As the global death toll from the ongoing COVID-19 passes two and a half million one year after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, countries are being affected by the virus far beyond human mortality. The secondary impacts of the pandemic are acute in conflict-affected contexts, where they are impeding pathways to peace and development. Data gathered by UNDP through its on-the-ground assessments beginning in mid-March 2020 and data insight conducted jointly by the g7+ and UNDP indicate emerging trends related to the pandemic’s impacts on peace and development across the spectrum of conflict.
The highest rates of COVID-19 infections are found in contexts that—in most cases—also have the highest burden of violence. Insurgency has not declined to the extent as would be expected. Gender-based violence is on the rise. Social cohesion is being stretched thin as riots, protests and mob violence increase. Non-state armed groups have used the diversion of security forces to the pandemic to recruit and step up attacks and undermine the legitimacy of the state. Attacks against health and aid workers, both of which already set records in 2019, continue to rise alongside the pandemic.
COVID-19 has impacted conflict dynamics, too. Globally, violent conflict has declined since the start of the pandemic. In fragile states overall, violence has similarly declined, with 30,000 fewer violence-related fatalities than the same period in 2019 (a decrease of 30 percent). This decrease has been reported by organizations operating in-country as well. The UN Mission to Afghanistan reported that violence against civilians in Afghanistan has declined by 30 percent during the pandemic. Nevertheless, COVID-19’s impact appears to be influencing conflict dynamics. Although the incidence of violent conflict between states has decreased over the past ten years, intrastate violence between armed groups and the state reached its highest point last year. State oppression has increased globally by approximately 30 percent during the pandemic and in some fragile settings, such as the Sahel region, armed violence against civilians by state actors is on the rise. Although some armed groups initially agreed to the Secretary-General’s call for a ceasefire, the International Crisis Group has noted overall that the call has not led to a reduction in violence.
The importance of the Leave No One Behind agenda has never been clearer. The pandemic has underscored the need for strengthening state institutions and fostering stability. It has reinforced the need for collaboration across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus founded on a common vision of pursuing lasting peace and sustainable development. It has also reinforced the need to integrate multidimensional crisis analysis, including on emerging risks and vulnerability, such as this paper, into our way of working, future-proofing our development interventions to build resilient societies and durable development.