COVID-19, Conflict and Risks in the Arab Region: Ending Hostilities and Investing in Peace

Publication language
Date published
22 Jan 2021
Research, reports and studies
Conflict, violence & peace, Peacebuilding, Multi-sector/cross-sector, Disaster preparedness, resilience and risk reduction, COVID-19, Epidemics & pandemics, humanitarian action, Humanitarian-development-peace nexus, Syria crisis
Iraq, Libya, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen
New York University, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA)

The COVID-19 pandemic gained a foothold in the Arab region more slowly than in others, yet it is poised to have a devastatingly outsized impact. This is especially true of the seven Arab countries that remain locked in ongoing conflict or occupation, namely Iraq, Libya, the State of Palestine, Somalia, the Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen. Although the situation in each of these countries is distinct, they are among the countries most vulnerable to the pandemic and its seismic secondary effects. Years of bloodshed and strife have eviscerated their social contracts, shattered their economies, amplified their household food insecurity, devastated their health systems, degraded their infrastructure, and uprooted and traumatized their populations. The capacity to manage a public health crisis, let alone a once-in-a-century global pandemic concurrent with the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, is alarmingly depleted.

For these reasons, the call for a global humanitarian truce made by the Secretary-General of the United Nations in March 2020, and its subsequent endorsement by the Security Council in resolution 2532 (2020), is of paramount importance. Only a suspension of violence, including lifting restrictions on aid and medical relief imposed as part of military or security policies, can create the space needed to confront the health and socioeconomic ramifications of the pandemic. Equally crucial, a cessation of hostilities would provide a rare window of opportunity to begin addressing the underlying inequities and injustices that have left these seven countries so exposed to the dual crises of conflict and the pandemic.

The present paper highlights the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the humanitarian and economic devastation wrought by prolonged conflict in the Arab region. It provides an overview of current and forecasted conflict trends in the seven countries, and shows that these remain largely unchanged, or in some cases worsened, since the outbreak of the virus. Based on these analyses, the present paper calls on Governments and their international partners to harness the sense of urgency that the pandemic has unleashed to end violence, and to begin building towards peace. A sustainable recovery is possible, but time is running short and recent developments in the region are cause for alarm. In the absence of a tangible step change, the pandemic will devastate the region’s conflict-affected countries.

Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)