By Charalampia Armpounioti
In March 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, due to its presence in over 110 countries and the sustained risk of further spread around the world. Since then, the COVID-19 outbreak has radically disrupted all aspects of life as we knew it. The impact of the virus has disproportionately affected people around the world, especially in fragile settings marked by violence and conflict.
Committed to their mandate to protect vulnerable populations around the world, UN Peacekeeping missions have continued to carry out their mandates, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic. They also joined the fight to mitigate the COVID-19 spread by adjusting their operations and providing support to host countries in multiple ways.
Here are examples of how missions responded to the COVID-19 pandemic :
- Supporting the response of local and national authorities
Peacekeeping missions have been actively supporting the efforts of host governments and authorities to combat the virus. For example, earlier this year, UNIFIL coordinated training sessions to share best practices on COVID-19 for frontline health workers, and has been facilitating PCR testing in villages in South Lebanon. UNMISS peacekeepers helped local authorities disinfect a University in Wau to ensure access to education for all.
In Mali, MINUSMA has contributed to the national efforts to curb COVID-19, among others, through a Quick Impact Project for the building of a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) laboratory in Mopti and trainings for healthcare providers. In the Central African Republic, MINUSCA has been funding the national efforts to fight the virus.
In addition, our missions also helped protect vital social services that were under threat due to extended lockdowns and other COVID-19-related restrictions. In Kosovo, UNMIK provided hygiene and personal protective equipment to the more than 2,000 staff members from correctional facilities and courts, so that they can continue their work. Similarly, to ensure equal access to legal aid, the mission funded the Kosovo Law Institute’s Free Legal Aid Center, which kept offering legal help remotely during lockdown.
2. Making life-saving donations
Throughout the pandemic, we have actively been supporting efforts to fight the virus through generous donations. From face masks, antibacterial soaps and hand washing equipment for local populations, to ambulances, medications and medical devices for hospitals and COVID-19 protection kits for local schools, UN Peacekeeping missions have been providing critical supplies to help curb the spread of COVID-19 and protect local communities.
3. Community awareness-raising and information sharing
Acknowledging the vital importance of timely and accurate information in periods of crisis, UN Peacekeeping missions have been raising awareness on ways to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Their sensitization initiatives have been particularly important with the rapid spread of misinformation and disinformation around COVID-19 in many mission countries.
The activities of the missions ranged from awareness-raising with journalists to sessions with inmates, trainings with local populations and information sharing during patrols. Peacekeeping missions have been using local communication channels, including radio and social media, to reach communities and share up-to-date information. In South Sudan, Radio Miraya provided critical information to help curb the spread of COVID-19, while in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Radio Okapi played an equally important role broadcasting classes in math, French, reading and writing, health, environmental education and hygiene for around 22 million children per day, due to stay-at-home orders.
4. Vaccine roll-out
International cooperation against the common enemy resulted in the development of vaccines that can be critical to ending the COVID-19 pandemic. To help protect the most vulnerable populations in their host countries, we facilitated the arrival and transportation of vaccines.
The missions also launched vaccination campaigns for their personnel, to ensure that peacekeepers will remain safe and are able to continue their vital work in protecting civilians, facilitating political processes, supporting disarmament, promoting human rights and assisting in the rule of law, amidst the challenges posed by COVID-19.
5. Supporting civil society and local actors
As part of its COVID-19 response, UN Peacekeeping also supported initiatives undertaken by civil society and local actors.
In Mali, MINUSMA joined civil society stakeholders in efforts to mobilize local communities in the fight against the deadly virus. In Cyprus, UNFICYP teamed up with representatives from several civil society organizations from across the island to host online networking sessions on mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic. In collaboration with women-led NGOs, UNMIK supported 200 women and men from various communities in creating 200,000 protective cloth masks that were distributed for free.
6. Supporting disproportionately affected groups
As part of our response, we took a series of actions to support those disproportionately affected by the pandemic, such as young people, women, children or displaced persons. In the Central African Republic, MINUSCA supplied displaced persons in Bouar with COVID-19 protection kits, while UNMISS and UNMIK made generous donations to ensure equal access to education for all children.
Peacekeeping missions also encouraged civil society groups to join the fight against this common enemy. For example, in Cyprus, UNFICYP organized online discussions where youth could express their concerns about the sanitary crisis and formulate ideas for addressing its consequences. In Kosovo, the mission supported a youth-led NGO in producing 15,000 masks and face shields for frontline workers.
7. Adapting operations and supporting personnel
UN Peacekeeping adapted its daily operations to include mitigation measures against the spread of COVID-19 to help protect peacekeepers and local communities, while maintaining operational continuity. Peacekeepers continued to work tirelessly for lasting peace, while applying critical mitigation measures such as observing social distancing and strict handwashing protocols.
For everyone’s safety, we adjusted our operations, asked Member States to delay the regular troop rotations, implemented strict handwashing, physical distancing and temperature check protocols, set up water and soap stations across mission facilities and established working-from-home policies both for civilian staff in missions and for headquarter personnel.
In light of this unprecedented health crisis, we also focused on providing our personnel with mental health support.
For more examples of UN Peacekeeping’s COVID-19 response and for the most up-to-date information, visit our website.