GP Insights # 313, 29 March 2020
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has appealed for an immediate cease-fire and “lock-down” on global conflicts to focus attention on the coronavirus pandemic so that we can “focus together on the true fight of our lives.”. He termed COVID-19 “a common enemy” for mankind irrespective of nationality, ethnicity, faction or faith. He particularly appealed to those fighting in Yemen to end hostilities and ramp up efforts to counter a potential outbreak of the pandemic. Sending across a strong message “to silence guns, stop artillery, end airstrikes and create corridors” the UN Secretary-General appealed for focussing attention on life-saving aid and opening new windows for diplomacy.
What is the background?
A number of global conflicts have been stretching for many years. The Syrian conflict since ten years, the Yemen conflict since five years, the internal Libyan rivalry since one year, the eastern Ukrainian conflict since six years added to episodes of unrest in Somalia, South Sudan, Congo and other African countries are some examples of political turmoil world over. Active extremist groups including the Islamic State, the al-Qaida and others continue to carry on attacks around the world particularly in Southeast Asia and Africa.
Conflicts invariably target women, children, disabled, marginalized, displaced making them most vulnerable. It is this same section of society that is again facing the “highest risk of suffering devastating losses from COVID-19. Guterres warned that “mistrust and animosity” could lead to “devastating consequences” amidst the pandemic. He called war a sickness that is affecting the fight against “the disease”. Stopping fights everywhere is the necessity of our human family, now more than ever.
What does it mean?
War paralyses public health systems and often targets health professionals. Guterres also appealed to the leaders of G-20 countries for greater coordination to suppress COVID-19, calling for “massive support” to prevent it from spreading “like wildfire”. He said developing countries would need “a huge package” so that they can respond to economic and social consequences of the pandemic and keep households, businesses, and societies afloat. Major industrial countries and organizations like the World Bank and IMF would need to step in and support developing countries by at least 10% of the GDP of those countries. The IMF responded positively assuring that it was ready to deploy one trillion dollars towards lending resources to nations in need through a strong coordinated response with the World Bank and other international groups.
The United Nations has also planned to launch a humanitarian appeal of two billion dollars to deal with COVID-19 in aid of the refugees and the displaced who are “doubly vulnerable”. The U.N. plans to deploy envoys in conflict areas to don the task of negotiating with warring parties so that his global appeal “leads to concrete action”. Pressing the pause button for wars and conflicts can help in creating suitable conditions to effectively deal with COVID-19. The good news, however, is that a few warring parties especially the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has agreed for a ceasefire to prevent a coronavirus outbreak. This gives hope for de-escalation of the conflicts making the world optimistic towards a political, comprehensive and sustainable resolution to the bloody civil conflict. It could enable practical steps towards alleviating the deep human suffering caused due to one of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises. Another optimistic development is Libya’s positive response to the appeal for a humanitarian pause to conflicts for better tackling of COVID-19. The ‘fury of the virus’ has now become mankind’s common enemy and confronting it together forgetting ‘the folly of war’ is the need of the hour.