- Leena M.G Osman
Covid-19 in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) : A threat to fragile & conflict-affected states
As of date, COVID-19 is affecting 213 countries and two international conveyances. With the rapid spread of COVID-19, countries around the world have scrambled to find a way to prevent it's further spreading, bend the epidemic curve and ensure the safety of their citizens. However, it is important to note that the threat takes on a different form in each country.
In consideration of the foregoing, there are certain states that face higher risks, particularly, countries in conflict situations.
Economic & Welfare Effects:
With the intention of reducing the spread of the virus and ease the load on healthcare systems, various measures have been implemented. However, measures such as social distancing and nation-wide lockdowns have resulted in strong economic repercussions and negatively impacted individuals' livelihoods.
Within that regard, COVID-19 has directly and strongly affected household incomes in the MENA region, specifically countries that are economically fragile such as Lebanon and Sudan or are facing humanitarian challenges such as Syria, Yemen and Libya. Consequently, according to the International Monetary Fund, “real GDP in these countries is expected to shrink by 7 percent in 2020, relative to average growth
of 2.6 percent in 2019.” This in turn will lead
to a significant decline in GDP per capita—from $2,900 in 2018–19 to $2,100 in 2020. Individuals in the informal sector, who depend on daily earnings to survive will be the most at risk to be negatively affected by the economic toll of said measures. Subsequently, existing economic and humanitarian challenges will be aggravated in fragile countries marked by underlying social and political instability and high poverty. The economic toll can not and should not be compared to more stable states that possess the capacity to handle the consequences of these economic sacrifices by implementing social distancing guidelines and COVID-19 related policies. Acknowledging the differing political, economic and socio-cultural contexts, social distancing is a privilege.
The need for a more “sensitive” approach:
Although a comprehensive and conclusive research into the consequences of economic sacrifices in relation to whether a state is richer or poorer has not been done, it is safe to say that individuals who live in politically unstable regions and are exposed to socio-economic and humanitarian challenges are at risk of death, malnutrition or other health problems unrelated to COVID-19. Hence, it should be stressed that despite the global impact of the coronavirus, (a) the economic impact, (b) the risk imposed and (c) the capacity of each state to combat COVID-19 differs greatly. In some states, drastic measures are being taken to mitigate the epidemiological ramifications of COVID-19. However, certain COVID-19 response measures could possibly affect peace and conflict in fragile states. Due to the lack of clarity on the enforcement mechanisms of said measures, excessive force and violence has been used as a guise presented as “necessary action” within the context of COVID-19 emergency measures. Similarly, acknowledging the link between the coronavirus and the fragility of a state, public health response measures could inadvertently trigger or worsen the situation in a fragile state and have an impact on the peace and conflict context. With the emergence of new peace and security challenges as a direct consequence of COVID-19 and/or existing conflict dynamics in the country, humanitarian and political assistance can not be separated from the peace and conflict context of a state. Therefore, it is essential that response measures take peace and security threats and political and socio-economic challenges into account and do not contribute to aggravating conflict. An urgent assessment, gathering both quantitative and qualitative data, is required to ensure the submergence of measures and alternative policies that can effectively save lives, are conflict sensitive and limit the negative economic and welfare impact of the pandemic.