Warning that the world could experience a 30-year setback in the fight against extreme poverty without intervention amid the coronavirus pandemic, evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization World Vision has launched a $350 million campaign to help some 72 million people globally with pastors as key players.
“[This is] the largest ever global response in our 70-year history — largest ever,” Edgar Sandoval, president of the development organization, told The Christian Post in a recent interview. “We are aiming to reach 72 million people, including 36 million children. To do this, we need to raise $350 million and that’s what everyone is working really hard to do — to raise the funds that we need to serve the most vulnerable.”
Extreme poverty, according to the World Bank, is living on less than $1.90 a day. The most recent available estimates from 2015 show that 10 percent of the world’s population or 734 million fall in that bracket. That figure is 36% lower than the 1.9 billion who were living in extreme poverty in 1990. With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Sandoval believes the world “could basically turn the clock back 30 years” on extreme poverty if nothing is done.
"This virus has the destructive power to potentially turn the clock back 30 years and all the progress that the world has made on eliminating extreme poverty,” Sandoval said. “It is urgent that we respond and that we respond with this level of scale.”
And pastors, said Sandoval, will serve as key players in helping them reach the world’s most vulnerable.
“We know that pastors and other faith leaders can be a real power, force, in stopping COVID-19 because they have the position of trust in their communities and they can,” he said, noting that they are crucial in helping to combat misinformation about the disease.
“Drawing from previous experience, this is not the first time that World Vision is partnering with pastors and other faith leaders. This is something we have done in every single pandemic that we faced — whether it is HIV and AIDS, or the Zika or Ebola outbreaks, this is the model that works,” he said.
He noted that during the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone in 2014, World Vision worked with pastors and faith leaders to help share safe but real practices and other ways for people to protect their families. Despite Sierra Leone being the epicenter of the Ebola crisis, not one of the 59,000 World Vision supported children and families died.
“Not one,” he said. “And that was only possible because of the great work that we did in partnership with the pastors and faith leaders.”
World Vision will be mobilizing their 37,000 staffers worldwide as well as their network of 400,000 pastors and other faith leaders in the areas where the organization operates along with some 220,000 community health workers.
In their three-pronged global response, the organization will focus on: promoting preventative measures to stop the spread of the virus, supporting health systems and the workers that operate in those health systems, and addressing all the secondary impacts of the virus on children and communities.
“Just in our first two months of [the pandemic] we’ve already equipped over 36,000 pastors and faith leaders to disseminate the first phase of our response,” Sandoval said.
The humanitarian organization, which has also been doing significant work stateside to assist vulnerable communities with essential supplies through a network of churches, is primed to help during the pandemic due to seven decades of experience in the WASH sector. WASH is the collective term for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.
“World Vision is the world’s largest non-governmental provider of clean water in the world," Sandoval said. "We reach a new person with clean water every 10 seconds. We reach a new school with clean water every 60 seconds and so we’ve learned and we’ve become a world leader in sanitation, hygiene and clean water practices and so that’s the expertise that has helped us and helped the communities that we serve fighting previous pandemics. And in this particular case, the WASH sector is fundamental, essential.”
The World Bank predicts that due to the coronavirus crisis as well as the oil price drop, the poor could suffer a disproportionate impact through job loss, loss of remittances, rising prices, and disruptions in services such as education and health care.
The ongoing crisis, says the international monetary agency, will erase almost all the progress made in the last five years.
“For the first time since 1998, poverty rates will go up as the global economy falls into recession and there is a sharp drop in GDP per capita,” the World Bank said in a recent report.
In 2020, the agency also estimates between 40 million to 60 million people will fall into extreme poverty as a result of the coronavirus. The global extreme poverty rate could also rise by 0.3 to 0.7 percentage points, to around 9% in 2020.
“These are very different times and the amount of uncertainty is quite high,” Sandoval said. World Vision has been focused on marching forward with its work through prayer, kindness and a bias for action.
“We believe this is our time. This is a time where every act of courage, love and belief in the name of Jesus does more than just stop the spread of fear, it replaces it with hope,” he said of the work of his organization.
He praised the faithfulness of World Vision’s donors and urged Americans to think about the vulnerable in the rest of the world as the U.S. looks to emerge from a period of high coronavirus deaths and infections.
“My prayer is that they will be on the minds of Americans especially now that the wealthy and the poor, the powerful and the weak, the north and the south, the east and the west, everyone is simultaneously vulnerable to this same imminent and present danger,” he said.