At least 21,347 people have been killed in conflict, including more than 5,800 civilian adults and children who were directly targeted, despite the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution calling for a global cessation of hostilities some 90 days ago. Instead of a ceasefire, allowing countries and humanitarian organizations to focus on battling the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing violence is pushing millions to the brink of conflict induced famine and hindering the battle against the outbreak.
Leading aid organizations urge Heads of State meeting today in the Security Council in New York to urgently renew their call for a global ceasefire, and to accelerate COVID-19 response capacity and access in areas affected by conflict and humanitarian crisis.
The UN Secretary-General issued his first call for a global ceasefire in March, yet early signs of progress have since stalled, as armed groups have continued or even increased fighting. This is contributing to a devastating increase in food insecurity and the likelihood of famine caused by conflict. The UN issued a warning only last week on the risk of conflict-induced famine in South Sudan, Yemen, DRC and northeast Nigeria. The economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have only worsened food insecurity, with an estimated additional 110 million children going hungry globally as a result of the pandemic.
In South Sudan, increased inter-communal violence has contributed to nearly 6.5m people, or over half of the country’s population, facing dire levels of food insecurity. In Yemen, where humanitarian organizations face extremely challenging barriers to access to those most in need, civilians continue to fall victim to airstrikes and high levels of acute food insecurity. In DRC, aid workers have come under attack recently, and hunger levels are spiking in the Ituri district as a consequence of ongoing conflict.
The lack of progress towards peace is leaving millions of people suffering from the impacts of war and the global COVID-19 pandemic, the aid organizations warn, whilst limiting humanitarian access to extremely vulnerable communities. As the virus continues to compound suffering and drive the threat of famine across different conflict zones, it is vital political leaders put their weight behind the call for a humanitarian pause to fighting, facilitate safe and sustained access for aid workers, and accelerate COVID-19 response in conflict and humanitarian crisis affected countries.
Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children said: "The truth is we are dangerously running out of time. Already warnings are ringing out of the potential for widespread famines in at least four countries as result of the coronavirus pandemic. It is no coincidence that many of the countries now most at risk of hunger are also the ones mired in conflict - and it is children who too often pay the deadly price. Children need more safety and more protection, but fighting has continued or in some cases gotten worse.
“COVID-19 has already had a devastating impact on children’s lives, limiting their access to healthcare, food, education and protection. A 90-day pause in fighting that is actually implemented on the ground could be the lifeline that helps to prevent mass starvation and to protect a generation of children.”
David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee said: “Serious diplomatic muscle must be put behind a global ceasefire. No effort to beat COVID-19 can be successful while fighting continues to threaten civilians and hospitals. More, not less, of the global cooperation the UN represents is needed to fight this virus.”
Radhya Al-Mutawakel, Chairperson of Mwatana Organisation for Human Rights said: “After more than 6 years of fighting, Yemenis are desperate for a circuit-breaker so they can avoid the looming man-made famine that will surely cost more lives than the bombs and shells. They need peace, justice and accountability and they need the Security Council and all governments with access to the warring parties to use their powers of persuasion to bring sustainable peace immediately.”
Abby Maxman, President and CEO of Oxfam America said: “To end conflicts now, we urgently need sustainable ceasefires. And for that to happen, leaders must listen to those directly impacted by the conflict, especially diverse women’s groups. Women are well-practiced in successfully negotiating temporary ceasefires for aid to pass and to evacuate civilians, and their meaningful engagement increases the chances of addressing the root causes of conflict and builds buy-in for agreement.
“As we fight the COVID-19 pandemic together, Member States must also ensure women and young people are included in the response at all decision-making levels. Now more than ever, we need diverse perspectives, talents, and reach to defeat this collective foe.”
Andrew Morley, President and CEO of World Vision International said: "The fallout from COVID-19 will wreck the futures of an entire generation of children - unless we act now. As ever, it is the most vulnerable girls and boys, whose lives were already afflicted by conflict, who are most at risk. For those facing such unbearable strain, a call to peace is the only way forward. All parties to conflict must pause and respect the lives of humanitarian and health workers. The international community must also urgently step up to resource an accelerated COVID-19 response in these fragile contexts. This is a global pandemic – and nothing but a united, global effort will suffice.”
Angelina Nyajima Jial, Executive Director of Hope Restoration South Sudan said: "In South Sudan, we desperately need all fighting to stop because many of the communities caught up in the violence are now facing famine. Without peace, more women and children are being forced to flee for their lives, even as much of the country is inundated with flood waters. We need the international community to stand united with us to insist on a humanitarian ceasefire and help South Sudan massively scale up humanitarian assistance to prevent further loss of life."
Aid organizations are calling on Security Council members and the wider international community to:
- Take urgent action to realize a global cessation of hostilities and durable humanitarian pause by renewing their call for a cessation of hostilities for a further 90 days at minimum.
- Engage all parties to armed conflicts, providing political support to the UN Secretary-General and his Special Envoys and other mediation actors in progressing negotiation efforts;
- Accelerate international response to COVID-19 in situations of armed conflict or affected by humanitarian crisis, ensuring the Global Humanitarian Response Plan and country-specific humanitarian appeals are fully funded;
- Ensure scale up of engagement at country-level to better facilitate access to the most vulnerable, upholding the safety of humanitarian and health workers, humanitarian principles, and recognition of the disproportionate negative impact of the pandemic on women, girls and boys, older persons and persons with disabilities, refugees and internally displaced people.
Signed by: Save the Children, International Rescue Committee, World Vision International, Oxfam America, CARE International, Action Against Hunger, Humanity and Inclusion (Handicap International), Hope Restoration South Sudan, Mwatana Organisation for Human Rights, Progressive Voice
Notes To Editors:
The UN resolution was adopted on July 1st 2020. According to most recent data of the Armed Conflict Location & Event Database (ACLED), 21,347 people died in conflict related violence between July 1st and September 12th. According to ACLED, this number includes some 5,800 civilians who were directly targeted. The real number of civilian casualties is likely to be higher, as the number of 5,800 excludes civilian fatalities from 'collateral damage' or civilians killed in the crossfire of a battle; these fatalities are included in the larger total of 21,347.
Additional words from humanitarian response leaders on COVID-19 & Conflict ahead of the UNSC Summit on COVID-19 & Global Governance:
The below document provides reflections from humanitarian leaders across multiple conflict and humanitarian crisis affected countries on the dangerous intersection between COVID-19 and conflict. As the crisis has further exacerbated existing humanitarian challenges and created new ones, driving food insecurity and intensifying inequality and vulnerability, humanitarian actors reaffirm the need for a global ceasefire to be implemented urgently on the ground to allow humanitarians and communities to fight the global pandemic and ensure safe and sustained access to extremely vulnerable communities.
Caroline Dauber, Country Director in Yemen for Humanity & Inclusion (Handicap International): "There is no escape for the civilian population in Yemen. The COVID-19 pandemic is making even more critical the need to scale up health services and infrastructure for the population, not to mention the provision of safe water, food, and the ability to freely move and transport goods or people.
“The UN Security Council needs first and foremost to urgently enforce a sustainable and nationwide halt of hostilities, and support viable conditions for the delivery of impartial, rapid and unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid to all Yemeni people in need. It also needs to systematically call on all parties to the conflict to take all feasible steps to ensure the protection of civilians, by stopping the use of explosive weapons in populated areas”.
Benjamin Vienot, Action Against Hunger Country Director, Democratic Republic of Congo: "The COVID-19 pandemic is unique in its sheer magnitude with dramatic impacts on health, hunger and food insecurity, further expanding worrying trends witnessed since 2017 on the global rise of hunger.
“In the Democratic Republic of Congo, 21.8 million people are facing high levels of acute food insecurity, representing a steep rise compared to levels of hunger recorded in 2019. This alarming situation results from compounding factors including local armed conflicts in Ituri and North Kivu, as well as socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, drastically hindering local agricultural production, access to livelihoods and overall financial and physical access to food. We must use this pandemic as a wake-up call and promote a global ceasefire as a first step to strengthen food systems, ensure access to essential services and prevent future hunger crisis.”
Khin Ohmar, Chairperson of Progressive Voice, Myanmar: “The civil war in Myanmar has reached an intensity not seen in decades, in spite of COVID-19 and the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire. Local ethnic communities like the Rohingya and Chin are bearing the brunt of the convergence of the violence, forced displacement and additional COVID-related restrictions on their already limited freedom of movement. With the elections in November fast approaching, and Rakhine and other parts of the country in the grip of a second wave of COVID-19, it is critical that the government lifts the internet restrictions that have been in place for more than a year and commits to a comprehensive and meaningful ceasefire. It is more urgent than ever that the Secretary-General and the Security Council use their influence to ensure the Myanmar government takes these actions.”
Rosalind Crowther, CARE Country Director for South Sudan:"The convergence of conflict, displacement and flooding across much of South Sudan has brought parts of the country back to the brink of famine. Immediate humanitarian assistance is critical if the country is to avoid catastrophic levels of food insecurity and the associated loss of life. It is just as critical that there is a comprehensive national ceasefire that can open the way for lasting peace and allow the people of South Sudan to start rebuilding their lives. CARE supports the UN Secretary-General’s appeal for a global ceasefire and urges the Security Council to use its influence with the leaders of South Sudan to ensure a sustainable peace takes hold across South Sudan.”
Christopher Nyamandi, Save the Children Country Director for Afghanistan:"At the beginning of the year, more than 9 million people in Afghanistan were already in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, that number has swelled to more than 14 million, including 8 million children, as the impact of decades of conflict alongside the disastrous effects of the global pandemic have thrown communities into further hardship.
“Children and their families have witnessed their schools shut down and medical facilities overwhelmed as poverty has spread at the same time as the price of staple foods, such as wheat and rice, has surged. Meena, an 11-year-old girl from Kabul told us ‘Since the COVID outbreak, we haven’t had three meals in a day because my father can’t make enough money to provide us with enough food.’ Unfortunately, Meena’s struggle to merely eat enough food in a day to survive has become commonplace. The situation is only set to worsen as winter months fast approach. Now more than ever do families like Meena’s need lifesaving support. The international community must reaffirm its commitment to the people of Afghanistan, including through commitments at the upcoming 2020 Afghanistan Conference.”
Haissam Minkara, Country Director for Algeria, Oxfam: “The COVID-19 pandemic has made abundantly clear that a population which has been displaced and almost entirely dependent on humanitarian aid for survival for over four decades is uniquely vulnerable to such crises. Next month marks 45 years since the start of the Western Sahara conflict – now, more than ever, the stakes couldn’t be higher for those already left behind by the international community.