“Protect, Help, Explain”: UN Peacekeeping responds to COVID-19
United Nations Peacekeeping is adapting its daily operations to include mitigation measures against the spread of the COVID-19 virus to help protect peacekeepers and local communities while maintaining operational continuity. Peace operations are also supporting government-led efforts to both prevent and prepare for COVID-19 outbreaks at the country level. Under these new and complex conditions, peacekeepers continue to undertake vital work across missions to protect civilians, facilitate political processes, support disarmament, promote human rights and assist in the rule of law, while carefully applying critical mitigation measures such as observing social distancing and handwashing guidelines. Here are just a few examples:
1. Changes to troop and police rotations.
The nature of peacekeeping requires regular troop and police rotations. However, in light of the exceptional circumstances and the need to keep everyone safe and healthy, we are consulting with our partner Member States and are carefully reviewing all scheduled rotations for the upcoming six months and have asked some countries to delay theirs by three months. This will ensure we have the appropriate personnel deployed to each mission and allow us to continue fulfilling our mandated tasks.
2. Systematic handwashing.
Hand hygiene, either with soap and water or with an alcohol-based handrub, is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick and spreading any virus. Our missions have implemented strict handwashing protocols and improved facilities in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19. For example, our peace operation in Mali (MINUSMA) has set up water and soap stations at the entrance to mission bases.
3. Temperature checks at mission entrances.
Other preventative measures implemented by peace operations around the world include systematic temperature checks at the entrance of mission bases. For example, peacekeeping staff of the Mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL) are carrying out temperature checks to help identify high-risk individuals.
4. Timely and accurate information sharing.
All UN peacekeeping missions are focused on harnessing the appropriate local communication channels, whether radio, social media or otherwise, to reach their communities and share accurate and up-to-date information about COVID-19. Radio Okapi, for example, the United Nations radio station in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is continuing its crucial work throughout the pandemic by informing the local population about COVID-19 in local languages, educating on mitigation measures and working to dispel rumours and counter misinformation.
5. Community awareness-raising.
Peace operations around the world are engaging in community outreach to inform the local population on COVID-19 mitigation efforts. For example, the joint United Nations-African Union peace operation in Darfur (UNAMID) has started awareness-raising workshops in north Darfur on the importance of taking precautionary measures to control the spread of the virus, if and when it occurs in the area.
The Kosovo Trustbuilding Platform, digitally connecting individuals to promote peace and progress in their communities, also serves as an important new tool in the COVID-19 response. Physical distancing does not need to mean isolation.
6. Working-from-home policies for civilian staff in missions and headquarter personnel.
Many civilian staff, both in missions and at UN Headquarters, are currently working from home, with all movement restricted to contain any potential spread of the virus. From team conversations to Security Council meetings, almost all work of civilian staff is now taking place online.
7. Creation of quarantine spaces.
Early isolation of peacekeepers with COVID-19 symptoms as well as any personnel arriving from overseas is key to prevent the spread of the virus. To that end, peacekeeping missions around the world are strengthening existing UN medical capabilities.
For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO peacekeepers from Pakistan have pre-emptively established a quarantine room in Uvira to manage any potential COVID-19 cases.
8. Preparation of necessary medical equipment.
Peace operations are preparing for an outbreak in their respective country contexts and are endeavouring to source critical protective supplies and treatment equipment. For example, the Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has received a donation of medical equipment, including 20,000 testing kits, 100,000 masks, and 1,000 protective suits and face shields.
We are in regular contact with troop- and police-contributing countries, working closely with the Department of Operational Support and other UN partners, and will continue to monitor the situation, adapt appropriately, and assist governments according to the latest developments.