19 November 2020
Peacebuilding Commission, Joint Meeting (AM)

Conflict-Sensitive COVID-19 Responses Key for Averting Deep Crisis in Many Countries, Speakers Warn Joint Economic and Social Council-Peacebuilding Commission Meeting

With the world still deep in the grip of COVID‑19, many countries find themselves no more than a crisis or two away from sliding into conflict, speakers warned today during a virtual joint meeting of the Economic and Social Council and the Peacebuilding Commission that focused on ways to forge solidarity and develop conflict-sensitive responses to the worst global pandemic in a century.

During a panel discussion and an interactive dialogue among Member States, they emphasized the need for a well-funded coordinated response that will not only tackle the novel coronavirus, but also social and economic inequality and the overarching threat of climate change.  Several delegates also stressed the value of connecting with local actors for better results on the ground.

Munir Akram (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, said in opening remarks that a resurgence of COVID‑19 underscores the need for continued vigilance and preparedness in conflict-affected countries.  At the same time, rebuilding better from the pandemic and getting back on track for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will not be an easy task.  He called for scaling up financing from all sources for these purposes.  In addition, the entire intergovernmental machinery, including the Peacebuilding Commission and the two Charter bodies represented today need to come together to bring integrated, durable and innovative solutions to address the multidimensional challenges.  Conflict-affected countries are where the success of the SDGs will be determined”, he said, “this is why a conflict-sensitive COVID‑19 recovery is so urgent.”

Robert Keith Rae (Canada), Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission, said that in most countries and regions on the Commission’s radar, COVID‑19 has exacerbated inequalities while dealing a blow to lives, livelihoods, social cohesion and governance structures.  “It’s not a good picture,” he said, with many countries one or two shocks away from falling into deep crisis.  Underscoring the pandemic’s economic impact, he called for an integrated and multi-sectorial global response that puts economic recovery and people’s livelihoods at the heart of peacebuilding.  “We cannot afford to lose ground in the struggle to attain the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said.

Inga Rhonda King (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), President of the Security Council for the month of November, said that in the face of pandemic-induced challenges, the international community must develop comprehensive approaches to address the root causes of conflict and insecurity, strengthen national ownership over peace processes and enhance inclusivity.  For its part, the Security Council, through its resolution 2532 (2020), reinforced the Secretary‑General’s calls for an immediate global ceasefire to allow for humanitarian aid to be delivered.  “Council Members are united in our calls for adequately financed, integrated and sustainable approaches to conflict prevention and peacebuilding in line with the principles of international law,” she said.

Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, in a pre-recorded video message, said Member States are currently negotiating resolutions on the next Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review and the 2020 review of the peacebuilding architecture, and that the 2016 resolutions on the matter led to greater coherence between development, humanitarian and peacebuilding actions.  As a result, she declared:  “the United Nations system is better equipped to achieve lasting impact in contexts where development and peace efforts are integrated”.  She warned Member States that the COVID‑19 pandemic drives fragility and conflict, underscoring the need for strong collaboration between the Economic and Social Council and the Peacebuilding Commission.  To that end, the organs must reconcile short-term humanitarian and stabilization needs, with longer-term peacebuilding and development processes.  “Let us seize the opportunity to increase collaboration between humanitarian, development and peace actors, at all levels, to leave no one behind,” she said.

Panel Discussion

The joint meeting then convened a virtual panel discussion on the theme “Fostering global solidarity and conflict-sensitive responses to the COVID‑19 pandemic and its socio-economic impacts”.  Moderated by Mr. Akram, it featured presentations by:  María del Carmen Squeff, Incoming President, United Nations High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation; Ahmed Ogwell, Deputy Director, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention; Robert Powell, Special Representative to the United Nations, International Monetary Fund (IMF); and Hindou Ibrahim, Sustainable Development Goals Advocate and member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Ms. SQUEFF said that recovery from COVID‑19 provides a prime opportunity to strengthen South-South cooperation to build a new world through sharing knowledge to improve outcomes, with gender considered in all efforts.  The United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation has been coordinating webinars for this purpose that are available through its website as a roadmap for the future.  As COVID‑19 is exacerbating conflicts and their impact on vulnerable communities, accelerated action is essential and all must work together, regionally and globally, utilizing all communications tools in a coherent manner, she said.

Mr. OGWELL, speaking via video-teleconference from Addis Ababa, where the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention is based, said that Africa has recorded 2 million cases of COVID‑19 and 48,000 fatalities for a mortality rate of 2.4 per cent.  Lessons drawn from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo made it possible for the continent to respond more effectively to the coronavirus.  Coordination among African countries was unprecedented, with Heads of State meeting a dozen times since the pandemic began.  He welcomed the African Union’s adoption of a continent-wide strategy to avert deaths and mitigate the social and economic impact of the pandemic.  He added that individuals must be empowered to play their role in limiting the spread of COVID‑19, alongside a coordinated effort to make Africa stronger and more resilient once the pandemic has passed.

Mr. POWELL said that the IMF is projecting the sharpest decline in the world economy since the Great Depression.  A large-scale fiscal response is therefore needed to enable countries to spend what is required.  However, finance access is severely restrained for such spending so there is clearly a need for sustained donor support.  The IMF has doubled access to emergency financing facilities, provided immediate debt relief to vulnerable countries and it is actively seeking further sources of financing to expand these efforts.  Even though national capacity-building is a long-term effort, the Fund is also stepping up such efforts due to the crisis, he said, adding that it is available to meet with Peacebuilding Commission country configurations in order to intensify the collaboration required to build back better.

Ms. IBRAHIM said the effects of the pandemic on the Sahel region are exacerbating the lack of medical supplies and ongoing economic crises which disproportionately affect indigenous populations.  The impact of lockdown measures on poor and indigenous communities in the region is particularly harsh as such measures take away daily sources of income and the ability to move freely when grazing cattle.  As a result, communities are witnessing increased conflict, she said, adding that traditional humanitarian responses are needed but fail to offer a sustainable solution.  “We need health systems in rural areas,” she emphasized, pointing to several concrete actions that must be taken, including investment in sustainable food systems and access to green energy.  Those three areas, she stated, form the basis for an “African Green Deal” that deserves the support of Member States.

Interactive Dialogue

The joint meeting then held an interactive dialogue among Member States, moderated by Mr. Rae.   Robert Piper, Assistant Secretary‑General for Development Coordination Office, also made introductory remarks.

The representative of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, warned that the pandemic risks reversing development and peacebuilding gains.  Recovery efforts must neither do harm nor add to tensions.  Rather, they should be conflict-specific and engage with solid partners on the ground.  She also stressed the critical need to ensure adequate and predictable financing, thus reducing dependency on humanitarian aid in the long term. 

The speaker for the European Union said he fears that COVID‑19 has taken the limelight away from other crises.  If anything, more countries are at risk of becoming fragile.  Efforts to extinguish the pandemic must keep in mind the connection between development, security, human rights and dignity.  He also hoped that the Security Council will give more serious attention to the climate crisis, a conflict enhancer “for which there is no vaccine”. 

The representative of India said that his country — the world’s leading vaccine producer — has not let the pandemic scale down its commitment to peacebuilding.  Echoing calls for global solidarity, he said that some countries must not be allowed to take advantage of COVID‑19 to sponsor terrorism or to indulge in “info-demics”.  He also noted that India’s development assistance programmes ensure that beneficiary countries are not left with debt.

The delegate from Sierra Leone said that the focus on sustainable peace and people-centred justice must be embraced as an effective humanitarian response to the crisis.  Donors should target their support towards local peacebuilding networks, which can have a bigger impact on the ground.  He also stressed the need for programmes that address inequality and discrimination.

The representative of Mexico said that the Economic and Social Council and the Peacebuilding Commission must cooperate in a manner that goes well beyond holding joint meetings and work together with the Security Council in a coherent manner.  The involvement of all such bodies in Haiti could be a model for such coordinated methods of working, he added.

The speaker for Fiji said that judging by the amount of zoom meetings he’s involved in every day, there would seem to be a cohesive global response to the pandemic, with all countries integrated.  However, small island developing States such as his remain at the back of the queue.  Though they been stable over many years, these States are slowly moving from the stable zone into zones of higher fragility due to the relentless compounding of crises.  That dynamic must be addressed in all joint discussions.

The delegate from Bangladesh said that a successful response to COVID‑19 must include greater participation by local actors, including women and youth.  She also underscored the role that digital connectivity can play to prevent social tensions and help communities adapt to new sources of income.

The representative of Guatemala, recalling that Central America is grappling not only with COVID‑19, but also tropical storms, said the pandemic is a reminder of the collective responsibility to respect nature, wildlife and environmental protection efforts.

The speaker for Colombia said that his country, which is emerging from long-term conflict, is strengthening the capacity of health institutions to handle the pandemic, while boosting employment opportunities in that sector and others and rebuilding social fabric.  Such efforts much be carried out simultaneously.  Comprehensive agreements to increase international resources for such purposes are needed to finance peacebuilding, development and response to the crisis at the same time.

The representative of Japan said that the COVID‑19 emergency has revealed weaknesses in response in all categories of countries, including the wealthy countries, stressing that financing is not the only element involved.  Accountable institutions are the critical element in creating resilience.  Institution-building and financing should therefore be the focus of international efforts, particularly those coordinated by the Peacebuilding Commission.  In its recent international contributions, for that reason, his country has been targeting both areas.

The delegate of Brazil said it is essential that all emergency aid respond to the priorities of the Governments involved, in both pandemic response and development.  For that reason, funds and resources targeted toward COVID‑19 response must in turn maintain national long-term development goals and vice-versa.

The speaker for China said that development is the master key for solving problems.  Peacebuilding efforts must be people-centred, respect the ownership of host countries and promote inclusive processes.  Attention must also be paid to unilateral coercive measures, which are undermining countries’ ability to fight COVID‑19.

The representative of the United Kingdom stressed the need to better support countries that are most vulnerable to shocks.  More progress must also be made on a framework for equitable access to vaccines.  The United Nations must do more to integrate peacebuilding into its COVID‑19 response, she said, underscoring also the need to prepare for — and prevent — famine and food insecurity.

Also speaking were representatives of Republic of Korea, Thailand, Egypt, El Salvador, Germany, Switzerland, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Kenya, Japan, Netherlands, South Africa and France.

For information media. Not an official record.