MON 25 - 5 - 2020
Date: May 8, 2020
Source: The Daily Star
COVID-19, conflict and fragility
Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine
COVID-19 has hit hard on the public health and economic well-being of not only higher income countries but also higher-governance-capacity countries, indicating the vulnerability of some of the wealthiest and most stable states to the fundamental interruptions instigated by an unexpected pandemic. So, what about the most fragile ones where pandemic responses are struggling with social issues, economic disparity, fragmented authority, political violence, low state capacity, internal and external conflicts, high levels of refugees, week social contracts, and low citizen trust in leadership?

Since it was detected, the virus has shown that it can contaminate anybody, anywhere. It's effects, however, have not been similar everywhereas it has taken different trajectories. Its impact is expected to have spur multidimensional health, economic, political, and security crises on fragile states given their weak governmental capacity to provide vital basic public services, territorial integrity and security leading to a break of the social contract.

Over the course of the last two decades, fragile states have occupied critical consideration as policymakers, and experts have looked to comprehend and address the core factors that render these states the common denominators in responses to global dangers: terrorism, civil wars, extreme poverty and pandemics.

Nonetheless, the international community has tried to discover compelling answers to end fragility. However, progress has been constrained as outlined by the present condition of fragility around the world. More than 1.8 billion people live in fragile states weakly governed and highly vulnerable to shocks delivered by pandemics.

Thus, the post-COVID-19 period must afford the earnestness of a new approach, which is implementation-centered and addresses the gap between policy objectives and outcomes; a methodology based on private-sector engagement depending on multi-partner solutions and innovative city-based approach.

Much ink has been spilled foreseeing the probable impact of this significant global crisis, yet its scale duration and brutality are still to a great extent obscure. What is clear is that the potential of the virus to cause chaos in fragile and conflict-affected states is very high. While the principal global request of each state is to safeguard its own residents' lives and protect their livelihoods, greater economic and political consideration should be paid to nations that are already suffering from violence and where peace and security are in question.

The inability to support the response to the virus in fragile and conflict-affected states could have disastrous and broad results. The virus is probably going to worsen issues that contribute to conflict, including joblessness, food insecurity, competition for resources, marginalization, displacement and opportunistic actions by violent extremists. In addition, risks such as violent popular protests, delayed elections and constitutional procedures, political instability, and increased insecurity will have serious spillover effects on entire regions.

The European Institute of Peace is surveying the impact of COVID-19 on fragile and conflict-affected countries in order to study its effects on conflict resolution, peace processes and agreements in 14 countries. “Worrying scenarios” emerging from this work prompted EIP to stress that a “perfect storm” of destabilizing outcomes is expected. Economic shrinkage, combined with a sharp rise in new virus cases, will in all likelihood challenge the legitimacy of governing factions, upset political bargains, disturb agreements, fuel strains between national and local governments, and open doors for non-state armed groups to react to the emergency.

In order to avoid reaching the “worst-case scenarios,, the Institute features a set of recommendations among which are: strengthening the capacity of national health systems, addressing the long-term economic consequences of COVID-19, coordinating between and among regional, multilateral and non-governmental organizations, safeguarding an integrated and conflict-sensitive response across humanitarian, development, security and political divisions, and protecting current peace processes while capitalizing on prospects of dialogue and trust-building. The report urges European policymakers to prepare a Marshall Plan-like response in support of fragile states.

Weak governance is at the core of fragility. The World Bank’s strategy on Fragility, Conflict and Violence perceives that addressing fragility and reducing violence is key to ending poverty. Similarly, the U.S. government’s Global Fragility Act, endorsed end 2019, requires aligning security, diplomatic, and development action in a coordinated long-term strategy to address the causes of fragility and violence.

Building more inclusive and legitimate governance structures is important to beat the pandemic, yet additionally to guarantee that fragile countries do not fall into further cycles of violence and fragility.

Many years of evidence disclose that countries with high levels of social cohesion and citizen trust in their government are best ready to endure the unavoidable brutal shocks.

Institutions act like the human body’s immune system; when stress happens in societies with weak institutions and bad governance, violence often follows.

This multiplicity of risks combined with the multifaceted nature of actors and the degree of human suffering paint a recognizable picture. It is the everyday work of development specialists in fragile and conflict-affected states. The most recent two decades' lessons must be reflected in the global reaction to COVID-19 in fragile states.

While the pandemic is introducing an earnest emergency, it is notable that only actual or perceived emergency brings actual change.

Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine is executive director of the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development.

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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