Follow-up on Implementation of Resolution 2532 - Security Council Open VTC

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25-Jan-2021 02:14:39
Risk of instability, tension growing, amid glaring inequalities in global COVID-19 recovery, top United Nations officials warn Security Council.

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The sweeping and devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are continuing to grow, and so too are the risks of instability and tension amidst glaring inequalities in the global recovery, senior United Nations officials warned today during a Security Council video conference on the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on international peace and security.

The meeting focused on the implementation of resolution 2532 (2020), adopted on 1 July 2020, in which the Council expressed its support for the Secretary-General’s appeal, made 100 days earlier, for a global ceasefire to help unite efforts to fight COVID-19 in the world’s most vulnerable countries. Through that text, the 15-member organ also called for an immediate 90-day humanitarian pause to enable the safe, unhindered and sustained delivery of life-saving assistance.

Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, said that the pandemic’s impact on peace and security has intensified — exacerbating inequality and corruption; breeding misinformation, stigmatization and hate speech; and creating new flashpoints for tension and increased risks of instability. It is hindering diplomatic action and complicated peacemaking efforts, without for the most part affecting the underlying dynamics of armed conflicts. The impact on women, youth and other marginalized groups is particularly alarming, she said.

In some instances, the Secretary-General’s call for a global cessation of hostilities has given new momentum to faltering peace processes, she said, pointing to ceasefires in Libya and Ukraine, ongoing Afghanistan peace negotiations and the start of a disarmament process among insurgent groups in Mozambique. Other places, however, have witnessed a dangerous escalation of tension, including large-scale fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. Without exception, United Nations missions and the Secretary-General’s special representatives and special envoys have adjusted to the changing reality, embracing new tools such as digital focus groups. At the same time, since the onset of the pandemic, the United Nations has supported 19 elections and one referendum in 18 countries.

Looking ahead, she warned that as the pandemic’s impact grows, so too will the risk of tensions and instability, magnified by inequalities in the global recovery. As rich countries get vaccinated, the developing world — including countries already trapped in conflict and instability — risks being left behind, dealing a severe blow to peace and security.

“One thing is clear: The pandemic has served as a political stress test as much as a structural and public health one,” she said. It has laid how acute crisis can become an opportunity to gain advantage on the battlefield or as a pretext to perpetuate oppression — but it has also confirmed that almost no barrier is insurmountable when there is real political will, supported by the global community, to make and sustain peace. Going forward, the collective and individual engagement of Council members will remain crucial, she said, adding that “recovering better” in the wake of the pandemic will require more political and financial investment in conflict prevention.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, said that already complex political situations continued to feel the strain of the virus. In South Sudan, for example, the pandemic has further delayed the implementation of the peace process. In Lebanon, it has exacerbated a difficult political situation. In the Central African Republic, some political actors tried to leverage the pandemic as a pretext to delay elections and establish an unconstitutional transition. Against that backdrop, however, the crisis has put a spotlight on the importance of women’s leadership to mitigate political risks. Notwithstanding these challenges, United Nations peacekeeping missions continue to deliver on their mandated tasks, demonstrating adaptability, resilience and innovation, he said, noting however that pandemic-related restrictions are presenting challenges for the ongoing drawdown of African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).

While adapting to challenges, peacekeeping operations are emphasizing the health and safety of their military, police and civilian personnel, he said, with preventative measures including physical distancing, travel restrictions, telecommuting and rotations of in-office staff. As of today, across all field missions, and of more than 100,000 personnel, there have been 2,486 cumulative cases of COVID-19 among United Nations personnel and dependents and, unfortunately, 24 fatalities. Seventy-seven per cent of rotations of uniformed personnel scheduled for the second half of 2020 were completed and only 2 per cent postponed, he said, adding that COVID-19 pre-deployment awareness training has been introduced.

He went on to say that since the pandemic began, peacekeeping operations have consistently endeavoured to support host country authorities to contain the spread of the virus. Citing examples, he said that the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) have used their respective radio stations to uphold facts and raise public awareness. Police contingents are meanwhile supporting national police services to combat the spread of COVID-19. Going forward, peacekeeping operations are working to anticipate changing risks through long-term horizon-scanning, with a view to better prepare for them, while also drawing lessons to foster good practices, he said.

Atul Khare, Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support, said that the Department of Operational Support has activated its supply chains to support field missions, procuring and distributing over 4 million in personal protective and intensive care unit equipment, along with 35 testing machines, and 150,000 antibody test kits. Medical facilities in Juba and Goma were upgraded, adding over 30 medical staff, and creating polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing and intensive care unit capacities. Public heath colleagues have provided guidance and training materials. The Department conducted virtual walk throughs in 22 duty stations, 43 contingents living arrangements, and 83 clinics and hospitals across 11 missions. The Field Remote Infrastructure Management technology platform uses sensors to remotely manage field mission engineering and facilities infrastructure, overall reducing the exposure to COVID-19. The MEDEVAC Task Force, led by the Department, has now conducted 140 medical evacuations as part of an inter-agency and system-wide effort. Regional hubs have been established in Nairobi, Accra, Costa Rica, and Kuwait with the facilities in Nairobi and Accra now receiving the largest number of Medevacs. “The mechanism has been a success and has given our personnel and partners the confidence to stay and deliver in some of the United Nations most difficult duty stations around the world,” he underscored.

The rotation policy, he added, has allowed for the quick detection of cases and the ability to isolate and replace personnel without delay. Pre-deployment cases have been detected among uniformed personnel before their arrival. The new long-term air charter agreements introduced in July 2020 were designed to reduce troop movement costs by 15.5 per cent, he said, noting that since the resumption of the rotations savings have been significant. The Department is working with other partners, including the African Union and the European Union, to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in various operational contexts and exchange lessons learnt.

The Secretary-General has tasked the Department to coordinate a system-wide vaccination effort for all United Nations personnel and dependents world-wide, he said, adding that they positively responded to the Secretary-General’s call for host countries to include United Nations personnel in their national roll-out programmes. Thanking Israel for becoming the first country to have provided the first doses to seven peacekeepers in Camp Ziouani, he said that in cases where vaccine delivery will not be possible through the host country, the Department will identify alternate arrangements. A “Group of Friends” of troop- and police-contributing countries has been convened to agree upon a pragmatic, coherent and common approach to vaccinate personnel.

Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, focused on the humanitarian crisis, recalling that 10 days ago, the world passed the grim milestone of 2 million deaths from COVID-19. Of the almost 98 million people confirmed to have contracted the virus across the world, 24 million — almost one quarter — live in countries facing humanitarian or refugee crises. “That’s the tip of the iceberg,” he said, adding that most cases are still not reflected in the figures. The secondary consequences of the virus are even more lethal. In 2021, an estimated 235 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection, up 40 per cent from 2020, almost entirely due to COVID-19. The worst global economic contraction in 90 years has hit the poorest, most fragile countries the hardest. Noting that in 2020 aid agencies provided lifesaving assistance to almost 100 million people, he said the Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19 received nearly $4 billion from 160 donors. The funding enabled transport of over 26,000 health and humanitarian personnel and 118,000 cubic meters of critical COVID-19 cargo, as well as the provision of critical water and sanitation supplies and services to 74 million people, among other things. But it has become harder to reach people. More must be done to improve access to the most vulnerable and to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian and health workers.

While the humanitarian community has managed to sustain and scale up assistance to an unprecedented level, that effort has been outpaced by the growing scale of the crisis, he said, seeking the Council’s help in three areas, including immediate and generous funding of the Global Humanitarian Overview published in December. In 2021, the United Nations-coordinated humanitarian system needs $35 billion to reach 160 million people. Shareholders must do more to strengthen the support international financial institutions provide to their most vulnerable members. “It is staggering to me that of the $110 billion pledged by the international financial institutions since March, only $11.7 billion, just 10 per cent, was targeted at low-income countries,” he said. And only $7 billion has actually been disbursed — the equivalent of about $10 per person, he said, calling for urgent action to ensure vaccines reach the most vulnerable people in the world. Countries should scale up their support for the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and the COVAX Facility.

He went on to emphasize that Governments must also fulfil their responsibility to include in their national vaccination plans all high-risk populations within their territories, including refugees, internally displaced people, and people living in areas under the control of non-State armed groups. It is also vital to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines do not get financed at the expense of other life-saving activities in the very poorest countries. If money is diverted from routine immunization, famine relief or other health services to pay for the COVID vaccine, the result will be more not less loss of life. However, “we have reasons for hope,” he said. “The speed with which effective vaccines have been developed is a historic achievement for humanity […] The next six months will be crucial.”

In the ensuing discussion, delegates reiterated their support for a global ceasefire, but also emphasized the need to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of affordable COVID-19 vaccines, particularly in conflict hotspots. “No one is safe until everyone is safe,” several speakers said, warning that, as long as the pandemic continues, the risk of conflict and tension — and the threat to international peace and security — will only grow.

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