Community Violence Reduction Adaptations During COVID-19
At the onset of the pandemic, disruptions due to COVID-19 and subsequent restrictions affected mandate implementation on DDR/CVR in all mission settings. DDR programmes and CVR projects implemented by MINUSMA, MINUSCA, MONUSCO and UNAMID, experienced delays and faced significant restrictions. These included delays due to various virus prevention protocols, restricted freedom of movement of personnel and limited monitoring of projects. In addition, for MONUSCO, which is mandated with DDRRR, travel restrictions between the countries of the Great Lakes region, substantially hampered re-patriation and resettlement efforts of demobilized ex-combatants.
The adaptations made by DDR components during the pandemic were made to not only respond to the immediate concerns of the disease, but to also address inequalities in healthcare to conflict-affected communities and create new entry points to further link health and peace. The relationship between health and conflict has the potential to expand inequities in healthcare for conflict-affected communities and to exacerbate grievances between conflict-affected communities and governments. To promote the health of DDR beneficiaries and communities, DDR components repurposed and retooled Community Violence Reduction (CVR) projects to assist government responses to the pandemic. These adaptations had multiple impacts including bolstering urgently needed aid and infrastructure, increasing social cohesion in communities, and mitigating violence.
The adaption of DDR-CVR programming during the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to SDG 3 by promoting the well-being of conflict-affected communities. Areas affected by conflict and violence are often more vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases as a result of insecurity, weak governance, lack of infrastructure, and mistrust of state institutions. DDR-CVR programming has contributed to reaching targets 3.8 and 3.d by supporting local health systems, sensitizing communities on the COVID-19 pandemic, and supporting the development and distribution of physical health resources.
In contexts such as CAR and Mali, this has included sensitization and risk communication with conflict-affected communities, as well as the production of personal protective equipment (PPE). The repurposing of CVR has also allowed for the implementation of quick impact projects towards the health response, leveraging the capacities of ex-combatants and community members in building critical health and sanitation infrastructure such as water wells and isolation centers. In addition to using COVID-19 as an opportunity to strengthen social cohesion and reduce violence in the short term, another guiding principle of DDR-CVR interventions was to ensure sustainability in the long term. Missions such as MINUSCA designed convertible projects from the outset. For example, the COVID-19 screening and isolation centers built during the crisis could be converted to maternity halls to enhance the capacity of local health facilities; maintaining the wells in a post-COVID community could contribute to the reduction of intercommunal conflicts that often emerge due to competition over scares resource; and the health check-points established at the Cameroon border will eventually be turned into border control facilities further strengthening national security capacities. Lastly, through their support to national authorities in COVID-19 response, new entry points for DDR components and how they engage with armed groups and communities have emerged. In particular, components were able to leverage the apolitical nature of the health emergency as an opportunity for confidence-building and cooperation between parties to the conflict. Similarly, some components stepped up their good offices function during the pandemic to negotiate (at the local level) for temporary cessation of hostilities.
The innovative adaptations of CVR were successful in strengthening government responses to the pandemic and continuing to progress toward DDR goals such as social cohesion and peacebuilding. These projects enabled communities to be sensitized to the pandemic, increased awareness for prevention, expanded infrastructure, produced and distributed PPE and hygiene equipment, and strengthened community trust through dialogue and collective action. An exemple of this innovation are the many projects in the Central African Republic (CAR). In Kaga Bandoro, CAR DDR teams constructed a screening centre in the city’s hospital and three COVID control points. DDR teams in CAR also installed handwashing devices (buckets, basins, and soap) in various locations, drilled wells, and built isolation centres. In Bangui, 87 DDR beneficiaries received vocational training for to sew face masks. More than 2,750 locally produced face masks and 12,700 soaps were distributed to vulnerable persons in need.
Key limitations during the development and implementation of these CVR projects were the restrictions and delays imposed as a result of the pandemic. In addition, ongoing conflict in many of these areas required careful planning and considerations of risk and security. Coordination with key agencies like WHO was crucial in ensuring that protocols were in place to ensure that DDR teams implemented the required safety measure to mitigate and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Finally, the creativity, flexibility, and resilience of DDR personnel and DDR beneficiaries was central to rapid response and successful adaptation of CVR projects.
Sustainability measures were included in projects so outcomes could be sustained post-pandemic. Sensitizing communities to the pandemic and training community leaders to sustain safety messaging is critical in the context of COVID-19 and other current and future health emergencies. The building of infrastructure included plans to repurpose projects for after the pandemic, including turning isolation centres into maternity wards. The vocational training of beneficiaries for sewing face masks enables ex-combatants to pursue new employment opportunities. These projects expanded health systems in conflict-affected areas where healthcare is limited. DDR teams developed dialogue mechanisms for discussing health issues that can later be used to open communication channels with political entities. These projects have also been critical in highlighting the reciprocal link between health and peace, resulting in a redoubling of efforts and coordination among related agencies including DDR and WHO.
The impacts of COVID-19 have had challenging repercussions to DDR programmes. The unique link between health and peace means that conflict-affected areas often have limited infrastructure to deal with health emergencies. This is also exacerbated a lack of trust between conflict-affected communities and outside agencies including governments and international agencies. In turn, the instability and risk involved with supporting these areas often results in a further lack of outreach, resources, and assistance from both governments and international agencies. As a result, these CVR projects were critical in providing much needed information and resources to these vulnerable communities and developing mechanisms of trust and dialogue between conflict-affected communities and government.
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DRC, Mali, Darfur