“Peacekeepers are not the cure for Covid-19, but they do have a place in the fight against the virus,” said UN peacekeeper Jean-Pierre Lacroix.
The Covid-19 pandemic strikes countries that are at peace as well as those ravaged by armed conflict. For Jean-Pierre Lacroix, there is cause for concern for “people who already live in fragile political environments, in societies affected by conflict or recovering from conflict, with little or no infrastructure or health and social safety nets ”.
Concerns shared by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) which warned on Wednesday that 200,000 people have been displaced in Libya where fighting continues and where health infrastructure has been destroyed.
“The security challenges are now coupled with serious health concerns posed by the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus,” warned the IOM.
In conflict countries, many communities do not have access to clean water. This makes handwashing difficult as one of the ways to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Next to it, economies are collapsing; increasing the vulnerability of women. On the other hand, the collapse of the economy diminishes their ability to feed themselves and their families. The situation is more critical if “these families live under the threat of armed groups or terrorist acts”, worries Jean-Pierre Lacroix.
“Just as a body defends itself less well against the virus if its immune system is weakened, populations deprived of health systems or safety nets are even more vulnerable to the pandemic and its consequences. The same is true of the areas where our peacekeepers operate. Civilians are the most vulnerable there, ”he said.
According to the head of the peacekeepers, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and Mali are countries which know a fragile peace and where the populations have already suffered too much because of the armed conflicts spanning long months.
“We continue to patrol while applying the rules of social distancing and we have intensified our use of online resources”, underlines Jean-Pierre Lacroix.
To stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the missions also comply with precautionary measures, including quarantine and containment regardless of where they are deployed, he reassures.
The missions also support the efforts of the national authorities to contain the disease, through their means of communication and by maintaining essential supply chains. “Our staff educate communities about the coronavirus, through local radios and social networks, or during patrols,” adds Mr. Lacroix.
Work that is not without risk. According to the New Humanitarian, this week four UN staff members tested positive for coronavirus in South Sudan where there is fragile peace.
“We need the support of our member states more than ever. Their willingness to maintain their commitments to peacekeeping operations is crucial to ensuring our assistance capacity, “pleads Jean-Pierre Lacroix.