This article was originally published on Peace News.

The global spread of COVID-19 has drastically disrupted our ways of life. This impact is mostly felt in fragile contexts where a combination of prolonged armed conflicts, bad governance, and inadequate healthcare systems have predisposed these nations for much more devastating effects of the pandemic. However, despite the precariousness in these contexts, local peacebuilders have stepped up to support the already overstrained healthcare providers and are redefining responsive new ways to do peacebuilding in their communities.

Despite the precariousness [of COVID-19] in these contexts, local peacebuilders have stepped up to support the already overstrained healthcare providers and are redefining responsive new ways to do peacebuilding in their communities. 

In the margins of this year’s High Level Political Forum (HLPF) and in light of the ongoing global COVID-19 crisis, on July 16th 2020, the Civil Society Platform for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (CSPPS) and Conducive Space for Peace (CSP)  organised a virtual side event with local peacebuilders to share findings and recommendations from two recently released reports on COVID-19 implications for peacebuilding. The two reports, Fighting COVID-19, Building Peace – What Local Peacebuilders say about COVID-19, Civic Space, Fragility and Drivers of Conflict and Act Now on ‘Localisation’: COVID-19 Implications for Funding to Local Peacebuilding, contribute to just and inclusive societies (SDG16+) by examining key challenges faced by local peacebuilders and exploring opportunities to enhance support to local peacebuilding during and beyond the pandemic. Local peacebuilders that participated in the panel discussion included Comfort Attah of ASSHHF (Nigeria), Rashida Namulonda of the Sophia Muwanika Institute (Uganda), Fidele Djebba of Association Rayons Soleil (Cameroon), and Jimmy Shilue of Platform for Dialogue (Liberia).

Among the most important findings that these reports highlight, the following insights are particularly relevant for understanding the complex realities local peacebuilders are facing in these difficult times. Both reports underscored a ‘secondary impact’ of COVID-19 to local peacebuilding—exacerbating underlying root causes of conflict, particularly inequality. Furthermore, with government responses not being adequately conflict sensitive, local peacebuilders reported significant increases in police violence and increasing instability and fragility. Furthermore, peacebuilding organisations, even at the local level struggle to access the most vulnerable and affected groups. The digital divide is particularly felt in remote regions where digital access is highly limited. Panellists and recent findings of the CSPPS and CSP reports also indicated spikes in gender-based violence, including domestic sexual violence, with women and youth particularly affected as the pandemic unfolds. An important finding from CSP’s report on shifting funding modalities for local peacebuilding stresses that although small local peacebuilding organisations are at the frontline of peacebuilding—also during the COVID-19 crisis—they have been hardest hit financially by the crisis with 4 out of 5 peacebuilders experiencing a reduction in funding since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, putting the sustainability of their work at risk. Such reduction in funding and opportunities for resources for local peacebuilding has dire implications for the sustainability of their work.

Although small local peacebuilding organisations are at the frontline of peacebuilding, they have been hardest hit financially by the crisis with 4 out of 5 peacebuilders experiencing a reduction in funding since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While COVID-19 also presents important opportunities to evolve the field of peacebuilding and re-think the place of local agency and power, at least three recommendations are important to consider to sustain local peacebuilding during this time:

  • First, to the fullest extent possible international support should hold at its core an integrated prevention approach understanding that the pandemic is not only a health emergency but a multi-dimensional crisis that poses challenges to peacebuilding.
  • Second, partnerships between local and international actors should recognise the agency of local NGOs who are on the frontlines. Challenging and equalising power hierarchies in partnership models between local and international actors is essential to sustaining local peacebuilding during and beyond the crisis.
  • Third, while international organisations play a critical role as interlocutors in securing funding and appropriate support for local peacebuilders, they must negotiate with bilateral donors and private foundations to promote and secure more easily accessible and flexible funding to local peacebuilders. International donors should also continue to advocate with national governments for the importance of local peacebuilders and also act on the power they have to ensure that intermediary organisations channel as much funding as possible to local organisations.

As vaccine trials are being tested in different countries to tackle COVID-19, what is certain for the foreseeable future is that the pandemic will continue exerting insurmountable pressure to local peacebuilders to continue their work. Supporting them in this uncertain time is critical and more than anything, it is an act of solidarity with communities in fragile contexts that are carrying a double burden of this public health crisis. With every day that passes, local peacebuilding is weakened but this can change if local and international actors work together to sustain peace during and beyond the pandemic.

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