At least 21,347 people have been killed in conflict, including more than 5,800 civilian adults and children who were directly targeted, despite the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution calling for a global cessation of hostilities some 90 days ago. Instead of a ceasefire, allowing countries and humanitarian organisations to focus on battling the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing violence is pushing millions to the brink of conflict-induced famine and hindering the battle against the outbreak.
Leading aid organisations urge Heads of State meeting today in the Security Council in New York to urgently renew their call for a global ceasefire, and to accelerate COVID-19 response capacity and access in areas affected by conflict and humanitarian crisis.
The UN Secretary-General issued his first call for a global ceasefire in March, yet early signs of progress have since stalled, as armed groups have continued or even increased fighting. This is contributing to a devastating increase in food insecurity and the likelihood of famine caused by conflict. The UN issued a warning only last week on the risk of conflict-induced famine in South Sudan, Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo, and northeast Nigeria. The economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have only worsened food insecurity, with an estimated additional 110 million children going hungry globally as a result of the pandemic.
In South Sudan, increased inter-communal violence has contributed to nearly 6.5m people, or over half of the country’s population, facing dire levels of food insecurity. In Yemen, where humanitarian organisations face extremely challenging barriers to access to those most in need, civilians continue to fall victim to airstrikes and high levels of acute food insecurity. In DRC, aid workers have come under attack recently, and hunger levels are spiking in the Ituri district as a consequence of ongoing conflict.
The lack of progress towards peace is leaving millions of people suffering from the impacts of war and the global COVID-19 pandemic, the aid organisations warn, whilst limiting humanitarian access to extremely vulnerable communities. As the virus continues to compound suffering and drive the threat of famine across different conflict zones, it is vital political leaders put their weight behind the call for a humanitarian pause to fighting, facilitate safe and sustained access for aid workers, and accelerate COVID-19 response in conflict and humanitarian crisis affected countries.
Andrew Morley, President and CEO of World Vision International said:
“The fallout from COVID-19 will wreck the futures of an entire generation of children - unless we act now. As ever, it is the most vulnerable girls and boys, whose lives were already afflicted by conflict, who are most at risk. For those facing such unbearable strain, a call to peace is the only way forward. All parties to conflict must pause and respect the lives of humanitarian and health workers. The international community must also urgently step up to resource an accelerated COVID-19 response in these fragile contexts. This is a global pandemic – and nothing but a united, global effort will suffice.”
Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children said:
“The truth is we are dangerously running out of time. Already warnings are ringing out of the potential for widespread famines in at least four countries as result of the coronavirus pandemic. It is no coincidence that many of the countries now most at risk of hunger are also the ones mired in conflict - and it is children who too often pay the deadly price. Children need more safety, and more protection, but fighting has continued or in some cases gotten worse. COVID-19 has already had a devastating impact on children’s lives, limiting their access to healthcare, food, education and protection. A 90-day pause in fighting that is actually implemented on the ground could be the lifeline that helps to prevent mass starvation and to protect a generation of children.”
David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee said:
“Serious diplomatic muscle must be put behind a global ceasefire. No effort to beat COVID-19 can be successful while fighting continues to threaten civilians and hospitals. More, not less, of the global cooperation the UN represents is needed to fight this virus.”
Radhya Al-Mutawakel, Chairperson of Mwatana Organisation for Human Rights said:
“After more than six years of fighting, Yemenis are desperate for a circuit-breaker so they can avoid the looming man-made famine that will surely cost more lives than the bombs and shells. They need peace, justice and accountability and they need the Security Council and all governments with access to the warring parties to use their powers of persuasion to bring sustainable peace immediately.”
Abby Maxman, President and CEO of Oxfam America said:
“To end conflicts now, we urgently need sustainable ceasefires. And for that to happen, leaders must listen to those directly impacted by the conflict, especially diverse women’s groups. Women are well-practiced in successfully negotiating temporary ceasefires for aid to pass and to evacuate civilians, and their meaningful engagement increases the chances of addressing the root causes of conflict and builds buy-in for agreement. As we fight the COVID-19 pandemic together, Member States must also ensure women and young people are included in the response at all decision-making levels. Now more than ever, we need diverse perspectives, talents, and reach to defeat this collective foe.”
Angelina Nyajima Jial, Executive Director of Hope Restoration South Sudan said:
"In South Sudan, we desperately need all fighting to stop because many of the communities caught up in the violence are now facing famine. Without peace, more women and children are being forced to flee for their lives, even as much of the country is inundated with flood waters. We need the international community to stand united with us to insist on a humanitarian ceasefire and help South Sudan massively scale up humanitarian assistance to prevent further loss of life."
Aid organisations are calling on Security Council members and the wider international community to:
Take urgent action to realise a global cessation of hostilities and durable humanitarian pause by renewing their call for a cessation of hostilities for a further 90 days at minimum.
Engage all parties to armed conflicts, providing political support to the UN Secretary-General and his Special Envoys and other mediation actors in progressing negotiation efforts;
Accelerate international response to COVID-19 in situations of armed conflict or affected by humanitarian crisis, ensuring the Global Humanitarian Response Plan and country-specific humanitarian appeals are fully funded;
Ensure scale up of engagement at country-level to better facilitate access to the most vulnerable, upholding the safety of humanitarian and health workers, humanitarian principles, and recognition of the disproportionate negative impact of the pandemic on women, girls and boys, older persons and persons with disabilities, refugees and internally displaced people.
Signed by: Save the Children, International Rescue Committee, World Vision International, Oxfam America, CARE International, Action Against Hunger, Humanity and Inclusion (Handicap International), Hope Restoration South Sudan, Mwatana Organisation for Human Rights, Progressive Voice
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