Voices from the ground: Humanitarian leaders on COVID-19 and conflict

Aid experts share their perspectives in advance of the United Nations Security Council Summit on COVID-19 and Global Governance on September 24th, 2020

More than 21,000 people have been killed in conflict since the United Nations Security Council adopted its resolution calling for a global cessation of hostilities more than 90 days ago. Instead of a ceasefire, allowing countries and humanitarian organizations to focus on battling the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing violence is pushing millions to the brink of conflict induced famine and hindering the battle against the outbreak. 

Leading aid organizations, including Action Against Hunger, urged Heads of State to urgently renew their call for a global ceasefire, and to accelerate COVID-19 response capacity and access in areas affected by conflict and humanitarian crisis. Read the full statement here >> 

Below, humanitarian leaders across multiple conflict and humanitarian crisis affected countries provide their perspectives on the dangerous intersection between COVID-19 and conflict.

As the crisis has further exacerbated existing humanitarian challenges and created new ones, driving food insecurity and intensifying inequality and vulnerability, humanitarian actors reaffirm the need for a global ceasefire to be implemented urgently on the ground to allow humanitarians and communities to fight the global pandemic and ensure safe and sustained access to extremely vulnerable communities.

Caroline Dauber, Country Director in Yemen for Humanity & Inclusion (Handicap International):
There is no escape for the civilian population in Yemen. The COVID-19 pandemic is making even more critical the need to scale up health services and infrastructure for the population, not to mention the provision of safe water, food, and the ability to freely move and transport goods or people.

“The UN Security Council needs first and foremost to urgently enforce a sustainable and nationwide halt of hostilities, and support viable conditions for the delivery of impartial, rapid and unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid to all Yemeni people in need. It also needs to systematically call on all parties to the conflict to take all feasible steps to ensure the protection of civilians, by stopping the use of explosive weapons in populated areas."

Benjamin Vienot, Action Against Hunger Country Director, Democratic Republic of Congo:
The COVID-19 pandemic is unique in its sheer magnitude with dramatic impacts on health, hunger and food insecurity, further expanding worrying trends witnessed since 2017 on the global rise of hunger.

“In the Democratic Republic of Congo, 21.8 million people are facing high levels of acute food insecurity, representing a steep rise compared to levels of hunger recorded in 2019. This alarming situation results from compounding factors including local armed conflicts in Ituri and North Kivu, as well as socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, drastically hindering local agricultural production, access to livelihoods and overall financial and physical access to food. We must use this pandemic as a wake-up call and promote a global ceasefire as a first step to strengthen food systems, ensure access to essential services and prevent future hunger crisis.”

Khin Ohmar, Chairperson of Progressive Voice, Myanmar:
“The civil war in Myanmar has reached an intensity not seen in decades, in spite of COVID-19 and the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire. Local ethnic communities like the Rohingya and Chin are bearing the brunt of the convergence of the violence, forced displacement and additional COVID-related restrictions on their already limited freedom of movement. With the elections in November fast approaching, and Rakhine and other parts of the country in the grip of a second wave of COVID-19, it is critical that the government lifts the internet restrictions that have been in place for more than a year and commits to a comprehensive and meaningful ceasefire. It is more urgent than ever that the Secretary-General and the Security Council use their influence to ensure the Myanmar government takes these actions.”

Rosalind Crowther, CARE Country Director for South Sudan:
“The convergence of conflict, displacement and flooding across much of South Sudan has brought parts of the country back to the brink of famine. Immediate humanitarian assistance is critical if the country is to avoid catastrophic levels of food insecurity and the associated loss of life. It is just as critical that there is a comprehensive national ceasefire that can open the way for lasting peace and allow the people of South Sudan to start rebuilding their lives. CARE supports the UN Secretary-General’s appeal for a global ceasefire and urges the Security Council to use its influence with the leaders of South Sudan to ensure a sustainable peace takes hold across South Sudan.” 

Christopher Nyamandi, Save the Children Country Director for Afghanistan:
“At the beginning of the year, more than 9 million people in Afghanistan were already in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, that number has swelled to more than 14 million, including 8 million children, as the impact of decades of conflict alongside the disastrous effects of the global pandemic have thrown communities into further hardship.

“Children and their families have witnessed their schools shut down and medical facilities overwhelmed as poverty has spread at the same time as the price of staple foods, such as wheat and rice, has surged. Meena, an 11-year-old girl from Kabul told us ‘Since the COVID outbreak, we haven’t had three meals in a day because my father can’t make enough money to provide us with enough food.’ Unfortunately, Meena’s struggle to merely eat enough food in a day to survive has become commonplace. The situation is only set to worsen as winter months fast approach. Now more than ever do families like Meena’s need lifesaving support. The international community must reaffirm its commitment to the people of Afghanistan, including through commitments at the upcoming 2020 Afghanistan Conference.”

Haissam Minkara, Country Director for Algeria, Oxfam
“The COVID-19 pandemic has made abundantly clear that a population which has been displaced and almost entirely dependent on humanitarian aid for survival for over four decades is uniquely vulnerable to such crises. Next month marks 45 years since the start of the Western Sahara conflict – now, more than ever, the stakes couldn’t be higher for those already left behind by the international community.

Sonia Kush, Syria Response Director, Save the Children
“Children and families in Syria are now living in the tenth year of a conflict which has not spared their homes, schools, hospitals or communities. The spread of COVID-19 across the country is posing an additional and potentially catastrophic risk to families who are already living in dire humanitarian need, driven from their homes by conflict.

“In North West Syria, where more than 640 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed, conflict has left more than 1.5 million people people displaced, living in overcrowded displacement sites or temporary shelters with little access to healthcare or basic hygiene services essential to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak. Any escalation of conflict now would have catastrophic humanitarian consequences as healthcare systems are overwhelmed and humanitarian access to North West Syria has been restricted. In North East Syria Syria, COVID-19 cases are growing rapidly including at least two cases confirmed in Al Hol camp, where more than 7,000 children of foreign nationalities are living in unsanitary and unsafe conditions.

“It is vital that the international community steps up support for the COVID-19 response across Syria and demands that all parties heed to the call for cessation of hostilities, as the winter months approach and the COVID-19 outbreak looks as set to worsen, we cannot turn our backs on Syrian children and families.”

Action Against Hunger is leading a global movement to end hunger in our lifetimes. It innovates solutions, advocate for change, and reach 25 million people every year with proven hunger prevention and treatment programs. As a nonprofit that works across 50 countries, its 8,300 dedicated staff members partner with communities to address the root causes of hunger, including climate change, conflict, inequity, and emergencies. It strives to create a world free from hunger, for everyone, for good.