Leadership in face of the international pandemic


In January, I gave a talk at the Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture — “Yemen: Holding Faith Amidst Despair.” I spoke about the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, and roughly 20 society members wrote to their congressman, U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, in most cases, asking for this help.

Explaining the congressman’s role as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, I told the group, “You have more power than you realize to help shape the role of the U.S. in the world.” I recounted Action Corps NYC’s surprising success in engaging with Mr. Engel on humanitarian matters.

Recently, I learned that Mr. Engel submitted a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and also to the head of the U.S. Agency of International Development, asking them to reconsider their suspension of aid to Yemen, in light of COVID-19. When I enquired about the letter, I learned the Riverdale constituents’ advocacy was a motivating force.

Although there is still much work to do to restore humanitarian aid to Yemen — home to the largest cholera outbreak anywhere in modern history, and a widespread food crisis — the efforts of a handful of constituents, working together, inspired action.

Now, as COVID-19 triggers public health and economic crises around the world, Rep. Engel has again shown leadership in the area of international human rights by signing on as co-sponsor of the Robust International Response to Pandemic Act (H.R. 6581). In light of the president’s recent decision to defund the World Health Organization in the face of COVID-19, this bill will allow the International Monetary Fund and other international financial institutions to confront this unprecedented global crisis — with no cost to U.S. taxpayers.

H.R. 6581 supports developing countries’ efforts to fight COVID-19 with access to emergency resources from the IMF, debt relief and protection of public health spending. If enacted, H.R. 6581 will help address global hunger, poverty and disease, without any additional cost to taxpayers in Riverdale, or anywhere else in the United States.

In the absence of Trump’s leadership on the international stage, Congressman Engel is well-positioned to ensure that the United States supports an effective global response to the pandemic. Specifically, he can help ensure that elements of this bill — including major issuance of IMF special drawing rights — become part of forthcoming COVID-19 legislation. Countries can exchange these IMF-issued special drawing rights for usable currency when they are in dire situations — without costing the United States anything.

The IMF last issued special drawing rights in 2009 in response to the global financial crisis and thereby helped ease the impact of the crisis on developing economies. Economists project that an issuance of 3 trillion special drawing rights will ensure that significant help can reach regions that face major economic and public health emergencies.

An issuance of special drawing rights for COVID-19 recovery has been endorsed by the IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva, the secretary-general of the United Nations, most G20 countries, The New York Times and the Financial Times.

The U.N. World Food Program estimates that, as a result of the pandemic, 265 million people could face starvation by the end of the year.

A report published by the United Nations University has found that a half-billion people could be pushed into poverty. Bold, large-scale international action is urgently needed.

Mr. Engel has a direct line to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who essentially will negotiate the legislation with treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin. As chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee with a long-standing bipartisan approach, Mr. Engel very well could play a decisive role in the survival of millions of people around the world by seeing the elements of this bill included in the next COVID-19 bill.

I thank Mr. Engel for his co-sponsorship of the Robust International Response to Pandemic Act. I hope he will remain strongly committed to international development and global security, and help ensure the enactment of the bill in Congress’ next COVID-19 deal.

This is the leadership our world needs now.

The author is the director of Action Corps, a non-partisan and volunteer-led humanitarian and advocacy organization.

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Isaac Evans-Frantz,