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May 13, 2020 – The international community has thoroughly failed to forge a global ceasefire in order to stop the coronavirus and save millions of lives, said Oxfam today.

In its new report “Conflict in the time of Coronavirus,” Oxfam showed that despite UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s call for a global ceasefire, conflict has continued, leaving many communities exceptionally vulnerable to COVID-19. This is compounded by a diplomatic failure at the UN Security Council and years of weak investment in peace-building efforts. International efforts have also largely side-lined the vital voices and contributions of local and women-led peace building efforts.

Scott Paul, Oxfam America’s Humanitarian Policy Lead said, “As the Global Ceasefire call falters, and Security Council members fail to prioritize people’s lives over their own self-interests, we are reminded just how important it is to have local peacebuilders, and particularly women-led organizations, at the center of these efforts.”

Late on Friday, May 8, the US blocked a resolution from moving forward, largely because it urged support for the World Health Organization, which the Trump administration has publicly criticized and defunded. Many other states had raised their own objections, making the deliberations intractable. Oxfam says that this was the latest in a litany of failures to curb conflicts around the world at a time when peace and international cooperation is sorely needed.

Meanwhile, in the last year alone, the international community topped $1.9 trillion in military spending. This would have paid for the UN’s coronavirus appeal over 280 times.

“‘I fear that the ceasefire will take place after the Covid-19 virus will spread, so what would be the benefit of peace to a land without a people?” said a Yemeni woman peace activist and Oxfam partner in Aden.

These conflicts are trapping millions of people in areas where health systems are crippled and hospitals are bombed or ill-equipped, and they are forcing many to flee into crowded camps where conditions are rife for the virus to spread.

Fatimata Gansonré, whom Oxfam helps support in Kaya, Burkina Faso, said: “Since the onset of the COVID-19, everything has been blocked. We can no longer go out, we can no longer regroup, we have stopped our small activities. Life has become harder, I’m scared. There is a double fear, insecurity and the virus itself. Before COVID-19, we struggled to find something to eat, now it’s worse.”

Some of the cases outlined in Oxfam’s report include:

  • In the Central African Republic, The UN has just announced suspension of its humanitarian response as armed groups have broken the ceasefire amid a surge of violence. This is in spite of the UN’s peace appeal, and 14 armed groups signing a peace agreement with the government on February 2019.
  • In Myanmar, the army has rejected domestic and international calls for a ceasefire while fighting in Rakhine state increased, with frequent airstrikes and shelling in populated areas. Across Rakhine, hundreds of thousands of people are living in overcrowded shelters with extremely limited access to health care. An estimated one million people are cut off from the internet when information about the virus is lifesaving.
  • Saudi Arabia announced a two-week unilateral ceasefire in Yemen from April 9 and later extended it a month but fighting continues by all sides in the conflict. Barely half of Yemen’s health facilities are still fully-functioning and there have been over 100,000 suspected cases of cholera this year.
  • In Colombia, the rebel ELN have declared a ceasefire but other armed groups and the government has not agreed.
  • In Afghanistan, the intra-Afghan peace negotiations scheduled in March have been delayed and the Taliban is refusing a ceasefire without the government reciprocating.
  • In Burkina Faso, ongoing violence means that people are often unable to access essentials such as water, healthcare, and food. Restrictions put in place to prevent the transmission of the virus has made it even more of a challenge.
  • In South Sudan, some peacebuilding funding has been paused by donors, who are prioritizing the coronavirus response above all else.

Scott Paul continued, “Decades of conflict have devastated the health systems and economies of war-torn countries, leaving two billion people in fragile and conflict-affected states even more vulnerable to diseases like the coronavirus. Managing coronavirus is hard enough when a country is at peace, but forcing families and the aid community to dodge bullets and bombs while trying to stay healthy and safe in this pandemic is reprehensible.”

We still hope for and need leadership from Member States, and it is disappointing and deadly to see leaders fail to do all in their power to push for peace as COVID-19 continues to sweep the globe. Local peacebuilders and women-led organizations are ramping up their efforts to resolve conflict and support vulnerable communities, but they – and the rest of us – are being undermined and put at risk by global leaders’ inability to act to cooperate.

As we continue to see in this global pandemic, early and coordinated action is the only way to curb the spread of COVID-19, and sadly we are seeing our global leaders fail to learn these lessons. We call for renewed action to negotiate peace around the globe to save millions from suffering from the deadly combined threats conflict and COVID-19.

Notes

  • The paper “Conflict in the Time of Corona” is available here
  • Oxfam is scaling up its programs to help 14 million people in nearly 50 countries across the globe to fight the virus. Focusing on some of the hardest-hit conflict zones, including Yemen, DRC and Burkina Faso, Oxfam is providing hygiene and clean water, health awareness, support to hospitals as well as cash to families displaced by the conflict to buy food and basic necessities.
  • The current UN appeal to respond to the Coronavirus is $6.7bn according to the UN. Two billion people are living in conflict affected states according to UN Global Humanitarian Overview 2019.
  • Oxfam’s life-saving assistance, including the country’s biggest water-distribution network outside of Bangui in the Central African Republic, could be halted due to the surge of violence and the UN stopping of operations.