Geneva Peace Week 2020

Summary of the virtual panel discussion "From Crisis to Opportunity for Sustainable Peace: Addressing interactions between health, employment and peacebuilding challenges in times of COVID-19"

Meeting document | 30 November 2020
On 4 November 2020, the ILO, WHO, PBSO and Interpeace participated in an online panel discussion during the Geneva Peace Week to present the main recommendations of 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.

The panel was moderated by Mr Henk-Jan Brinkman, Chief of Peacebuilding Strategy and Partnerships Branch at the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO). Mr Daniel Hyslop, Director of policy, learning and IPAT at Interpeace, introduced the main recommendations of the paper; Ms Mito Tsukamoto, Chief of the ILO Development and Investment Branch, and M. Rudi Coninx, WHO Senior Policy Adviser, Office of the Assistance Director-General, Emergency Response, presented respectively examples of employment and health programmes that could contribute to peacebuilding in times of COVID-19. Perspectives from Iraq and Libya were highlighted by Ms Maha Kattaa, ILO coordinator for Iraq, and Ms Khulood Al Saidi, Interpeace Programme manager in Lybia.

The COVID-19 pandemic is having profound impacts around the world on health, employment and peace. Notwithstanding immediate humanitarian and socio-economic challenges of the crisis, the diverse implications for peacebuilding and sustaining peace are pronounced. The crisis may exacerbate structural fault lines and grievances, increase mistrust, discrimination and perception of injustice over access to health services, decent jobs and livelihoods. Epidemics and economic crises can have a disproportionate impact on certain segments of the population, especially the most vulnerable, which can worsen inequality and marginalization. Measures therefore have to be targeted and tailored to the differing realities of countries and economies. Swift and coordinated policy responses are needed at national and global level, with strong multilateral leadership, to limit the direct health effects of the coronavirus while mitigating the indirect socio-economic fallout across the global economy.

The panellists confirmed that containing and addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in conflict-affected contexts will require serious consideration of a host of complex multidimensional challenges present in these settings. While focussed on the immediate and direct needs to mitigate and contain the disease, responses will need to also mitigate a worsening of the conflict dynamics to avoid a vicious cycle where the disease and conflicts are mutually reinforcing. In the absence of a conflict-sensitive approach to COVID-19, the international response risks exacerbating conflict risks – particularly in countries already affected by violent conflict – and may miss out on critical peacebuilding opportunities in the context of the pandemic.

In sum, international support to governments and civil society response efforts in conflict-affected contexts will need to give special consideration to the interplay of the pandemic’s health and socio-economic effects with pre-existing and emergent conflict dynamics. Hence there is an acute need to set out relevant considerations and to maintain and reinforce social cohesion and peaceful coexistence during the COVID-19 crisis in order to prevent outbreaks of social tension between communities and between the government and the population. It is also important to prevent perceptions of exclusion from service delivery; horizontal inequalities; diverse effects on women’s equality; discrimination and decent work deficits; marginalization of young people; and breakdowns of state-society dialogue in the context of emergency response.

As a conclusion, the panellists concurred with the key recommendations of the joint paper, that the COVID-19 crisis also offers opportunities in particular in 1) approaching a multidimensional crisis with a multidimensional response, 2) committing to conflict-sensitive, peace-responsive and tailored policy and programmatic approaches, 3) using the crisis as an opportunity to genuinely shift to locally led responses, 4) adapting programmatic and communication approaches to local realities and capacities, 5) integrating a peace and conflict lens to maximize positive and mutually reinforcing direct and indirect impacts, 6) laying down foundations for structural changes and building resilience, and 7) seizing the opportunities for transformative change.