As COVID starts to surge in Syria, the pandemic poses extraordinary challenges in one of the world’s most complex conflict zones. Nearly a decade of war has left Syria’s health care system in shambles. With supplies and trained personnel scarce, medical providers have struggled to meet the needs of millions of displaced Syrians. Meanwhile, medical workers have not been spared from the violence—despite international condemnation, health care facilities have been targeted by military strikes over 500 times since 2011.
As the humanitarian and economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow, so does the risk that this crisis will fuel new conflicts around the world, while stymying prospects for resolving ongoing ones. The global health crisis is triggering devastating levels of food insecurity and unemployment, especially in the world’s most fragile states, where the social contract between citizens and the state is severed and societies are fragmented and vulnerable to violence. These trends will almost certainly lead to a future spike in instability across these countries, unless concerted international action is taken.
After months of negotiation and diplomatic wrangling, the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) on July 1 unanimously adopted resolution 2532, endorsing U.N. Secretary-General Guterres’ late March call for a global cease-fire. Diplomats in New York hailed the resolution as an overdue win for multilateralism, while Pope Francis called for the resolution to be implemented “effectively and promptly.” Coming months after the secretary-general’s original cease-fire call and the global spread of the pandemic, will the resolution help bring peace?
Countries worldwide that suffer or risk violent conflicts face a new hazard amid the COVID-19 pandemic: governments’ use of the disease as a pretext to curtail democratic freedoms and punish opposition. As COVID has spread across Africa, Zimbabwe is emerging as one of the countries most vulnerable to the disease—and most illustrative of its threat to peace and democratization efforts on the continent. Two and a half years after a military coup installed President Emmerson Mnangagwa, his government has used the health crisis to arrest members of the opposition and journalists, and divert humanitarian aid to ruling party supporters.
In South Asia, home to some of the world’s most densely populated nations, the COVID-19 pandemic has tightened its grip—causing infections to soar, battering economies, and plunging many into poverty. Governments have mostly struggled to cope.
Southeast Asia has emerged as the regional fulcrum of strategic competition between the United States and China in the Indo-Pacific, with both the Washington and Beijing aggressively competing for influence in the 10 countries that comprise the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. This attention is well-placed, as the decisions that these countries make shape power dynamics in the broader region, influence global norms from internet governance to minority rights, and are determining along which lines the world’s most dynamic regional economy integrates.
Police in Pakistan have found themselves in an unprecedented situation since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year. Under-resourced and poorly trained, they have struggled to ensure compliance with public health restrictions—such as lockdowns and social distancing—against a backdrop of Pakistan’s overarching governance challenges. With only outdated legal frameworks and conventional training and education to rely on, the police have largely responded to violations with corporal punishment, detentions, and arrests—actions that have been reported by the media and widely condemned.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic many countries around the world have reported an alarming increase in domestic violence. Indeed, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for measures to address the “horrifying surge in domestic violence” linked to COVID-related lockdowns. In Afghanistan—one of the worst countries in the world for women by almost any metric—the lockdown exacerbates the dire situation many Afghan women already face. As the Afghan peace process inches forward amid a global pandemic, Afghan women’s inclusion and input are critical to combatting COVID and building peace.
Protests erupted in Lebanon last year over the country’s lagging economy and sclerotic, sectarian-based political system, but slowed amid the global pandemic. The small Mediterranean nation’s economy is in free fall, with the World Bank estimating more than half the population living below the poverty line. Protesters were forced to switch tactics amid the coronavirus and the lock down measures have forced even more Lebanese into poverty. But protesters are planning to return to the streets as COVID precautions ease. USIP’s Elie Abouaoun and Osama Gharizi discuss how the government has responded in the months since protests erupted in October 2019, how the protesters adapted during the pandemic, and the role of Hezbollah.
It was just over a year ago, in March of 2019, that the United States and coalition forces declared the territorial defeat of ISIS following the fall of its last stronghold in Baghouz, Syria. Male fighters over 15 were placed in Kurdish run detention centers throughout northeast Syria, while tens of thousands of women and children who were living among the terrorist organization streamed into the al-Hol camp, giving rise to an unprecedented mix of humanitarian and security challenges. If left unaddressed, the camp could easily serve as the breeding ground for the next generation of ISIS, which is already beginning to reemerge in parts of Syria and Iraq.