Monday, July 26, 2021
For years, Venezuela’s political and economic collapse has been the Americas’ greatest single humanitarian crisis. Five million people have fled as refugees or migrants, and 59 percent of those who remain cannot afford the food their families need. Even before the COVID pandemic, the health care system mirrored this collapse. An estimated 80 percent of hospitals lack adequate medical staff and 60 percent are without running water or consistent electricity. Into this breach has stepped a courageous corps of young medical students who already had become first responders to those injured in the country’s widespread and often violent protests.
Though a 2016 peace agreement ended Colombia’s decades-long conflict with the FARC, armed strife continues to strain the country’s political and security institutions, making an effective pandemic response all the more challenging. Violence against social leaders and former combatants has risen at an alarming pace, and the implementation of much-needed reforms outlined in the peace accord has stalled. Meanwhile, armed groups have capitalized on the virus to bolster their influence by imposing their own repressive local lockdowns and consolidating control over illicit trade. In this #COVIDandConflict video, our Steve Hege looks at how the virus has impacted Colombia and what opportunities may still exist to advance peace.
After 3 a.m., my cellphone rang with the voices of relatives shouting that South Sudan’s spasms of violence had struck our family. In the night, armed youths of a rival community had ambushed a cattle camp of my clan, killing my cousins and other young cowherds as they slept, and stealing more than 400 cattle. Men from of my clan were gathering guns to race into the darkness to counterattack. If my country is ever to have peace, we must break such cycles of vengeance. So, I pleaded with my elder aunts and uncles to prevent that battle. I still do not know if we have truly succeeded.
It’s August 2014 in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar. The police have fled; the army had crumbled. ISIS is rampaging and rolls into Sinjar that summer. The international community is asleep—and the Yazidis (Ezidis) are defenseless. ISIS perpetrates the unthinkable—men and boys are slaughtered, while women and girls enslaved and raped—all because they believe in something different. A genocide happened on our watch.
Despite being sworn in mere weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic reached Tunisia, the new government’s initial response to the crisis was deemed prompt and efficient by most. But an incomplete decentralization process created tension between local authorities and citizens, as varying interpretations of the virus containment measures caused confusion and panic—with significant implications for communities, businesses, and the most vulnerable. This was particularly true in the country’s southern region, where systemic marginalization has created conditions for social unrest and potential destabilization.
For South Sudan, COVID-19 is simply the newest plague. The world’s youngest country already faces civil war, repression, displacement, economic collapse, climate change, hunger—even swarming locusts. South Sudan’s people enter the fight against COVID under nearly the worst conditions of human development, and with 39 percent of them displaced by warfare. With a government that has been unable to provide even basic services, South Sudanese must rely on their emerging civil society, and international partnerships, to organize much of their response to the pandemic. Yet COVID now threatens vital international help for such grassroots campaigns.
As Latin America emerges as a global epicenter for COVID-19, Venezuela’s political uncertainty, crumbling health care system and widespread food insecurity leave the country particularly susceptible to the pandemic. Yet the urgent threat of the virus could force cooperation between the country’s competing governing bodies, particularly on health and humanitarian issues. Our Keith Mines outlines the pandemic’s toll on Latin America, Venezuela’s response to COVID-19 so far and what opportunities exist for ending the country’s political impasse.
Persistent inequalities leave women and girls especially vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19, which continues to devastate communities around the world. In addition to the virus’ first-order health impacts, the pandemic disproportionately threatens their economic participation and physical safety, and policymakers must meaningfully take these factors into consideration for any successful response. In this #COVIDandConflict video, our Danielle Robertson discusses the gender dynamics of the pandemic and how to better incorporate the voices and needs of women and girls into humanitarian efforts.
Since the murder of George Floyd, protests against police brutality and anti-Black racism have shaken the United States, with shockwaves reverberating around the world. Demonstrators have come out in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and over 1,600 towns and cities across the country, representing the broadest protests in U.S. history. Elsewhere, there have been global solidarity protests for Black Lives Matter and demonstrations calling for an end to racism in Tunis, Pretoria, Rio de Janeiro, Seoul, and dozens of other cities around the world. The Black-led popular uprising has led to a national reckoning on the issue of systemic racism and police brutality against Black people in the United States.
USIP’s Peace Teachers Program is a year-long professional development opportunity for middle and high school educators in the United States. Launched in 2015, it offers a select group of educators the opportunity to work closely with USIP and with each other over the course of a school year as they incorporate global peacebuilding themes and skills into their classrooms. In this article, one of USIP’s current Peace Teachers, Emily Philpott, and one of the program’s alumni, Matt Cone, reflect on their experiences teaching peace amid the COVID-19 crisis.