Despite some restrictions the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on their activities, United Nations peacekeeping missions are continuing to carry out their mandates while also helping countries in their coronavirus response.

“COVID-19 doesn’t mean that we will stop or freeze our efforts to improve the impact and performance of peacekeeping,” said Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, in a recent briefing, which included Atul Khare, Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support.

The two senior officials explained that the UN missions’ response to COVID-19 is guided by four main objectives: to protect UN personnel and their capacity to continue critical operations; help contain and mitigate the spread of the virus, ensuring that UN personnel are not a contagion vector; support national authorities in their response to COVID-19; and continue to deliver on key mandates.

Ensuring Contagion-free Missions

As of 9 April, there have been six confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the roughly 95,000 UN staff and affiliated personnel in peacekeeping operations.

“We don’t want to be part of the problem, we want to be part of the solution,” said Mr. Lacroix during the briefing, explaining that the United Nations is taking stringent measures, such as suspending all rotations, repatriations and new deployments of uniformed personnel through 30 June.

Although the number of confirmed cases among UN peacekeeping personnel thus far remains very low, Mr. Khare’s Department of Operational Support is working to ensure that missions’ medical facilities are equipped with tools, including personal protective gear and ventilators, to treat infected personnel.

In a busy street produce vendors shelter under a large red umbrella as UN Blue Helmet police stand guard.

In addition, he said measures are being taken to ensure all missions are in a state of readiness for emergency situations, including capabilities to evacuate UN personnel by air.

Supporting Host Countries

UN missions are also supporting national authorities in their response to COVID-19, including through capacity-building activities with local authorities and services, logistics, supply chain, awareness-raising, and the distribution of medical equipment, among other initiatives. Further, the missions are using radio and social media to provide factual information about the pandemic and counter misinformation about the crisis.

The United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) is working with humanitarian partners to educate displaced families on how to prevent and prepare for COVID-19. When possible to do so safely, displaced people are being advised to voluntarily return to their villages to reduce the risk of transmission in cramped Protection of Civilians sites.

UNMISS is supporting awareness-raising campaigns by the South Sudanese Government and the World Health Organization (WHO) through programming on Radio Miraya and is distributing thousands of educational flashcards to community members explaining the symptoms of COVID-19 and ways to prevent it.

The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) has set up a hand-washing station in the Ansongo, Gao region. Its peacekeepers are also using patrols to teach people about COVID-19 prevention.

A woman is seen inside a studio speaking into a microphone that is wrapped with white cloth.

The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) is working with women’s organizations to support outreach efforts for women who may be experiencing domestic violence during the quarantine.

While COVID-19 has placed some limitations on their activities, UN missions continue to carry out their mandated tasks.

MINUSMA peacekeepers have provided vital logistical and operational support in preparation for a recent legislative election, ensuring security of polling stations on the election day.

Blue Helmets in the Democratic Republic of the Congo recently helped free 38 civilians, including women and children, who had been abducted by an armed group in the country’s east. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) also continues to monitor the Blue Line.

Meanwhile,  all UN missions are updating and exercising their contingency plans to ensure that operations are prepared for the different eventualities that may come up in the specific context of COVID-19, and that may affect their safety and security as well as mandate implementation.