Lockdown in Oz can be tough, but in other places COVID plunges people into poverty

Global poverty will increase for the first time in thirty years, and 100 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty, says Matthew Maury, CEO of Tearfund.

“As I talk to Tearfund’s local Christian partners over the past weeks from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, I hear more about the many tentacles of COVID-19’s devastating impact on things like mental health care, food security, and education,” Maury tells Eternity.

“For example, the pandemic has meant that something close to one billion kids have been out of school globally. The long term impacts of this are yet to be fully understood – it is a tragedy unfolding in real time.”

He points out a gap that COVID has made even more significant:

“As Australians, we understand the impacts of lockdown. But unlike most of our regional neighbours, we are fortunate to live in a country that has government programs like JobKeeper/Seeker and social safety nets that low-income countries lack.”

This is a once in a generation – actually once in a century – humanitarian crisis which will need unprecedented responses

Maury’s agency has just renamed itself Tearfund, from TEAR Australia, to line up with the 10 other member countries in the Tearfund family in a global fight against poverty and injustice.

The COVID crisis has seen Australian Aid pivot, with programs like vaccines for countries in our region.

“But all of this has been done without any additional funding,” Maury point out. “Thus, every dollar used to respond to COVID-19 needs is being taken from other long term development investments. It’s effectively robbing Peter to pay Paul. We know from our own domestic context that to really respond to the huge needs we need to commit additional funding.  This is a once in a generation – actually once in a century – humanitarian crisis which will need unprecedented responses – and if we fail to step up we will feel the negative impacts across our region for years to come.”

Tearfund wants Australia to step up and contribute our fair share to:

  • Protect the world’s most vulnerable peoples – this includes preventing a second crisis of communicable disease outbreaks (malaria, ebola and polio) by increasing our investment in global health programs and funding equitable and timely access to a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Strengthen health systems by providing testing kits, PPE (personal protective equipment), information campaigns, and medical equipment. We also need to make sure health care is made accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities and other marginalised groups. Continue supporting ongoing health programs that are critical and cannot stop – including water projects and maternal and child health.
  • Kickstart economic recovery in our region. Australia should lead the safe, staged resumption of regional economic ties including increased support for Pacific workers in Australia.

To make this happen our nation needs to become much more generous.

“Australia has been on a shocking trajectory in terms of our financial commitments to addressing global poverty – continuous cuts to our Aid budget since 2013 has had devastating impacts on long term development goals,” says Maury.

“At this point, we have reached the lowest levels of generosity in the history of our Aid program. As such we have continued to tumble down the global rankings as compared to other nations.  While every nation is struggling to cope with the domestic challenges of COVID 19 – there is also a recognition that this crisis is not over until it is over for everyone.”

History shows us that it is times of great crisis which have often defined what it means to be a Christian

COVID-19 is an opportunity for Australia to reset its place in the world Maury believes. “As our foreign policy continues to struggle to find our place as a nation in the global political landscape –sandwiched between political interests of China and America –we have a unique opportunity this year with our federal budget to bring a better and different narrative to our regional neighbours: a narrative of compassion and hope. Surely this is something we can all support.”

Tearfund is a Christian agency. Maury explains that it is “driven by what the Bible says to Christians about how our lives should be shaped by compassion and generosity.  1 John 3:17 says ‘If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?’  It is a foundational message of what it means to be followers of Jesus – we are called to love our neighbours … and that means being willing to put our love into sacrificial action.

“History shows us that it is times of great crisis which have often defined what it means to be a Christian – and how the world views the church.  There are so many examples of when the church has run towards the pandemics and humanitarian crisis to put the love of Christ into tangible action. I am humbled by the ways I see this happening through Tearfund’s local Christian partners in the midst of COVID 19 – rather than retreating they are actively finding ways – at times with great personal risk – to respond to those on the margins who are facing poverty, hunger, and very desperate situations. ”

tear.org.au

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