The coronavirus pandemic poses major challenges for UN peacekeeping operations

UNITED NATIONS: With 110,000 peacekeepers deployed to more than a dozen countries around the world now devastated by the United Nations He faces two challenges: keeping those soldiers safe and, most importantly, persuading governments not to bring them home.

One fear is that of a stampede effect, in the words of a diplomat. Countries that have contributed peacekeepers may have legitimate concerns about the effect of I will not stay here or I will not leave my men here because if they become infected, they will not be well cared for, the diplomat said. he told AFP.

UN Under-Secretary-General for peacekeeping operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix told AFP on Wednesday that he had so far received no request to withdraw peacekeeping troops due to COVID-19.

It is more essential than ever to continue our collective commitment to peace, he said.

Preparing for the arrival of the virus in countries with UN blue helmet soldiers, and to prevent the spread of the pathogen, on March 6, the UN stopped rotating its troops in and out of conflict zones where they are trying to keep peace. .

This week, the UN extended that new policy until June 30, and now it applies to all countries where UN peacekeepers are deployed.

For weeks, the isolation measures applied worldwide for people infected with the coronavirus have now been in force in the camps where UN soldiers are housed.

Precautions have also been taken with UN patrols so that soldiers do not infect each other or local people, UN officials say.

In fact, the organization is well aware that Nepal's UN peacekeepers that were deployed to Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake infected the local population with cholera in an epidemic that claimed at least 10,000 lives.

We are making every effort to prevent our people from being vectors of contagion, Lacroix said, citing strict hygiene standards and minimal physical contact with locals.

As Africa, largely saved so far by the pandemic, unlike Europe and the United States, expects a severe blow in the coming weeks, the goal now for the UN is to continue operating on the continent, as in Mali, the Central African Republic , South Sudan and the.

The measures taken against COVID-19 have had an impact on UN peacekeeping operations, said a diplomat on condition of anonymity.

But these operations must continue, another diplomat said, predicting a total catastrophe if the operations collapse with the departure of UN troops.

Since March 23, Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for an immediate ceasefire in war zones around the world, such as in Yemen and Syria.

The appeal has had little effect on the ground. But it also amounts to an implicit request that troop-contributing countries keep them right where they are.

On Tuesday, the European Union, a major source of soldiers and police officers for missions, endorsed the idea of ​​keeping UN troops in place, promising not to bring home European soldiers involved in such operations.

We would like to underline that, despite the strain that the pandemic is putting on our own systems, we remain more committed than ever to the work being done by peacekeepers around the world, the EU said in a message to Guterres.

UN peacekeeping operations should be able to continue their operations to support host countries at this particularly difficult time, the EU added.

Some UN diplomats hope that Africa's response to the pandemic, when it strikes the continent with all its lethal force, will be unexpectedly good and allow the UN peacekeeping forces to stand still.

African countries are much more prepared for epidemics psychologically and in terms of their health care systems, said a European diplomat, noting Africa's experience with an Ebola epidemic from 2013 to 2016 and a measles epidemic now affecting the Democratic Republic of Congo.

An African diplomat said that in rich countries people have become complacent and confident and this helps explain their biggest mess when they face a crisis like this.

Africans are stronger in terms of mental resistance. They have a sense of the ephemeral, faith in God, be it a Muslim god or a Christian god, and this will be their strength, this diplomat said, adding that Africans also have a much stronger ability to help each other than people from wealthy western nations.

However, Lacroix said he believes the pandemic will have a particularly harsh impact in countries with UN peacekeepers due to weak infrastructure and war-torn health care networks.

Still, he expressed optimism. What is encouraging is that we are one step ahead of the virus in most settings where UN peacekeepers operate, Lacroix said.