Tag Archives: COVID19

In Africa schools are closed, but learning goes on

Countries use radio, TV and internet to keep students engaged

By Franck Kuwonu

As students in Kenya were waiting for the government to announce when schools would re-

Education

Igihozo, 11, listens to a lesson on a radio after his school was closed in Rwanda. UNICEF/UNI319836/Kanobana

open from a longer than usual April school holidays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they were asked to stay home for an additional four-week period.

The situation is the same in many other countries. Across the African continent, an estimated 297 million students have been affected by school closures as a result of the pandemic.

Globally, school closures due to COVID-19 have affected 1.29 billion students in 186 countries, which is 73.8 per cent of the world’s student population, according to the UN Education Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“Never before have we witnessed educational disruption on such a scale,” UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said recently.

Despite the challenges of limited access to internet connectivity, electricity or computers, countries are keeping learning active through various remote learning  methods such as radio and television programmes, on addition to online platforms and social media.

Online learning

In Egypt, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Morocco, Rwanda, South Africa and others, a number of schools and universities have moved some of their programmes to  online platforms and have encouraged students to get connected.

The University of Ghana, for example, has trained its lecturers on how to put together online classes, while negotiating with telecom companies to grant free internet data, usually capped at 5G, for the students.

Victoria, 21, one of the millions of young people in Ghana impacted by school closures said: “I stay connected, getting myself busy with online lectures, having interactions with friends.

Victoria told UNICEF that she avoids crowded places and prefers to stay safe at home. “I also try to learn new things I haven’t done before – getting used to cooking, reading more books. Sometimes dancing if I have to, just to take off the stress and not feel very bored at home.”

In Nigeria and Morocco, the governments have created online repositories with education materials for teachers and parents, while the Rwanda education board has set up a dedicated website to support learning and provide educational content, as well as assessment tests. The website also enables teachers and parents to communicate.

However, due to low internet connection, expensive data and an urban-rural digital divide, online classes alone are unable to cater for all students. This creates the risk of leaving millions of students in Africa behind. In sub-Saharan Africa, UNESCO says 89 per cent of learners do not have access to household computers and 82 per cent lack internet access.

At the launch in March of the Global Coalition for Education, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “We are working together to find a way to make sure that children everywhere can continue their education, with special care for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.”

The UNESCO and UNICEF-led initiative of international organizations, civil society and private sector partners aims to ensure that learning continues. It will help countries mobilize resources and implement innovative and context-appropriate solutions to provide learning remotely by leveraging on hi-tech, low-tech and no-tech approaches.

Radio schools

Countries are increasingly also promoting remote learning through traditional mass communication tools such as radio, and sometimes television. Radio’s wide reach and relatively low need for technical know-how makes its deployment faster and easier than scaling up internet connections.

With assistance from UN agencies such as UNICEF, UNESCO, the World Bank and others, countries are quickly scaling up their radio and TV programmes or launching new initiatives.

For example, Ghana’s public broadcasters have rekindled dormant programmes on tv and radio for high school students. Similar programmes are running in Madagascar and Côte d’Ivoire.
In Senegal, the government’s efforts are encapsulated in a catchy slogan: “Ecole fermée, mais cahiers ouverts,” meaning “school is closed but learning goes on”.

Radio Okapi, an UN-sponsored radio network in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), launched Okapi Ecole (Okapi School) – a twice-daily remote learning programme for primary, secondary and vocational school students.

In Rwanda, UNICEF is working with the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency to produce and air nationwide basic literacy and numeracy classes. UNICEF identified more than 100 radio scripts from around the world focusing on basic literacy and numeracy that could be adapted to align with Rwanda’s school curriculum. The same support is being provided to Malawi.

In Côte d’Ivoire, UNICEF has been working with the Ministry of Education on a ‘school at home’ initiative that includes taping lessons to be aired on national TV.

Looking beyond COVID-19, the Association of African Universities (AAU) sees an opportunity for local universities to explore expanding “technology-based platforms for teaching, learning and research.” Still, challenges such as network infrastructure, data prices and access to adequate digital equipment will need to be addressed for this to be a continent-wide success.

For more information on COVID-19, visit www.un.org/coronavirus

Africa Renewal

WHO Donates COVID-19 Supplies to MOH within the framework of the UN joint effort aimed at supporting government to scale up preparedness and response actions.

23 May 2020, Since Zambia reported its first case of COVID 19 on 18 March 2020, cases have been on the upswing. During recent weeks confirmed cases rose from 103 on 1 May 2020 to 920 by May 22 with a total number of seven deaths. Zambia has also seen an increase of cases of COVID-19 in the northern town of Nakonde due to a porous border. More than 80 health workers have been affected by the virus countrywide.

The WHO Representative, Dr. Nathan Bakyaita handing over the donated items to the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Kennedy Malama (right)

On 22 May 2020, the World Health Organization Country Office donated Personal Protective Equipment, emergency equipment for the Emergency Operations Centre and laboratory supplies worth more than seven hundred thousand United States Dollars to the Ministry of Health. This donation has been made possible through the UK Department for International Development (DFID) funded Emergency Preparedness, Surveillance and Outbreak Response project and financial support from WHO Headquarters and the WHO Regional Office for Africa. The WHO Representative, Dr. Nathan Bakyaita said that WHO working jointly with other United Nations agencies in Zambia was in a race against time to help the country respond and prevent further spread of the virus. “We are supporting the country in containment and mitigation efforts by providing necessary support for coordination, surveillance, infection prevention and control, laboratory, case management, risk communication, logistics and human resource capacity”. Dr Bakyaita was accompanied by the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio, the UNICEF Representative, Ms Noala Skinner, the UNESCO Zambia Team Leader, Ms Alice Mwewa Saili and the UK DFID Country Director, Mr. Steve Beel.

The United Nations Resident Coordinator, Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio said that the donation made to the Ministry of Health by WHO of laboratory equipment and reagents and provision of

The UN Resident Coordinator, Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio making a statement at the function.

Personal Protective Equipment for health workers was of paramount importance. “Health care workers should be able to access masks, gloves, gowns, and other PPE they require to do their jobs safely and effectively. Our health systems are already facing shortages of critical human resources such as doctors and nurses, we cannot afford to lose them now” she said.

The DFID Country Director Mr. Steve Beel stated that the COVID-19 pandemic was a global challenge and that DFID was committed to continue providing support to the government in its response efforts.

When receiving the donation, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Kennedy Malama said that the donation was timely because it was targeted at supporting the implementation of the National Contingency Plan for COVID-19. He said the donated items were a high impact investment for the COVID -19 response and that support for the Emergency Operations Centre would be useful for the current emergency and other public health threats. Dr. Malama thanked the United Nations in Zambia, the WHO Regional Office for Africa, WHO HQ and the UK Government for the support rendered towards the COVID-19 response and health development programmes in general.

The United Nations in Zambia has remained a key partner in the country’s multi-sectoral response with the World Health Organization leading the joint effort.

For Additional Information or to Request Interviews, Please contact:
Nora Mweemba
Health Information and Promotion Officer
Tel: 255322 /255336, 255398, Cell: 097873976
Email: mweemban@who.int

UN Zambia presents COVID-19 supplies and Maternity Medical Equipment to the Zambia Correctional Service

Press Release

Kabwe, 22 May 2020: In its continued support to the COVID-19 response in Zambia, the United Nations system has through the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) presented Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials to the Zambia Correctional Service for use by inmates who constitute one of the vulnerable groups in society.

Dr. Mujinga Ngonga, National HIV Prevention Officer UNODC Zambia making her remarks during the presentation of maternity medical equipment at Mukobeko Maximum Prison in Kabwe. Photo Credit/UNIC/Lusaka/Charles Nonde

UNODC Zambia HIV Prevention Officer Dr Mujinga Ngonga handed over the materials to Commissioner General for Zambia Correctional Service, Dr Chisela Chileshe, at Mukobeko Maximum Correctional Facility in Kabwe. UNAIDS provided funding for the COVID-19 PPE and IEC materials valued at USD23,000.

“UNODC is keen to support national efforts so as ensure that international standards of prison management and public health are upheld. People in prison should be able to enjoy the same standards of health care as the general population. In Zambia this population is about 23’000 inmates and about 4,000 prison staff, these should not be left behind. We believe that they have a fundamental right to enjoy as good quality health care as other members of society free of charge and without discrimination and this includes COVID-19 prevention and control,” said Dr Ngonga.

It is a global trend that inmates and in correctional facilities and other places of detention are often the last to receive needed services and in times of COVID-19 it becomes even more desperate to have some conditions in place to avert the importation and spread of COVID-19

Some of the donated items received by the Prisons Services from UNODC Zambia. Photo Credit/UNIC/Lusaka/Charles Nonde

inside the correctional facilities. Physical distancing is obviously a challenge in overcrowded prison settings and as such masks or mouth and nose coverings, including cloths are one effective way of preventing the spread of COVID-19 within prison walls.

At the same event, UNODC presented Maternity Clinic Medical Equipment for use at the Mukobeko Maternity Clinic to help address Sexual and Reproductive Health challenges faced by incarcerated pregnant women. The equipment, valued at over USD37,000, was procured with funding from the Swedish Embassy.

“UNODC’s recommended action on incarcerated pregnant women is that they receive non-custodial sentences where possible and when appropriate. With this support, we are complementing the efforts of the Zambia Correctional Service to provide ante-natal and post-natal services not only to women in incarceration but also those from surrounding communities,” said Dr. Ngonga.

Dr Ngonga was joined at the event by Dr Tharcisse Baruhita, UNAIDS Country Director for Zambia whom she thanked for the support in providing funding for the PPE and IEC materials.

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# LeaveNoOneBehind #SDG3, #SDG5, #SDG10, #SDG16 #COVID19 #BangkokRules #NelsonMandelaRules #criminaljustice

For more information, please contact: 

United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Lusaka, Mark Maseko, National Information Officer, P: +260-211-225-494 | M: + 260-955767062 | E: masekom@un.org

UN Resident Coordinator Highlights Role of Communication in COVID-19 fight

Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Lusaka, 14 May 2020: The UN Zambia Resident Coordinator Dr Coumba Mar Gadio today visited the COVID-19 Call Centre at the Zambia National Public Health Institute (ZNPHI) in Lusaka to familiarize herself with operations and convey UN Zambia support to Risk Communication and Community Engagement activities led by the Government through the Ministry of Health and ZNPHI.

Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio, stressing a point during the tour of the Covid Call Centre at Zambia National Public Health Institute (ZNPHI) in Lusaka. Photo Credit UNIC/Lusaka/2020/05/14 Charles Nonde

Speaking after the tour, Dr Gadio underscored the importance of communication in the fight against COVID-19. “The fight against coronavirus in a fight against a virus but also a fight against misinformation. I am happy that this call centre which the UN system supports through UNICEF, UNFPA and WHO is helping provide information to the public on the pandemic and also helping correct myths and misconceptions that people receive everyday through a myriad of ways,” said Dr Gadio. “The UN is supporting Risk Communication and Community Engagement by not only giving information to the public but also listening to them and tailoring messages accordingly as the pandemic evolves. No one should be left behind. Community members have a key role in fighting COVID-19 so it is important that we help them get accurate information and follow the prevention guidelines given by the Ministry of Health,” she added.

Under the lead of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations has supported the Government on the development of a multisectoral contingency plan and assessment of the socio-economic impact of the pandemic in Zambia.

With support from cooperating partners, the UN has contributed to ongoing efforts by theGovernment including training of technical staff and helping strengthen surveillance in communities, procurement of personal protective equipment and essential medicines, promoting Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in health facilities and strengthening infection prevention and control. Additional support has gone towards strengthening health systems to effectively deliver health services, including supporting human resources for health to provide antenatal care, safe delivery and addressing sexual and Gender-Based Violence, which increases in times of crises.

For more information, please contact: 

United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Lusaka, Mark Maseko, National Information Officer, P: +260-211-225-494 | M: + 260-955767062 | E: masekom@un.org

UN Resident Coordinator Joins COVID-19 Sensitisation in Chawama

PRESS RELEASE

Lusaka, 12 May 2020: The UN Zambia Resident Coordinator Dr Coumba Mar Gadio today joined COVID-19 sensitization efforts in Lusaka’s Chawama compound where she used a Mobile Public Address-mounted vehicle to make announcements urging community members to adhere to prescribed prevention measures as guide by the Ministry of Health.

Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio, UN Zambia Resident Coordinator at Chawama Level One Clinic as part of the community outreach on COVID-19

“Joined by the World Health Organization Representative and other members of the UN Country Team, I decided to support Risk Communication and Community Engagement activities in Chawama led by the Government through the Ministry of Health and the Zambia National Public Health Institute,” said Dr Gadio.

“A lot is being done in terms of giving information to the public as well as listening to them and we need to continue and tailor messages accordingly as the pandemic evolves. No one should be left behind. Community members have a key role in fighting COVID-19 so it is important that we encourage them to follow the prevention guidelines,” she added.

Under the lead of World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations has supported the Government on the development of a multisectoral contingency plan and assessment of the socio-economic impact of the pandemic in Zambia. The UN will continue supporting the Government with resource mobilisation and Risk Communication and Community Engagement.

Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio, UN Zambia Resident Coordinator with Dr. Nathan N. Bakyaita W.H.O. Zambia Representative during the COVID-19 community sensitisation drive in Chawama.

With support from cooperating partners, the UN has contributed to ongoing efforts by the Government including training of technical staff and helping strengthen surveillance in communities, procurement of personal protective equipment and essential medicines, promoting Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in health facilities and strengthening infection prevention and control.

Additional support has gone towards strengthening health systems to effectively deliver health services, including supporting human resources for health to provide antenatal care, safe delivery and addressing sexual and Gender-Based Violence, which increases in times of crises.

For more information, please contact: 

United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Lusaka, Mark Maseko, National Information Officer, P: +260-211-225-494 | M: + 260-955767062 | E: masekom@un.org

The Secretary General- Global Appeal to Address and Counter COVID-19-Related Hate Speech

COVID-19 does not care who we are, where we live, what we believe or about any other distinction. We need every ounce of solidarity to tackle it together. Yet the pandemic continues to unleash a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering.

Anti-foreigner sentiment has surged online and in the streets. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have spread, and COVID-19-related anti-Muslim attacks have occurred. Migrants and refugees have been vilified as a source of the virus — and then denied access to medical treatment. With older persons among the most vulnerable, contemptible memes have emerged suggesting they are also the most expendable. And journalists, whistleblowers, health professionals, aid workers and human rights defenders are being targeted simply for doing their jobs.

We must act now to strengthen the immunity of our societies against the virus of hate. That’s why I’m appealing today for an all-out effort to end hate speech globally.

I call on political leaders to show solidarity with all members of their societies and build and reinforce social cohesion.

I call on educational institutions to focus on digital literacy at a time when billions of young people are online – and when extremists are seeking to prey on captive and potentially despairing audiences.

I call on the media, especially social media companies, to do much more to flag and, in line with international human rights law, remove racist, misogynist and other harmful content.

I call on civil society to strengthen outreach to vulnerable people, and religious actors to serve as models of mutual respect.

And I ask everyone, everywhere, to stand up against hate, treat each other with dignity and take every opportunity to spread kindness.

Last year, I launched the United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech to enhance United Nations efforts against this scourge. As we combat this pandemic, we have a duty to protect people, end stigma and prevent violence.

Let’s defeat hate speech – and COVID-19 – together.

The Secretary General Remarks at Launch of Policy Brief on Persons With Disabilities and COVID-19

New York, 5 May 2020 (recorded 4 May)

The COVID-19 crisis is affecting every aspect of our societies, revealing the extent of exclusion that the most marginalized members of society experience.

Today, I would like to highlight how the pandemic is affecting the world’s 1 billion people with disabilities.

Even under normal circumstances, persons with disabilities are less likely to access education, healthcare and income opportunities or participate in the community.

This is exacerbated for those in humanitarian and fragile contexts.

People with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty, and they experience higher rates of violence, neglect and abuse.

The pandemic is intensifying these inequalities — and producing new threats.

Today we are launching a report that recommends a disability-inclusive response and recovery for everyone.

People with disabilities are among the hardest hit by COVID-19.

They face a lack of accessible public health information, significant barriers to implement basic hygiene measures, and inaccessible health facilities.

If they contract COVID-19, many are more likely to develop severe health conditions, which may result in death.

The share of COVID-19 related deaths in care homes — where older people with disabilities are overrepresented — ranges from 19 per cent to an astonishing 72 per cent.

In some countries, healthcare rationing decisions are based on discriminatory criteria, such as age or assumptions about quality or value of life, based on disability.

We cannot let this continue.

We must guarantee the equal rights of people with disabilities to access healthcare and lifesaving procedures during the pandemic.

Persons with disabilities who faced exclusion in employment before this crisis, are now more likely to lose their job and will experience greater difficulties in returning to work.

Yet, only 28 per cent of people with significant disabilities have access to benefits — and only 1 per cent in low-income countries.

People with disabilities — particularly, women and girls — face a greater risk of domestic violence, which has surged during the pandemic.

I urge governments to place people with disabilities at the center of COVID-19 response and recovery efforts and to consult and engage people with disabilities.

Persons with disabilities have valuable experience to offer of thriving in situations of isolation and alternate working arrangements.

Looking to the future, we have a unique opportunity to design and implement more inclusive and accessible societies to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

 Last year, I launched the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy to ensure the UN system is doing its part.

The Strategy represents the UN’s commitment to achieve transformative and lasting change.

When we secure the rights of people with disabilities, we are investing in our common future.

COVID-19: A double burden for women in conflict areas, on the frontline

By: 

NJOKI KINYANJUI

Since COVID-19 broke out in December 2019, it has continued to spread across the globe unabated, with countries at different phases along the curve

Public health emergencies worldwide, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impacts, affect women and men differently, but take a disproportionate toll on women.

Even more so in conflict-affected countries and post-conflict contexts, where the existing gender inequalities and exclusion of women from all decision-making, including on peace and security issues, are severely deepened.

In these contexts, women are often on the periphery of the community’s solutions, especially peace and political solutions; and have limited access to critical information and decision-making power on social, economic, health, protection and justice outcomes.

Yet, with all these challenges, women remain on the frontline agitating for meaningful and full political participation and in other socio-economic arenas, including in health.

It is therefore very positive that the Secretary-General António Guterres’ call for a global ceasefire to enable COVID-19 responses in fragile and crisis settings has been endorsed by many Member States, regional organizations and civil society groups including women’s organizations.

There is already documented evidence on the rise of violence against women, particularly domestic violence. In his recent message on Gender Based Violence and COVID-19, Mr. Guterres notes that “over the past weeks as economic and social pressures and fear have grown, we have seen a horrifying global surge in domestic violence” and issued a rallying call to end violence against women in their homes.

Women on the frontline

It is well recognized that globally, women predominantly carry the burden of providing primary healthcare,. About 70 per cent of global health workers are women and emerging statistics show that health workers are increasingly getting infected by COVID-19.

Women are also employed in the service industries and the informal sector, which are amongst those hardest-hit by the measures to reduce COVID-19 transmission. They are also paid less and are most often the ones doing unpaid care work.

Women’s networks and organizations are key partners in UN peacekeeping. They provide innovative community approaches to resolve conflicts, and wage peace and reconciliation. It is these same networks that are critical vehicles for women’s participation in COVID-19 decision-making, prevention and responses and elevated advocacy for the global ceasefire call. This is particularly critical at the local level, where COVID-19 prevention and response measures are anchored in community engagement, participation and sharing the right information.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix recently emphasized that peacekeepers, both women and men, are playing a key role in providing credible information along with their protection and conflict resolution work, in partnership with national authorities in fragile environments further strained by the pandemic.

As 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, the multiple impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the inequalities it lays bare are a stark reminder of how women can lead to turn the tide, as actors and decision-makers at all levels, in the health sector, but also more broadly on peace and political processes in their respective countries.

It is a time to come together and use the momentum created by the endorsement of the global ceasefire call, to protect women, safeguard the gains towards the fulfillment of their rights and lead as protectors of peace.

 

Ms. Kinyanjui is the Chief of Gender Unit and Senior Gender Adviser, UN Department of Peace Operations

For more information on COVID-19, visit www.un.org/coronavirus

Africa Renewal

 

COVID-19: Bright colours to ‘soften the pain’

By: 

FRANCK KUWONU

Mounia Lazali, is a professional designer and a painter based in Algeria. Like, others around the African continent, she is playing her part in helping contain the COVID-19 pandemic. With many countries facing face mask shortages, Ms. Lazali is sewing hundreds of them using colorful fabrics to donate to fellow Algerians. She spoke to Africa Renewal’s Franck Kuwonu about her initiative:

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Mounia Lazali and my artist’s name is MYA. I am 43 years old and I live in Algiers, the capital city of Algeria. I am a graduate of the École supérieure des Beaux-Arts (College of Fine Arts) in Algiers and the University of Language and Culture in Beijing, China. I’m also a professional painter as well as a textile, furniture and graphic arts designer.

When did you start producing face masks?

I started making face masks on 18 March this year. I remember that day because immediately I made the first batch, I published a photo of myself wearing the colourful face masks on Facebook. I like to share all my creations instantly on social media networks because I find it an interesting way to interact with other people, raise awareness about something and to share creative content.

What drove you to making the face masks?

My whole life revolves around beauty and aesthetics. Personally, I did not want to wear the usual surgical mask at this time of confinement because it reminds me of difficult phase of my life where I was sick for a long time and had to wear one. So, I thought that the colourful textiles I use for my designs could help soften all this fear and pain around this pandemic.

I had gone to China for my studies a few months after the end of SARS. That allowed me to adapt quickly to the hygiene measures prescribed, including wearing face masks. I remember that masks were worn during periods of great pollution too so I was familiar with this kind of accessory and other personal protection measures against such diseases.

On the other hand, when COVID-19 broke out, I knew we were facing a shortage of masks in Algeria, as was the case elsewhere. I’m good at sewing and I had a stock of fabrics I had brought from Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, so I took the plunge!

How many masks do you produce per day?

I make more than 300 masks, some of which are distributed to friends, neighbours, local merchants, associations and medical staff. Others are sold for a small amount.

What materials do you use to make the masks?

I use African prints cotton and cotton waxed fabrics. They are also lined. To ensure that they are safe for use to make masks, the fabrics are first machine-washed at 60°Celsius, ironed several times during the creation process, and disinfected one more time by the last ironing.

How do you distribute the masks?

People come to my house and ring the intercom to make an order. I then pack the masks in an envelope and put them at the entrance of the house with the customer’s names on it. When it is a small quantity, I leave them in the mailbox for people to collect. It is very important for me to respect the safety and social distancing measures required around COVID-19, especially because of my health history, but also for my customers coming to collect their masks.

What role are women in Algeria playing in the fight against COVID-19?

At the moment, women are helping to raise awareness on social networks. This is not to forget that we have women medics – doctors and nurses – who are on the frontline in this fight against COVID-19. They risk their lives for us every day.

What is your message to fellow Algerians at this time of COVID-19?

Let us maintain solidarity! Let us remain aware of the changes we are experiencing, because from now on nothing will ever be the same again. Let us be more respectful of nature, wildlife and everything that makes up our ecosystem.

For more information on COVID-19, visit www.un.org/coronavirus

Africa Renewal

UN Peacekeepers Must Stay the Course

April 23, 2020

by Atul Khare and Jean-Pierre Lacroix

United Nations peace operations promote stability and security in some of the world’s most dangerous and fragile places. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, overstretched UN peacekeepers—civilian, military,  and police—were a thin blue line helping to protect civilians, support peace agreements and contain conflicts in hot spots and war zones across the globe.

If—or more likely when—the COVID-19 virus further spreads in countries already weakened by war and poverty, it will not only threaten the lives of the thousands, but could also tip the balance from tenuous peace back to conflict and despair. Communities recovering from conflict often live right at the survival line, every day facing poverty and the lack of basic health services. For these societies, the stakes could not be higher and the importance of UN assistance has never been greater.

To extend the global fight against COVID-19 to areas struggling to emerge from conflict, we need to continue sustaining and promoting peace and stability. Together with our partners, UN peacekeeping missions are working to achieve four objectives: (1) supporting local efforts to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, (2) keeping UN personnel safe and ensure they receive the best available care by enhancing medical testing and treatment capabilities, (3) ensuring that peacekeepers are able to continue their work without spreading the virus by practicing social distancing and other mitigation measures, and (4) advancing their difficult mandates to support peace and contain conflict even as COVID–19 spreads.

As UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently told the Security Council, this pandemic could potentially lead to an increase in social unrest, a lapse in state authority and even violence that would greatly undermine our collective capabilities to fight the virus. For countries that have a handful of ventilators for millions of people, the possibility that one in 1,000 could contract COVID-19 and 15 percent of those could need care in an intensive care unit, is staggering. The brutal statistics of COVID-19 do not just reflect a global health crisis—they signal a fundamental threat to the maintenance of international peace and security.

We are committed to ensuring that our UN peace operations do everything they can to be an integral part of the solution to the pandemic. From the Central African Republic to Lebanon, from Somalia to Mali, our personnel continue to deliver. They are doing so bravely and with dedication, staying on the front lines even as they worry about family back home, even as air links and supply lines are stretched by the global response to COVID-19, even as cases are appearing in host countries.

The strength of our peacekeeping partnerships—whether other UN actors, NGOs, or regional organizations like the African Union (AU)—has never been more important. Despite the increasing demands on our peacekeepers to deliver their mandates, we must recognize that our partners also face the risks of this pandemic. Our peacekeeping missions offer a medical infrastructure that can support all UN personnel at risk of the virus while they continue their work. Protecting ourselves is key to being able to protect others.

We are also doing everything we can to keep our supply chains resilient. Our logistics experts have developed a business continuity plan for life-support needs, while ensuring the planning, provision, and delivery of goods and services critical for the implementation of peace mandates. Personal Protective Equipment is being made available in all our missions; we are supplying our own respiratory ventilators and ensuring that the capacity of intensive care units and supplies is sufficient to ensure that we do not strain already stretched local resources. We are also strengthening medical evacuation capabilities in close collaboration with our partners and UN member states. Strict social distancing measures are in place, and missions are reducing our “footprint” by lowering population density among uniformed personnel and civilian staff.

While our missions must protect themselves from COVID-19, they continue to reach out to local communities, protecting civilians and assisting host governments to contain the virus. Radio Okapi, the UN’s radio station in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has launched a nation-wide, multilingual campaign to inform the local population about COVID-19, focusing on dispelling rumors and countering misinformation.

In Darfur, our operation is raising awareness among vulnerable groups on the importance of precautionary measures to control the spread of COVID-19, including in camps for internally displaced persons in the north and central parts of the state, where the risks of infections spreading is heightened. In Cyprus, our mission is working with women’s organizations to support those suffering from domestic violence during the quarantine.

At the same time, blue helmets continue to carry out their pre-COVID-19 tasks: protecting civilians, supporting political processes, and helping to build government capacity. In the DRC, peacekeepers recently helped free 38 civilians, including women and children, who had been abducted by an armed group in the country’s east, as they helped the national army to repel an attack. In Mali, two weeks ago, when the government decided it was important to press ahead with legislative elections, our mission provided critical logistical and operational support and helped secure polling stations on election day. In Somalia, the UN has been supporting AU soldiers and the government to develop their own COVID-19 preparedness and response plans, while working to ensure that terrorist groups do not seize the opportunity to strike while attention is focused on the pandemic. The struggle against COVID-19 may be a “second front” for the peacekeepers, but both battles continue.

Last week, the UN secretary-general decided to suspend the rotation of all our troops and police until June 30th. Such measures will keep our blue helmets on the ground, where they are needed most, and will help protect and reassure communities and UN colleagues alike by postponing the movement of thousands of personnel to and from home countries and transit points. This is a decision not taken lightly given the remoteness, hardship, and dangers often faced by peacekeepers. Staying in the field is a sacrifice for personnel who expected to return home after an arduous tour of duty. We are grateful that the countries that provide these police and military personnel have agreed to this measure so that our peace operations can maintain their operations, keeping the peace while minimizing the risk of COVID-19 contagion. We are doing everything possible to support our brave women and men, so they can keep themselves and their host communities safe.

As the UN secretary-general said when he called for a global ceasefire, there should only be one fight in the world today: our shared battle against COVID-19. For UN peacekeeping, this includes our unwavering commitment to the health and safety of our personnel and the people we serve. This is why UN peacekeepers must continue their important work. And it is why, now, more than ever, they need our full support.

Atul Khare is the Under-Secretary-General of the UN Department of Operational Support. Jean-Pierre Lacroix is the Under-Secretary-General of the UN Department of Peace Operations.

Picture credit: In Kananga, DRC, MONUSCO policewomen organized an awareness campaign against COVID-19 on April 18, 2020 in four markets in the city, in collaboration with the provincial Ministry of Gender, the town hall and the National Police.(MONUSCO/Twitter)