The socio-economic impact of COVID-19 in fragile settings: Peace and social cohesion at risk

Actualité | 8 avril 2020
Countries experiencing fragility, protracted conflict, recurrent natural disasters or forced displacement will face a multiple burden due to the current coronavirus pandemic. They are less equipped to prepare for and respond to COVID-19 as access to basic services, especially health and sanitation, is limited; as decent work, social protection and safety at work are not a given; and as institutions are weak and social dialogue is impaired or absent.

Furthermore, the crisis can potentially ignite or exacerbate grievances, mistrust and sense of injustice over access to health services, decent jobs and livelihoods, and drive conflict that could undermine development, peace and social cohesion. For example, during the 2014 outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa, social unrest emerged in some of the affected countries, creating a vicious circle leading to even greater fragility. There is thus a need to tackle underlying fragility factors while addressing immediate needs arising from the pandemic.

Epidemics and economic crises can have a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable segments of the population, which can trigger worsening inequality. Therefore, also in responding to the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, the ILO recommends the respect, the promotion and the realization of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, other relevant international labour standards, and human rights more broadly. Moreover, in an effort to ensure that no one is left behind and to limit repercussions on peace and resilience in the affected communities, the ILO calls for special attention to population groups and individuals who have been made particularly vulnerable by the crisis, in line with the guidance of Recommendation 205 - Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience (2017).

In these contexts, efforts must be made to maintain and reinforce social cohesion and peaceful coexistence in order to contribute to preventing social tensions between individuals and communities experiencing a sense of inequality and injustice, including refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and host communities, but also women, youths, persons belonging to minorities, and workers in the informal economy, among others. Response initiatives therefore need to address potential grievances, discrimination and stigmatisation over access to resources, livelihoods and health services.

Along these lines, the UN SG has launched on 31 March the new report "Shared responsibility, global solidarity: Responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19”. The report stresses the importance of tackling the devastating social and economic dimensions of the crisis, focusing on the most vulnerable by designing policies that, among other things, support providing health and unemployment insurance and social protection while also bolstering businesses to prevent bankruptcies and job losses. As a key measure, the report highlights that national solidarity needs to prioritize social cohesion and provide fiscal stimulus for the most vulnerable along with support to small- and medium-sized enterprises, decent work and education.

By doing so, the provision of decent work and inclusive livelihoods will not only contribute to employment-centred crisis recovery, but also to social justice, social cohesion, peace and resilience.