Peace in the time of pandemic | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 21, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:43 AM, September 21, 2020

Peace in the time of pandemic

How is the world faring against Covid and conflict?

In a time of an unprecedented global health crisis that is only spiralling from one peak to another, one would expect all parties—warring or not—to join hands and work together to establish peace. Not that we should need added motivation to seek peace for anything other than the sake of peace itself; but as we are all painfully aware, we live in a deeply imperfect world. Not surprisingly, therefore, the theme of this year's International Day of Peace is "Shaping Peace Together".   

"This year, it has been clearer than ever that we are not each other's enemies. Rather, our common enemy is a tireless virus that threatens our health, security and very way of life. Covid-19 has thrown our world into turmoil and forcibly reminded us that what happens in one part of the planet can impact people everywhere", suggests the United Nations website's page on International Day of Peace.

This approach towards forging unity against the common global enemy Covid-19 is in line with the UN Secretary-General's earlier call in March to stop wars to fight Covid-19 together—"I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives." And that appeal by António Guterres—when the world was caught off-guard by the super-spreading pandemic—did indeed ignite a tiny ray of hope that perhaps under the unprecedented circumstances the world leaders would put their differences and personal agendas aside and work in tandem to fight the common enemy.

Reality unfortunately unfolded otherwise. What was expected to diffuse conflict and promote peace, unleashed a new set of challenges for the communities to fight. As Covid-19 brought nations to a complete halt for months, many—especially in the developing countries—faced, and continue to face, the brunt of nationwide lockdowns and its devastating impacts on economics.

Price hike of essentials; pay-cuts, even loss of jobs; reduced access to national resources, lack of access to healthcare facilities, often crumbling under the surmounting pressure of the pandemic, increased state intervention in public life in the name of flattening the curve, rise of racist and xenophobic tendencies, have afflicted nations and peoples since the outbreak of the pandemic, and its ripple-effects have been faced by all. And with inequality and discrimination rising, economic pressures increasing, people are being left with no other option but to rise up for their rights.

While the United States has been rocked by the "Black Lives matter" protests with people raising their voices against the racist, white supremacist tendencies of a segment of people and policymakers, in Belarus people are on the streets demonstrating against the malpractices of the Belarusian government and President Alexander Lukashenko. And the protests in Hong Kong continue in phases against Chinese manoeuvres to exert greater authority and control over the area.

In Latin America, malnourished, ill, and desperately in need of social safety assistance for survival, many have been forced to come down to the streets to protest against the government's inability to support people and their basic needs in this time of unprecedented crisis. From Bolivia and Brazil to Chile, the continent has witnessed various scales of protest against the governments: form sporadic clashes to mass demonstrations, all because of the government's response to the pandemic, which to the sufferers seem inadequate at best and selective towards the favoured few at worst.

And in the Middle East, the Trump administration's cosmetic attempts to restore peace in the region through "normalisation" of ties of UAE and Bahrain with Israel, has been overshadowed by the continuous conflict between Israel-Palestine that shows no sign of ease. Lebanon has once again erupted post the Beirut blast, and of course, life in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen remain as insecure and uncertain as ever.

In Asia, the repeated Indo-Sino border misadventures have put the region on edge, with neighbouring countries appealing for calm. But with sporadic skirmishes continuing along parts of the 3,440 kilometre disputed border between the two neighbours, there is no sign of the unease subsiding anytime soon. Thailand continues battling its own internal political dilemma. And Myanmar continues persecution of the helpless Rohingya population unabated.

Meanwhile in Africa, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam had locked Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia in a tense dispute over the allocation of the Blue Nile's water, with Egypt and Sudan fearing the dam would rod them off the much needed resource as Ethiopia announced that it has started filling up the reservoir of the dam. Apart from water security, poor healthcare infrastructure affecting both health workers and patients and corruption in managing Covid-19 resources have affected many countries. As late as September 3, 2020, health workers demonstrated in South Africa protesting poor working conditions and the corruption of the government in purchasing medical PPE.

The newly discovered hydrocarbon resources in the Mediterranean have put Greece, Cyprus and Turkey at loggerheads over its equitable allocation. Turkey sending out the Oruc Reis, its seismic exploration vessel, into the disputed eastern Mediterranean region—the vessel had to be recalled recently though—had escalated tensions further. And this dispute over resources have ruffled feathers in Europe with France throwing its support behind Greek claims, and the German Chancellor—true to her poise nature—calling for dialogue to resolve the issue. But with tensions burning high in the Mediterranean, it remains to be seen if this fire can be extinguished before it destroys lives, unlike the one at the Moria refugee camp which has ravaged the lives of thousands of helpless refugees. 

The refugees and the ones cursed with life in war-torn countries suffer, day in and day out, without home, without protection, without medical care and often without food. And the children are the worst victims. According to Save the Children estimate, "67,000 children are at risk of dying from extreme hunger across Sub-Saharan Africa before the end of the year as already dire circumstances are exacerbated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic."

"Virus-linked hunger is leading to the deaths of 10,000 more children a month over the first year of the pandemic, according to an urgent call to action from the United Nations shared with The Associated Press ahead of its publication in the Lancet medical journal", reported The Washington Post on July 28, 2020. And with the state of affairs as it is, the days ahead look grim and tense.

One only wonders how peace is going to prevail amidst all these challenges and uncertainties. While it is only rational to call on everyone, nations and individuals alike, to come forward and work to shape peace together, how realistic and feasible it is in the current context remains to be seen.

The world today needs much more than just a call for shaping peace together. The world needs rational leaders who can put aside their big egos and petty differences and engage proactively in taking constructive measures to bring peace within their nations and outside. A day to celebrate peace, a day to promote ceasefire is a noble idea. But making it sustainable, feasible and universal is a different ballgame altogether. As the world observes a different kind of International Day of Peace, let us hope that good sense prevails, among the political leaders and the people who elect them to power.


Tasneem Tayeb is a columnist for The Daily Star.

Her Twitter handle is: @TayebTasneem

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