilateral system is at risk. Precisely at such times we need intensive cooperation and mutual learning going beyond simple transfers of ideas from the North to the South. Precisely at such times, we need to reflect on our development model and our focus on increasing growth at the cost of the environment and human health. And yet, the global community has never been so rich with world GDP reaching USD trillion dollars in 2019. The top continues to get richer and inequality increases. As Piketty recently said on our television – inequality is a political choice. Although we all depend on nature’s contributions to humans – a stable climate, clean air, fertile soil and water – 70% of the world’s poor are directly dependent on the direct and indirect benefits that nature provides for their survival; damage to nature has immediate existential risks for them and makes the poor even poorer. And COVID-19 has just added another huge burden on them.

Against this background, we ask you to

  • initiate a discussion within the Netherlands Cabinet on global health challenges;
  • initiate a working group of development cooperation ministers;
  • see how rich countries, rich industries and rich people worldwide can mutually engage with partners in the global South to develop a short-term policy to provide relief to the poor, migrants and refugees world-wide;
  • assess how lessons learnt can lead to a more long-term strategy on redefining development to reduce social and environmental externalities, and reducing inequality between states and within states as required by Goal 10 of the Sustainable Development Goals;
  • communicate the importance of mobilizing action for global health and a new development agenda to the Dutch public, and
  • actively engage the development studies community to support you in finding meaningful and systemic solutions for this and related global crises.

Yours sincerely,

Prof. Joyeeta Gupta (GID, University of Amsterdam), Prof. Maarten Bavinck (GID, University
of Amsterdam), Dr Nicky Pouw (GID, University of Amsterdam), Dr Esther Miedema (GID,
University of Amsterdam), Dr Yves van Leynseele (GID, University of Amsterdam), Dr
Courtney Vegelin (GID, University of Amsterdam), Dr Edith van Ewijk (GID, University of
Amsterdam), Dr Hebe Verrest (GID, University of Amsterdam), Dr Michaela Hordijk (GID,
University of Amsterdam), Dr Mieke Lopes Cardozo (GID, University of Amsterdam), Dr
Crelis Rammelt (GID, University of Amsterdam), Dr Joeri Scholtens (GID, University of
Amsterdam), Dr Mirjam Ros-Tonen (GID, University of Amsterdam), Prof. Isa Baud (GID,
University of Amsterdam), Sofie te Wierik (on behalf of 60 PhD candidates at GID,
University of Amsterdam), Prof. Anita Hardon (University of Amsterdam), Prof. Barbara
Hoogenboom (CEDLA, University of Amsterdam), Dr Fabio de Castro (CEDLA, University of
Amsterdam), Dr Kees Biekart (ISS, Erasmus University), Prof. Arjun Bedi (ISS, Erasmus
University), Kees van Rooijen (on behalf of the IHS staff, Erasmus University), Prof.
Margreet Zwarteveen (IHE Delft Institute for Water Education), Dr Gabriela Cuadrado
Quesado (IHE Delft Institute for Water Education), Dr Emanuele Fantini (IHE Delft Institute
for Water Education ), Dr Piet Lens (IHE Delft Institute for Water Education), Rozemarijn
ter Horst (IHE Delft Institute for Water Education), Dr Jeltsje Kemerink (IHE Delft Institute
for Water Education), Dr Jennifer Sehring (IHE Delft Institute for Water Education), Dr
Irene Leonardelli (IHE Delft Institute for Water Education), Dr Susanne Schmeier (IHE Delft
Institute for Water Education), Dr Hamad Jamali (IHE Delft Institute for Water Education),
Dr Emanuele Fantini (IHE Delft Institute for Water Education), Prof. Geske Dijkstra
(Erasmus University), Prof. Graham Jewitt (IHE Delft Institute for Water Education), Dr
Jaap Evers (IHE Delft Institute for Water Education), Natalia Reyes Tejadi (IHE Delft
Institute for Water Education), Dr Lau Schulpen (CIDIN, Radboud University), Dr Maggi
W.H. Leung (Utrecht University), Prof. Wil Hout (ISS, Erasmus University), Prof. J.B.
Opschoor (ISS, Erasmus University), Prof. Peter Knorringa (ISS, Erasmus University), Dr
Oane Visser (ISS, Erasmus University), Dr Antony Otieno Ongáyo (ISS, Erasmus University),
Dr Andrew Fischer (ISS, Erasmus University), Prof. S Mansoob Murshed (ISS, Erasmus
University), Prof. Ton Dietz (African Studies Centre, Leiden University), Dr Roanne Vorst
(ISS, Erasmus University), Dr Silke Heumann (ISS, Erasmus University), Dr Arpita Bisht
(ISS, Erasmus University), Dr Ajay Bailey (IDS, Utrecht University), Prof. Annelies Zoomers
(IDS, Utrecht University), Prof. Birgit Meyer (Utrecht University), Prof. Bram Buscher
(Wageningen University), Prof. Rutgerd Boelens (Wageningen University), Dr Dik Roth
(Wageningen University), Han Aarts (MUNDO, Maastricht University), Prof. Marja
Spierenburg (Leiden University), Prof. Pieter van Beukering (IVM, Vrije Universiteit
Amsterdam), Dr Onno Kuik (IVM, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), Frans Oosterhuis (IVM,
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), Prof. Philipp Pattberg (IVM, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam),
Prof. Nick van der Giesen (Technical University Delft), Dr Saskia Hollander (The Broker),
Peter Heintze (Coordinator KUNO), Corinne Lamain (NWO-WOTRO), Prof. Stefan
Uhlenbrook (IHE Delft Institute for Water Education & IWMI Colombo, Sri Lanka),
Agnieszka Kazimierczuk (African Studies Centre, Leiden University), Dr Hubert Gijzen
(UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa), Dr Lee Pleger (ISS, Erasmus University),
Prof. Valentina Mazzucato (GDS, Maastricht University), Dr Lauren Wagner (GDS,
Maastricht University), Dr Wiebe Nauta (GDS, Maastricht University), Dr Elsje Fourie
(FASoS, Maastricht University), Gladys Akom Ankobrey (GDS, Maastricht University), Dr
Bilisuma Dito (FASoS, Maastricht University), Onallia Osei (GDS, Maastricht University), Dr
Karlijn Haagsman (FASoS, Maastricht University), Sarah Anschütz (GDS, Maastricht
University), Dr Christoph Raush (UCM, Maastricht University), Imogen Liu (FASoS,
Maastricht University), Dr Ilias Alami (FASoS, Maastricht University), Andrea Wojcik
(FASoS, Maastricht University), Dr Adam Dixon (GDS, Maastricht University), Laura Ogden
(GDS, Maastricht University), Dr John Nott (FASoS, Maastricht University), Dr Konjit Gudeta
(FASoS, Maastricht University), and the MA GDS 2019-2020 Student Cohort (37 students).

Featured image: Photo by Jordan Opel on Unsplash


Emanuele Fantini

Emanuele (@emanufanti) is senior lecturer and researcher at the Water Governance Chair group of IHE Delft. He works on water, politics and development in Ethiopia; media, science and water conflicts in the Nile basin; visual research methods. Emanuele hosts the podcasts "The sources of the Nile" https://nilewaterlab.org/podcast-the-sources-of-the-nile/ and Water Alternatives Podcast http://www.water-alternatives.org/index.php/wat

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