The ILO, WHO, PBSO/DPPA and Interpeace organized an online discussion based on their joint paper “From crisis to opportunity for sustainable peace - A joint perspective on responding to the health, employment and peacebuilding challenges in times of COVID-19”, at which high-level panelists introduced potential pathways to promote employment, health and peacebuilding in conflict-affected countries, particularly in Africa, in times of COVID-19.
In addition to providing an overview of the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic and its implication for peace in fragile settings, Mr. Henk-Jan Brinkman, Chief of Peacebuilding Strategy and Partnerships in PBSO (UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs), presented the key recommendations of the paper.
Mr. Simon Gimson, Vice-President of Interpeace, explained why peacebuilders are not the only ones that can, and should, enable peace, while the main reasons for ensuring that health programmes remain conflict sensitive and contribute to peace – during COVID-19 and in general – were highlighted by Dr. Ibrahima Socé Fall, Assistant Director-General, Emergency Response at the WHO.
Ms. Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon, Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Africa at the ILO, described the impact of COVID on employment and decent work in conflict-affected countries in Africa and provided examples on how can we shift from crisis to opportunity for sustainable peace.
Moderator of the panel discussion, Mr. Federico Negro, Head of the Coordination and Support Unit for Peace and Resilience at the ILO, highlighted the profound direct and indirect impacts the pandemic has had around the world on health, employment, politics and peace. He added that notwithstanding the immediate humanitarian and socio-economic challenges of the crisis, the diverse implications for peacebuilding and sustaining peace are pronounced. The crisis has exacerbated structural fault lines and grievances, and increased mistrust, discrimination and perception of injustice over access to health services, decent jobs and livelihoods in many countries.
As highlighted by Mr. Brinkman (PBSO), the pandemic has further heightened inequalities, including gender, health and income inequalities. Furthermore, grievances have increased, and democracy, mediation and peace dialogues undermined. Employment, decent work and social dialogue can contribute to sustaining peace through a theory of change that promotes contact among communities, decreases grievances through the reduction of inequalities and increases in economic opportunities.
The panellists emphasized that while we are still experiencing a global crisis brought on by the pandemic, adopting a conflict-sensitive approach and sustaining peace are more critical now than ever before and that fragile and conflict-affected countries require especially our attention. The significance of infusing “peace-responsiveness”, that is, looking at how interventions can actively contribute to peace, enhance trust and collaboration, build vertical and horizontal social cohesion and take advantage of local knowledge and resilience, was brought up by Mr. Gimson (Interpeace) as a key to strengthening the quality of the COVID-19 response and contributing to sustainable peace.
Confirming the need of joint responses to tackle the multidimensional challenges in times of COVID-19, the four panellists repeatedly returned to the importance of inclusion and the role of forging and strengthening multilateral partnerships and strategic collaboration. As expressed by Dr. Socé Fall (WHO) “engaging national, local actors and communities in an inclusive manner when designing and implementing response measures is key - inclusive dialogue can be used to reinforce trust between populations and the state and among population groups”.
The inclusion of youth was brought up by Ms. Samuel-Olonjuwon (ILO) as particularly important – not least on the African continent – as young people are not only the future, but also the present and important agents of change.
Participants of the event, contributing through an interactive poll held during the discussion, stressed the multidimensional, severe effects of the pandemic and the need for a broad range of measures to promote social cohesion and peacebuilding in times of COVID. Working together across sectors and at all levels in crisis preparedness, prevention and response and towards collective goals can make concrete contributions to the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus.
Several concrete pathways and examples of how to enhance peacebuilding in health and employment responses were brought up during the webinar. These include using health initiatives to serve as an entry point for bringing people together, building confidence and strengthening cohesion, including between local or/and national parties to a conflict. Creating livelihoods, supporting the health response and building trust through emergency public work schemes, which can be turned into large-scale and long-term public employment programmes, was highlighted as another example of a joint health and employment response contributing to peace.
The fact that developing capacities and workers’ skills, particularly in the health sector, to respond to the crisis can strengthen the health response and build social cohesion was also stressed during the webinar. Another example pointed to the importance of promoting emergency cash transfers in a conflict-sensitive manner while reinforcing national social protection systems. Ms. Samuel-Olonjuwon also described how workers’ and employers’ organizations can use their trust capital, networks and convening power to facilitate crisis response, and bring their constituents together beyond divisive conflict lines.
In sum, the panellists emphasized the simple, yet important and strong message that peace is everyone’s business.
There cannot be health nor sustainable development without peace, and there cannot be peace without health, sustainable development and social justice."