Distrust of public institutions, health inequities could push more countries into conflict, UN political affairs chief warns

Distrust of public institutions, health inequities could push more countries into conflict, UN political affairs chief warns

The erosion of trust in public institutions, unequal access to health care, and tensions around delicate peace negotiations, are among the risks amplified by COVID-19, which if not mitigated, could push more countries into violence, the UN political affairs chief told the Security Council.

Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, said the breakdown in public trust, while a problem before the pandemic, now has the potential to drive instability in settings where people perceive authorities have not addressed COVID-19 effectively or have not been transparent about its impact.

She said reports of corruption related to COVID-19 responses are only accentuating this trend.

So too is the aggravation of human rights challenges, she said, in particular, gender-based violence, which has surged as coronavirus lockdowns became necessary. Many of the economic costs are disproportionately affecting women, who are over-represented in sectors hardest hit by shutdowns and layoffs.

There are also growing limits being placed on the media, civic space and freedom of expression, with social medial platforms meanwhile being used to spread disinformation about the virus.

Apprehension around decisions to postpone elections – or proceed with a vote – in the COVID-19 era pose still other risks to political and peace processes, Ms. DiCarlo said.

Counter-intuitively, there has not been a significant change in the dynamics of armed conflicts as a result of the pandemic. As seen in the Sahel, the risk remains that parties use the uncertainty created by the pandemic to their advantage.

The pandemic could derail fragile peace processes and conflict prevention initiatives, as travel restrictions force efforts to move online.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, said countries where peacekeepers are deployed, suffer from weak health and governance structures, and a lack of the resources required to combat the pandemic.

In these environments, he said the effects of COVID-19 can undermine governance and local institutions and prompt a return to inter-communal conflict. The combined effects also negatively impact mandate implementation.

“Helping to prevent and contain the spread of the virus where peacekeeping operations are deployed is, therefore, not only a moral imperative, but also a political priority as well as an operational requirement”, he assured.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock said the full extent of COVID-19 in fragile countries is unknown, as testing levels are low, and in some places, people are reluctant to seek help if they fall sick.

“What is now sure – beyond reasonable doubt – is that the indirect consequences of the pandemic in the most fragile countries are dwarfing the impact of the virus itself”, he said.

Beyond the economy, the biggest indirect effect is on public services, especially health and education. “Any reduction in the availability of very basic health services makes a big difference in these countries”, he said.

Vaccination campaigns have been hampered in 45 countries already facing humanitarian or refugee crises, placing 80 million children under age one at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases. More than half a billion children in fragile contexts have been affected by school closures.

Original source: UN News