Fighting COVID-19 and promoting peace come together in Darfur
In the Darfur region of Sudan, with the myriad of internally displaced persons and nomadic communities, the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has posed a significant threat to peace and security and further deteriorated the socio-economic situation.
The African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) — the peacekeeping mission that has been deployed since 2007 to protect civilians, facilitate humanitarian aid and help the political process in Darfur — has been adapting to these new challenges while continuing to implement its mandate.
UNAMID’s Governance and Community Stabilization Section (GCSS) works to address issues such as intercommunal violence and competition over limited natural resources, rights to land and the use of land. The proliferation of small arms, weakened traditional conflict resolution mechanisms, and the absence of the rule of law and effective state institutions has made a difficult situation even more complex.
“As Darfur grappled with these challenges, COVID-19 entered the scene,” said Zurab Elzarov, Chief of GCSS. “Preventive measures to fight the pandemic, including a nightly curfew, banning gatherings, and the closure of the international airport, markets, schools, and universities — all impacted the livelihoods and income of people in Darfur.”
Adapting to the common enemy: COVID-19
This situation prompted UNAMID to explore creative and nuanced ways to ensure it could continue its work promoting peace and reconciliation between communities and, at the same time, support the government and people in Darfur address the new threats and risks to civilians posed by COVID-19.
In mid-2020, the Mission began targeting rural areas of Zalingei, in Central Darfur, with a focus on locations where diverse groups from settled and nomadic communities are living together. Their goal was to spread messages on the importance of peaceful coexistence to address issues of mutual interest, including health.
UNAMID and its partners launched COVID-19 risk communication and community awareness projects targeting hot-spot areas, which featured peace and reconciliation messages that underscored the importance of leaving behind personal disputes and coming together, irrespective of tribal and community affiliations, to fight a common enemy: COVID-19.
The two-week project, in collaboration with the Central Darfur State Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO), was implemented with support from a national NGO called the Sudan Social Development Organization (SUDO).
Efforts were directed towards six villages and nomadic communities in the surrounding areas of Zalingei, namely Abata, Ourukum, Aarra, Waranga, Tamerball-Jemel and Hela Beida Gold Mine villages, targeting over 6,600 residents.
Following all protocols, activities included house visits, the dissemination of brochures produced by the Ministry of Health, mobile awareness campaigns through numerous neighborhoods, and the distribution of soap and masks. Medical personnel at four clinics also received personal protective equipment, including face masks, gloves and sanitizer.
“The sensitization messages on COVID-19 were clear and useful and will help us prevent the spread of this fatal virus,” said Sheikh Adam Abaker, a resident from Warranga village.
Hamid, who lives in the village of Yathriba in the nomadic settlement of Damra, echoed this feeling:“[It] was the first time I heard about COVID-19 and now I am aware about the transmission of the virus and ways to prevent its spread.”
Promoting peaceful coexistence for a better future
UNAMID ensured that the assistance provided was impartial and targeted vulnerable beneficiaries irrespective of tribal and communal affiliation.
“These difficult times made us re-think our values,” shared Hawa from Alfirdos Arab Damra. “Today we are happy and thank SUDO and UNAMID for supporting us along with other settled groups.”
UNAMID believes that the success of the project is largely due to effective partnership and collaboration which brought community leaders, youth and women groups together. This opportunity also allowed the local NGO, SUDO, to strength its capacity, a welcomed development by the peacekeeping mission which is currently downsizing its presence in Darfur.
“It is paramount to invest in capacity building of such NGOs and to prioritize partnership with local rather than international groups, so they can continue helping to build resilient communities, even when UNAMID or others are no longer on the ground,” said Mr. Elzarov.
Women as key actors to end the pandemic
The project’s positive impact is also thanks to women volunteers who helped maximize engagement with all members of the community. During house-to-house visits, UNAMID observed that while men were at work or managing livestock, women were the primary caretakers of their families and more sensitive to information about preventing the spread of the virus.
“Both the government and beneficiaries highly appreciated this project, particularly because it targeted the most vulnerable groups whose access to health care is limited and insufficient,” said Jalal Eldin Elsadig, a Health Promotion expert at the Central Darfur State Ministry of Health.
UNAMID is confident the project can serve as a model on how to link COVID-19 response plans to peace and reconciliation efforts. The Mission is currently exploring new activities to support the nomadic, farmers and displaced communities in conflict affected areas in North and West Darfur, to continue its efforts towards durable peace in the region.