Tailoring the Socioeconomic Response to COVID-19 in Peacebuilding Contexts

Ambassadorial-level meeting of the Peacebuilding Commission - 5 June 2020

June 5, 2020

As prepared for delivery:
Distinguished members of the Peacebuilding Commission,


Thank you very much for the opportunity to appear ‘virtually’ before you today.

On behalf of UNDP, allow me to commend the leadership of the Peacebuilding Commission – in particular the chairs from Canada, Japan and Colombia – for organizing this meeting.

We welcome the opportunity to amplify our recent and recurring engagement with the PBC in our role as the UN’s development voice in building sustainable pathways for peacebuilding and tackling violence, conflict and fragility as the largest PBF implementing partner on the ground. And we thank PBSO for the excellent collaboration in facilitating our engagement with the PBC.

You heard from our Administrator two weeks ago on the importance of UN system-wide engagement and strengthening institutions for sustaining peace and peacebuilding in a new post-COVID-19 world.

Today, I will go a bit further to reflect on how we can strengthen the peacebuilding thumbprint in the UN Socioeconomic Framework so that we can help countries recover from this crisis and ‘build back better’ with more resilience , and security, to future shocks and crisis.

The UN Framework for the Immediate Socioeconomic Response to COVID-19 has five pillars:

  1. Health first
  2. Protecting People
  3. Economic Response and Recovery
  4. Macroeconomic Response and Multilateral Collaboration
  5. Social Cohesion and Community Resilience

Trends and patterns emerging from socioeconomic impact assessments show severe shrinking of fiscal space, policy space, political and governance space, human rights and civic space, erosion of social cohesion; thus pushing SDGs further off-track.

In some countries, economic growth is contracting in double digits; we are seeing sharp increases in prices, decrease in incomes and remittances, and significant job losses, with massive numbers of people at risk of slipping into poverty.

The Human Development Index, for the first time since its inception in 1990, will likely fall. A reduction that would most likely take us back six years .

Countries impacted by fragility, violence and conflict are facing reductions in peacebuilding spaces that will be difficult to reclaim after the end of the crisis.

Overall, there is a serious contraction in critical development and peace gains with the most vulnerable at the greatest risk of being disproportionately impacted by this pandemic.

The impact of COVID-19 is likely to be more severe in fragile and conflict-affected countries, where pre-existing vulnerabilities in health and governance systems, as well as in inter-communal relations, are amplified, thus exacerbating heightened risks to fragility, conflict and violence across communities and borders.

How we collectively respond to the socio-economic impacts of the crisis will have significant consequences on conflict and peace all around the world.

Recognizing the urgency of the crisis, on 23 March, the Secretary-General called for a global ceasefire, urging warring parties to silence their guns to help create conditions for the delivery of aid and to open up space for diplomacy. The response to the SG’s appeal has been mostly positive. However, initial gestures of support have not translated into concrete change on the ground. The Security Council’s inability to agree on a resolution in support of a global ceasefire has been disappointing.

We need Member States with leverage on conflict parties to use their influence to end these wars. This is especially urgent because COVID-19 has increased risks of violent conflicts, exacerbating existing grievances and inequalities, which were main themes of the protests around the world in 2019.

The social contract between the state and the population is seeing further erosion. In several countries we are already seeing public frustration with the government responses. We also see systematically weak judiciary systems; limiting the protection of human rights and access to justice for many. Potential politicization of governments’ response could increase political animosity. Weak and uneven government responses could further undermine the social compact and trust.

Despite these challenges, the ceasefire appeal has refocused attention on the urgency to end fighting – and the spur stalled peace processes - in order to face a new global common threat.

A few countries are grappling with preparing for elections and the planning for the possibility of delayed or altered elections (with risks of civil unrest and political strife). COVID-19 restrictions could be instrumentalized for electoral purposes and will need to be carefully monitored.

Some governments are restricting freedom of speech and of assembly beyond what is medically necessary, sometimes targeting the opposition. Hate speech and fearmongering against vulnerable populations has proliferated.

Despite challenges of social distancing, local peacebuilders are finding innovative ways to boost opportunities for mutual aid and community-building initiatives using digital solutions to bring communities closer together in sharing life-saving public information on how to survive the pandemic.

Communities led by women and youth are stepping up and forward to strengthen social cohesion between and within local communities as they battle the health pandemic together, building pathways for peace dividends to bloom.

The UN Socioeconomic framework will need to triangulate with existing peace and reconciliation initiatives ongoing in conflict-affected contexts with a strong conflict sensitivity and risk adaptive lens.

Through strong interagency coordination, UNCTs support to countries responses so far have oriented mainly on the immediate crisis response, with a special focus on enhancing institutions, addressing structural deficiencies, supporting most vulnerable people and places; and addressing the harrowing problem of data gaps.

While responding to the pandemic, a few countries with the support of UNCTs (and the UN at large), are already reflecting on the path to recovery. For countries impacted by fragility and violent conflict, our response must be both institutions-based and people-centered. Peacebuilding must be at the heart of a sustainable recovery that (re)builds trust and social cohesion. To bring the dependency cycle to an end , our response must focus on building resilience, institutional capacity and disaster risk reduction while ensuring we remain highly attuned to the conflict drivers and risks as countries recover.

All this will require a robust conflict analysis as part of the socioeconomic recovery assessments.

UNDP is currently reviewing the submissions of 61 countries undertaking socioeconomic impact assessments to ensure that countries are adequately sensitive to the social cohesion and peacebuilding dimensions of COVID-19, including not just the challenges but also the opportunities to secure peace dividends. This is especially relevant for countries impacted by fragility, violence and conflict, or whose transition or peace processes are stalled. Where the peacebuilding lens is weak, UNDP welcomes the opportunity to work with DCO and PBSO to support UNCTs at country/regional levels to strengthen the peacebuilding thumbprint in recovery planning.

Indeed, as the largest recipient and implementer of PBF interventions in nearly to 40 countries, UNDP welcomes the PBF’s proactive support to UN Country Teams in Guatemala, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali to adjust existing projects to address peacebuilding and prevention dimensions of the pandemic.

UNDP would welcome the opportunity to work together with PBSO to help all UNCTs further calibrate existing PBF-funded programming with central funds such as the CERF and the UN COVID-19 Fund to maximize the potential impact on the ground.

UNDP is also working closely with PBSO to accelerate and finalize UN guidance on Conflict Sensitivity, Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace, along with UNICEF, UNHCR, FAO, UN Habitat, WFP, and UNOPS. The guidance note, which is most relevant and timely in the COVID-19 response, should be ready in the coming days and weeks.

UNDP is also working together with partners like the World Bank in fragile and conflict-affected settings using a whole-of-society and whole-of-government approach to explore how we can leverage our resources, expertise, and capacities to help countries recover and build back better. UNDP’s strong partnership with the World Bank includes our support to strengthening responsive, accountable and inclusive core government functions in fragile and crisis-affected settings as a core element of sustaining peace and peacebuilding. We are also reflecting on and adapting how core governance institutions (central and local) can and must adapt to this brave new world -- through improved ways of delivering services -- and through the use of digital technologies.

In the meantime, UNDP and DPPA continue to support our 50+ Peace and Development Advisors to help countries adapt to this new reality and indeed, new way of working in a post-COVID world through our joint UNDP-DPPA Programme on Building National Capacities for Conflict Prevention.

In sum, we can and indeed, we must build back better to regain stability and spur peace and prosperity in a world that is now changed forever. Ensuring a strong social cohesion and peacebuilding lens on how societies and institutions recover from this crisis is at the heart of turning the tide on the greatest reversal of human development into a decisive leap forward.

Let me conclude by emphatically stating that , to build a secure world , we must keep massively investing in Human Security! It is an investment with highest return; on Peace and on Prosperity. It is our strongest insurance policy as well as our passport to a secure future !

Thank you.