COVID-19 eroding social cohesion and triggering rise in civil unrest in crisis-affected countries, alert UNDP, g7+

March 11, 2021

New York, 11 March 2021 – With over 2.6 million dead and 117 million infections, no country in the world has remained untouched by COVID-19. Yet one year on from the declaration of the pandemic by the World Health Organization, evidence shows that crisis-affected countries have been especially hard-hit by the secondary impacts of the crisis, including rising poverty rates, a rise in domestic and other forms of violence and an erosion of trust between citizens and state.

In response, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and group of g7+ countries have today called for greater international support to help vulnerable populations recover from COVID-19 during an event held as part of the UNDP-led Development Dialogues: Rethinking Solutions to Crisis in the Decade of Action series.

“We know the coronavirus does not discriminate. However, the measures that are taken to contain it, do,” said Haoliang Xu, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director of Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, at the event.

“The pandemic is hitting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people hardest, with significant implications for marginalized groups, including women and girls. This is even more pronounced in crisis settings. Addressing these challenges and making additional investments to reduce economic and societal vulnerabilities in the face of COVID-19 will be critical,” said Xu.

These emerging trends are outlined in a new report, Overcoming the Setbacks: Understanding the Impact and Implications of COVID-19 in Fragile and Conflict-affected Contexts, which was launched today as part of  UNDP’s Development Futures Series. The report finds fragile and conflict-affected countries are both more vulnerable to shocks from crises, and less able to address critical impacts. It draws its findings from data gathered by UNDP through its on-the-ground assessments since mid-March 2020. Analysis focused on the six dimensions of fragility — economic, social, human, political, security and environmental.

The report finds that the secondary impacts of the pandemic are likely to push tens of millions into extreme poverty in crisis contexts, while rising commodity prices and loss of livelihoods threaten are making even essential everyday items unaffordable to many. For example, in Lao People’s Democratic Republic, 50 percent of surveyed families reduced food consumption as a result of the pandemic. In Syria, remittances more than halved from 2017, affecting 1.2 million people.

Compounding this, the pandemic is unleashing a human development crisis – UNDP’s 2020 Human Development Report has found current conditions of some dimensions of human development to backslide to levels last seen in the mid-1980s.

In addition, rising authoritarianism, democratic backsliding and ethno-nationalism are reported, while civil unrest including protests have risen above 2019 levels. Gender-based violence has also risen –the Central African Republic has witnessed a 69 percent increase in GBV since the start of the pandemic. Compared to the same period in 2019, all major UN-designated terrorist groups in Africa recorded an increase in activities in 2020.

In order to reverse these concerning trends, UNDP and the g7+ called for a more agile approach to development that addresses the multidimensional drivers of crisis in each specific context; investing more in social cohesion by strengthening democratic institutions and in countering hate speech and misinformation; and harnessing new technologies and data to more accurately map and respond to the drivers of crisis.

Speaking during the event, H.E. Abdul Habib Zadran, Deputy Minister for Finance, Ministry of Finance of Afghanistan and Deputy Chair of the g7+, called for an upgrade in engagement policies to address underlying inequalities. 

“The pandemic has brought to the surface the deeply rooted inequalities and fragility in systems guiding governance and cooperation at all levels,” he said. “The g7+ has spoken out loud against the inequalities and systematic failure in building lasting peace and stability even before the outbreak of the pandemic. It is time to fix our policies of engagement and make them fit for purpose.”


About Development Dialogues

Development Dialogues: Rethinking Solutions to Crisis in the Decade of Action shines a spotlight on the most urgent action required to support those living in crisis to move towards sustainable development, including rebuilding social contracts, preventing escalation of violence and conflict, protecting hard-won development gains and ending humanitarian need.

From March through June 2021, the campaign will bring together leading actors and thinkers to discuss the bold new approaches that are needed to move from crisis to resilience in the areas of prevention, preparedness and early warning, strengthening social cohesion, tackling inequality, improving access to services for all, confronting the climate crisis, peacebuilding and institutional strengthening.

Development Dialogues are organized around five themes: peace; prosperity; planet; people; and partnerships for development.


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UNDP is the leading United Nations organization fighting to end the injustice of poverty, inequality, and climate change. Working with our broad network of experts and partners in 170 countries, we help nations to build integrated, lasting solutions for people and planet.

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Aimee Brown, Communications Lead: