“How is COVID-19 impacting peacebuilding activities and peacebuilding organisations and what adaptations and solutions are you seeing?”
In the eighth post of our “Ask the Experts” blog series, Generations For Peace is joined by experts from the world’s leading peacebuilding NGOs to answer a new question tackling the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Uzra Zeya | President and CEO – Alliance for Peacebuilding
COVID-19 poses a daunting challenge to peacebuilding organizations, as our work centers around bringing people together to solve problems, bridge differences, and build common cause. While no country is immune from the ravages of this pandemic, conflict affected and fragile states face a unique danger as COVID-19 reverses development gains and inflames conflict drivers that have already displaced over 70 million civilians worldwide. Thankfully, AfP members are coming to the fore – delivering vital hygiene to vulnerable populations, gathering evidence on the devastating impact on local peacebuilders, and advocating for gender inclusive international response. In support of rapid adaptation, AfP recently launched the video series #CreativityInCrisis and a new COVID-19 programming resource page to highlight innovations and learnings to help peacebuilders prevail in this newly complex environment.
The complexity in the Palestinian-Israeli situation has increased with COVID-19.
There are powerful examples of high-level cooperation on health issues, including information sharing, and viral videos of Arab doctors and health workers on the front lines in Israeli hospitals. However, injustice does not stop under the COVID-19 lockdown, nor do the attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians or Palestinian olive trees, nor does the increasingly imminent threat of Israeli annexation of huge areas of the West Bank in line with the Trump Plan. Peacebuilders are under lockdown, but the combination of the coronavirus and looming annexation gives renewed urgency and energy to peacebuilding, especially to actions and awareness-raising about these double dangers and the overarching need for human security. This can be an opportunity.
Mark Clark | CEO – Generations For Peace
Peacebuilding organisations like Generations For Peace have been rapidly adapting to engage online, pivoting to contribute to nationwide COVID-19 response plans and to respond to increased needs in communities, and preparing protocols for safe activities as lockdown eases. But the looming economic crisis is an existential threat – an “extinction event” – for many peacebuilding organisations. Many will close or at least significantly reduce costs by laying off staff and terminating programmes and partnerships. We risk massive loss of systemic peacebuilding capacity globally, due to funding and cashflow challenges. With Alliance for Peacebuilding and +Peace coalition friends, we are working to advocate to major donors for stabilization funds to minimize the loss of systemic capacity and to reduce backsliding of many years of capacity investments.
Patrick Bwire | GPPAC Regional Liaison Officer – Eastern and Central Africa Regional Network
COVID-19 has directly disrupted our peacebuilding interventions, opening opportunities for the “enemy” (violent conflicts) to thrive. Outlier cases of domestic violence are on the rise and hate-speech and isolation tensions are re-emerging. Groups like youth in informal sectors are being internally displaced, pregnant women and those suffering from chronic illnesses are worst affected by the lockdown. As part of our adaptation methods, we follow the government’s guidelines and do virtual online coordination. However, we are unable to reach the rural vulnerable communities which are our biggest target. In countries like South Sudan, our key efforts are on issuing monthly COVID-19 observation reports – focusing especially on the nexus between Human Rights and COVID-19, to ensure that the responses are conducted with a peace lens and less militaristic approach.
Sharon Bhagwan Rolls | GPPAC Pacific Regional Representative & Technical Adviser – Shifting the Power Coalition
As Pacific Island women, we are working hard to sustain our efforts of equality, development and peace during a time of major climate crisis in our villages, communities, and settlements. We remain, however, marginalised from the mainstream humanitarian space despite our indigenous knowledge, commitment to feminist practice and accountability to our local networks even with the treaty and policy commitments to participation, protection and localisation. Members of the GPPAC Pacific and Shifting the Power Coalition are working collaboratively to demonstrate how to apply a commitment to our peace and security to ensure women are part of the decision-making process of the policies depicting the new and ensuring inclusivity in the changes. COVID-19 presents us with the opportunity to redesign the table including progressing the peace-development and humanitarian nexus approach.
Jessie Banfield | Director of Programmes – International Alert
Conflict and COVID-19 are linked. COVID-19 can lead to increased tensions, while conflicts themselves can make it difficult to slow the pandemic. Peacebuilders have a crucial role to play during this time. We support our partners to bring communities and governments together, counter divisive narratives and guide better crisis response. For example in the Philippines we have adapted existing conflict maps to include information on COVID-19 hotspots to help the government respond better in violent areas. In Tunisia, we are developing a platform to help marginalised communities access healthcare, whilst at the same time restoring trust between citizens and public institutions. And in Nigeria we are using media programmes to provide accurate information and allow people to voice how the pandemic is affecting them.
Alexandre Munafò | Director of Strategic Partnerships & Communications – Interpeace
COVID-19 has significant implications on peacebuilding. This pandemic has triggered much more than a health crisis. It may weaken social cohesion and increase risks of instability in fragile societies. For example, food distributions for COVID-19 have sparked violent scenes in parts of Africa. The crisis is also having an impact on livelihoods and employment. In addition, if not thought with a longer-term approach, national and international responses to the crisis can do more harm and undermine the already fragile social fabric in conflict-affected areas. At Interpeace, we are committed to contribute to mitigate these risks by working alongside our local peacebuilders and leaders in creative ways. We are also dedicating significant efforts to support development and humanitarian organisations operating in conflict-affected or fragile contexts. Through our newly created “Peace Responsiveness Facility” (PRF), we will accompany these actors in the design and implementation of programmes aiming at achieving technical outcomes while simultaneously creating opportunities for peace.
George Marrash | Fundraising Coordinator – Communications and Outreach Unit Mobaderoon
Violence has been on this rise considerably among people due to COVID-19 related stress. Factors behind this stress are the lack of confidence in the health system’s efficiency and the loss of income due to the full lockdown in big cities with no clear governmental support to individuals and institutions. We are currently witnessing an increase in the number of violence cases, bullying, and conflicts. This is expected to be more serious in the near future if no action is taken soon. On the bright side, this current situation comes with new possibilities. Technology is enabling us to bring people together regardless of their backgrounds or geographical locations. We are using this pandemic as a reminder of our mutual humanity.
Bridget Moix | US Executive Director – Peace Direct
While the COVID-19 crisis and the response to it are exacerbating violence and conflict in many places, local peacebuilders on the frontlines are actively adapting their work to integrate sensitization about the disease and measures to contain it while also sustaining their efforts to strengthen social cohesion and build peace. Peacebuilders are calling for ceasefires, acting as trusted messengers in their communities to promote social distancing, and help monitor and respond to violence and oppression. Peacebuilders are developing new ways of utilizing technology to maintain contact with communities and sustain peace processes. They are helping promote conflict sensitivity, mitigate gender based violence, and advocate for trauma-informed responses. Here is just one example from local peacebuilders in DRC who are adapting their work to respond to the crisis.
Carole Frampton-de Tscharner – Organisational Development Lead International Partnerships Manager | PeaceNexus Foundation
Like other peacebuilders, our partners are taking leadership roles at the forefront of the crisis. In Burkina Faso, OCADES-Caritas and Oxfam are scaling up their water and sanitation work while mitigating risks of escalating tensions in a context of high internal displacement. Drawing on their experience, Oxfam has developed guidance to apply conflict-sensitive approaches across their COVID-19 emergency responses. Others are taking on a critical communication role. For example, ONG_3D in Senegal, known for its work on preventing election-related violence, is sharing COVID-19 information in local languages to remote and marginalised communities. Beyond programmatic adaptation and advocacy efforts, peace actors will need to further strengthen their organisational agility. Donors have committed to greater flexibility and now should invest more in organisational development and conflict-sensitivity.
*Note: to avoid bias, responses are placed in alphabetical order of organisation name.