COVID-19: A statement from Saferworld1 April 2020
With the world increasingly in lockdown and the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) dominating headlines and disrupting lives for the foreseeable future, Saferworld stands in solidarity with people and communities affected by violent conflict and instability as they face yet further challenges to their health, security and prospects for peace.
As peacebuilders we remain committed to working for a world where people play an active role in preventing and transforming conflict and building peace, and where people with influence exercise their power to promote just and equitable societies. However, the rapid spread and potentially catastrophic impact of the virus on poorly developed and under-resourced health systems, combined with existing inequalities, weak institutions, unaddressed grievances and the authoritarian tendencies of many regimes especially when threatened by instability, make it likely that the virus will exacerbate existing drivers of conflict and violence in many places.
Our staff and partners in conflict-affected contexts are already seeing and documenting a range of negative impacts over and above immediate health and wellbeing concerns: increased economic pressures that lead to rising social tensions; securitised responses including increased deployment of military and security personnel, repression of political activity that risk derailing fragile peace processes and interrupting vital peacebuilding and development work. It is also striking that the gendered impacts of the virus are being felt right across the world, with pressure on women to act as primary caregivers putting them at greater risk of infection, a predicted rise in gender-based violence as people are forced to self-isolate with abusive partners. And it is surely just a matter of time before significant numbers of people who are refugees or internally displaced and unable to practice social distancing are infected, with inevitably tragic consequences.
As an employer, our organisational response has focused on the health, welfare and security of colleagues, partners, and the people and communities we work with. We took swift action to set up a response team to act as a focal point for communications, questions and information for staff. Our country programmes and offices are producing business continuity and contingency plans covering likely scenarios and response options, ensuring that our commitment to continue working in solidarity with partners and communities informs any programme adaptations. We have assessed and taken action regarding specific staff vulnerabilities and we are actively liaising with other NGOs and networks for updates, further information and to support each other during the pandemic. We are also working with our donors and other agencies to ensure that the initial COVID-19 crisis response is conflict-sensitive and that longer-term policy and programming is adjusted to respond to new realities.
Saferworld will play an active and collaborative role in the peacebuilding sector’s response to the COVID-19 virus in both the short-term and further down the line as the implications for aid and development become clearer.
Photo: Daily wage workers carrying goods head towards their village during the ninth day of the lockdown imposed by the government amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kathmandu, Nepal. (Credit: REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar).