Peace Direct’s submission to the International Development Committee inquiry on Humanitarian crises monitoring: impact of coronavirus (part II)

7 May 2020 




About Peace Direct and the role of local peacebuilding


  1. This submission has been prepared by Peace Direct, a UK-based international NGO dedicated to supporting locally led efforts to stop violent conflict and build sustainable peace. Our submission seeks to provide analysis on long-term implications of COVID-19 in fragile and conflict affected communities. This submission builds on Peace Direct’s previous submission to the IDC inquiry, on the current situation and immediate risks dated 17 April. 


  1. Peace Direct works with local organisations in 13 fragile and conflict-affected countries and maintains a network of local peacebuilding experts around the world who provide regular insight and coverage of trends, initiatives and organisations working on peacebuilding. As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic grows, our focus remains on how we can continue to support communities breaking through cycles of violent conflict.


  1. Peacebuilding is an active process that seeks to resolve violent conflict, address the root causes of violence and create societal change; it is a holistic and long-term approach and should not be interpreted as something that only happens in a post-conflict context. Local communities, civil society organisations and NGOs play a vital role in responding to crisis, conflict transformation and sustaining peace. Individuals and organisations with deep roots in their communities, have established trust, respect and have great influence in shaping opinions and behaviours. In the coming years, local peacebuilders in developing countries will be crucial in helping their communities through the COVID-19 pandemic, coping with the secondary impacts, and addressing long term implications. But they need support now, in the form of flexible, adaptive and long-term financing.


  1. There are, however, a number of uncertainties about the long-term implications of COVID-19 for peace and conflict in developing countries - which will vary on regional, national and even local level. The issues presented in this submission are not intended as forecasts or predictions, nor is it an exhaustive list, rather they are outlining uncertainties and potential implications of key issues that could shape peace and conflict in the next five to ten years.





  1. It is important to first acknowledge two key uncertainties that will invariably affect peace and conflict in the next five to ten years: COVID-19 itself and the shape responses to contain it will take in developing countries.


  1. COVID-19: Key aspects of COVID-19 such as infection and mortality rates, future vaccines and uncertainties about reinfection all contribute to the uncertainty. While numbers of confirmed cases in Africa for example are relatively low, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned the continent may see as many as 10 million cases in the next three to six months and  modelling from Imperial College London  suggests up to 300,000 deaths.[1] However, the true scale of deaths may not be known for years. Large proportions of the population may be particularly vulnerable due to malnutrition and diseases such as tuberculosis or HIV/AIDs.[2] Even if infection and mortality rates remain low, future availability of, and access to vaccines, as well as limited understanding about immunity and risks for reinfection create high levels of uncertainty.


  1. Measures to contain COVID-19: Similarly, key aspects of governments’ responses to contain and mitigate effects of COVID-19 contribute to uncertainty. Developing countries have adopted a range of measures from partial to full lock downs, travel and movement restrictions.[3] While some countries have already begun to ease restrictions,[4] the duration of measures in others remains uncertain. The detrimental effects these measures have on incomes and people’s ability to survive, may lead to changes in restrictions or people disregarding them. The efficacy of measures such as social distancing and handwashing are questionable in contexts of overcrowding, poverty, and water scarcity.[5]


Long-term implications


  1. During Peace Direct’s consultation with local peacebuilders at the beginning of April, several immediate risks and opportunities were identified. In this submission we look at possible long-term implications of these. It is important to note that these issues are not mutually exclusive.


  1. Violent civil unrest and government responses: As with many crises, the poorest people and communities are particularly vulnerable, with less capacity to adapt.[6]  The UN World Food Programme analysis lists 49 countries at risk of food insecurity due to COVID-19,[7] a large percentage of which are fragile or conflict affected. Secondary impacts of COVID-19 could constitute perhaps a greater threat than the disease itself, as unemployment, a decline of food supplies and rising costs of basic goods, and inequality contribute to fuelling violence.[8] The risks of widespread famine[9] in coming years coupled with entrenched inequalities has the potential for long term humanitarian crisis across borders, and waves of violence and social unrest.


  1. Governments are often concerned about mobilisations of people and public expressions of opposition to polices and a failure to provide effective services. The rights to peaceful protest, expression of opinion and to participate in public affairs are fundamental parts of any democratic society. However, serious challenges occur when protests escalate into violence, through the actions of citizens, the response of the police or due to broader forms of state repression.


  1. Civic space has been under serious attack for several years as a result of increasing restrictions on people’s fundamental freedoms.[10] The concern now is that some governments are, or will, use COVID-19 as a pretext for consolidating power and may maintain restrictions long after they may be justified; or may not ease all the restrictions when the pandemic is over. This poses a challenge for local peacebuilders, especially in countries like Burundi or Myanmar, where space for civil society activities has already been restricted, organisations working in early warning early response, find their work further curtailed.


  1. Human rights abuses and curtailment of freedoms in the short to medium term, such as restrictions on movement, or on fundamental civil and political rights such as freedom of expression, assembly and association, may fuel resentment and political instability, and spark localised conflicts, particularly as the long term economic impacts come into effect which have the potential to lead to nationwide unrest and even regime change. [11]


  1. Local peacebuilders play a vital role in addressing root causes of violent civil unrest. For example in Somalia, two decades of protracted armed conflict has had significant repercussions on the country, weakening institutions and state structures in addition to exacerbating poverty and youth unemployment. With limited options for education and employment, young people remain potential recruits to various armed militia groups, including Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda affiliated extremist groups and ISIS. Peace Direct’s partner, Social life and Agricultural Development Organisation (SADO), runs projects to support vulnerable women and young people to learn life skills and non-violence approaches, in order to combat recruitment. To do this SADO provides vocational training, grants and job placements to women and young people. They have also supported young people to develop their own income-generating activities, giving out business grants, providing business management training, and setting up a revolving loan fund.[12]


  1. Local peacebuilders also have an important role in working with the security sector and local government to achieve sustainable change. For example, Peace Direct’s partner Envision Zimbabwe Women’s Trust, works with the Zimbabwe Republic Police to end a culture of violence at both the national and community level. In addition to improving relations between the police and the communities they serve, Envision has been creating platforms for closer cooperation between police, traditional leaders and communities.[13]


  1. Identity based violence: Identity based violence is where violence is motivated by the perpetrators conception of the victim’s identity, such as race, gender, religion, or political affiliation.[14] In our previous submission on the immediate risks of COVID-19, we noted that misinformation and ‘othering’ both at a community and political level is increasing. For example, attacks on people suspected of having COVID-19, as well as migrants, are already being documented.[15] There are also examples of increased state repression, for example in Uganda, there are reports of increased state repression against civilians with police attacking minority groups and authorities increasingly attacking opposition.[16]


  1. COVID-19 provides governments and nonstate actors alike the opportunity to exploit fear and incite identity-based violence, or authorities simply fail to respond effectively or in a timely manner. [17] The long term implication of this is that such violence is normalised and minority communities become increasingly marginalised, as governments institutionalise identity based prejudice which legitimises subsequent violence, which in certain contexts may then develop into processes of ethnic cleansing and even acts of genocide.


  1. Local organisations can positively impact situations such as these by recognising potential triggers of violence before they emerge and respond rapidly to an acute situation. Local actors are best positioned to see the signs of potential mass violence: they are closest to sources of information and the first to witness patterns of violence. They are also able to take preventive actions, including engaging in dialogue with all parties to the conflict, drawing on existing inter-faith or inter-ethnic relationships, and activate networks to monitor and document abuses. 


  1. For example, in Beni, DRC, suspicion and rumours around disease, armed groups and imminent attacks are widespread. Peace Direct supports the Beni Peace Forum, a network of local organisations, to respond to and deal with panic and mistrust, and prevent further violence or retaliation. Beni Peace Forum trains local people on reporting incidents of violence and human rights abuses and violations. They have now established local protection committees, forming an early warning system across the region. By supporting communities to quickly collect accurate information on escalating tensions, they are able to pass it on to local decision-makers and their communities.


  1. Positive peace: Crisis can conversely create positive opportunities, for example, the 2004 tsunami helped create a conducive space for peace in Aceh, Indonesia. [18] Since the pandemic was declared on 11 March, 50 countries have seen a decrease in the number of organised political violence events,[19] and a global ceasefire has been endorsed by over 70 countries and a range of nonstate actors and civil society organisations.[20] But while ceasefires are welcome, they are not enough on their own. They provide opportunities that must be acted on by national governments and international bodies. If opportunities are taken, crises such as this can provide opportunities for previously unimaginable outcomes, not just an absence of violence but a positive peace.[21]



How the UK government should prepare for long-term implications


  1. Local peacebuilders are well positioned to address the root causes of violence and civil unrest, identity based violence; and take advantage of opportunities for peace.  To support them prepare for, and respond to the long-term implications of COVID-19 the UK government should:


  1. Review the UK’s global role through a shared security lens: A shared security lens recognises that we can only achieve sustainable outcomes when we see the wellbeing of others as important as our own. At its core, this requires actively seeking to prevent conflict, rather than just responding to or supressing it.[22] Like the current COVID-19 crisis, many of the most pressing challenges - violent conflict, climate change and inequality - are not contained by national borders. They require intensive international cooperation as well as urgent action at home. Those most secure are only as safe as the most vulnerable. 


  1. Strengthen the UK’s engagements with, and support to, locally-led efforts to prevent and respond to conflict. Local communities and NGOs play a vital role in conflict transformation and sustaining peace, from mediating social tensions and providing for local security needs, to playing roles in democratising security sector policy making. Yet, they are systematically neglected and marginalised from the international peace and security responses and peace processes. The UK government needs to support local capacities for conflict-resolution and violence-prevention, which may require choosing long-term goals over short-term gains. 


  1. Invest in peacebuilding and flexible funding modalities: Building peace takes time; but it also requires flexible funding modalities[23] to respond to rapidly evolving context and conflict dynamics. We support the commitment to spend 50% of DFID’s budget in conflict affected countries, however it is also important how the money is spent. Initial analysis of OECD-DAC figures indicates that in 2018 the UK only disbursed 3.8% of the total ODA budget under the OECD-DAC “Civilian peacebuilding, conflict prevention and resolution” coding[24]. The UK government will face tough budgetary choices in the years to come, it is imperative that it continues to invest in peacebuilding and explore funding modalities that enable local actors to better generate, implement, and scale their own solutions.




[1] Al Jazeera (17 April 2020). ‘Africa coronavirus cases could hit 10 million in 6 months: WHO’ Available:

[2] Smith, S. (30 March 2020). ‘Managing health and economic  priorities as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads in Africa’. Africa Centre for Strategic Studies. Available:

[3] Mehtar, S., Preiser, W., Lakhe, N., Bousso, A., TamFum, J. and Kallay, O. (28 April 2020). ‘Limited the spread of COVID-19 in Africa: one size mitigation strategies do not fit all countries’ in The Lancet Available:

[4] MercyCorps (29 April 2020) ‘COVID-19 secondary impact analysis’

[5] Mehtar, S. et all Op Cit

[6] Jobbins, M. (April 2020). ‘COVID-19: Peacebuilders aren’t the side dish. We’re the delivery service’. Available:

[7] World Food Programme (April 2020). ‘COVID-19: potential impact on the world’s poorest people’. Available:

[8] Locke, R. (March 2020). ‘Peace and pandemics: how COVID-19 will impact violence and what we can do about it’. Available:

[9] Transcript of  UN World Food Programme Executive Director, David Beasley, to UN Security Council (21 April 2020) available:

[10] See CIVICUS’s annual State of Civil Society reports  available:

[11] Cheeseman, N. (March 2020). ‘The coronavirus could topple governments around the world’ in Foreign Policy. Available:

[12] Peace Direct (2019). ‘Livelihood support and peacebuilding in Somalia: learning summary’. Available:

[13] Peace Direct (2017). ‘Conflict transformation in Zimbabwe: learning summary’. Available:

[14] See Protection Approaches for more information available here:

[15] ACLED COVID-19 Disorder Tracker Available here:

[16] Human Rights Watch (28 April 2020). ‘ Uganda: opposition leader reported tortured by police; pandemic restrictions no excuse for abuse’. Available: and ACLED COVID-19 disorder tracker available:

[17] Locke, R. Op Cit

[18] Scott, R. (1 April 2020). ‘ Could coronavirus lead to a “positive peace”?’ Available:

[19] Pavlic, M (2020). ‘Conflict and crackdowns’ available:

[20] Guterres, A. (undated). ‘To silence the guns, we must raise the voices for peace’. Available:

[21]  Positive peace is defined by a more lasting peace that is built on sustainable investments in economic development and institutions as well as societal attitudes that foster peace – it can be used to gauge the resilience of a society, or its ability to absorb shocks without falling or relapsing into conflict.

[22] Cohen, J, Dumasy T., and Reeve, R (2020).’Shared security: humans and humanity in national security policy’ in Adam Hug et al (ed) Finding Britain's role in a changing world. Foreign Policy Centre and Oxfam

[23] Kantowitz, R. (2020). ‘Radical flexibility: strategic funding for the age of  local activism’ Peace Direct. Available:

[24] OECD-DAC’s wider definition of ‘peacebuilding’ has 16 codes, including ‘Civilian peacebuilding, conflict prevention and resolution’. Analysis of spending based on Query Wizard for International Development data.