Will the ravaging disease slow world’s conflicts — or intensify them?

Members of the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the "White Helmets", prepare their sterilisation equipment before sterilising a hospital in Syria's northwestern Idlib city on March 22, 2020 as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus. (AFP)
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Updated 23 March 2020

Will the ravaging disease slow world’s conflicts — or intensify them?

  • The pandemic could lead to a worsening of conflicts, with the risk of exacerbating the humanitarian situation and population movements

NEW YORK: Syria, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, the Sahel ... with the great powers focused intently on the COVID-19 virus, will armed conflicts across the world decrease in severity or intensify? Experts as well as diplomats at the UN say there is a serious risk of the latter.
For guerrilla fighters and extremist groups, “it’s a clear godsend,” said Bertrand Badie, a specialist in international relations at France’s Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po).
When the “powerful become powerless,” he said, one can see “the revenge of the weak over the strong.”
In recent days, some 30 Malian soldiers were killed in an attack in northern Mali blamed on terrorists, without drawing any sharp reaction from the Security Council.
In Libya, and Syria’s Idlib region — the object of intense diplomatic attention before the coronavirus stole the spotlight — fighting continues.
Evoking the “potentially devastating impact of #Covid-19 in #Idlib and elsewhere in Syria,” the UN undersecretary-general for political affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, called on Twitter for all parties to show restraint.
“If anyone — incredibly — still needed a reason to stop the fighting there,” she added, “this is it.”
Up to now, these countries have not been afflicted by Covid-19 on the scale seen in China, South Korea or Europe. But the virus carries the potential, once it reaches into poor and conflict-ridden countries, of having a devastating impact.
In the absence of concerted assistance from abroad, the UN fears “millions” could die.
The pandemic will not necessarily favor any particular group of belligerents, one diplomat noted, because the ravaging disease has been “uncontrollable.”
“The pandemic could lead to a worsening of conflicts, with the risk of exacerbating the humanitarian situation and population movements,” he said.
But the pandemic might also sap the will of the belligerents and their ability to fight in coming months, some experts said.
“Throwing their troops into battle will expose both states and violent nonstate groups to contamination, and thus to potentially catastrophic losses of human life,” said Robert Malley, president of the Washington-based International Crisis Group.
He believes that the virus “will very certainly diminish the capacity and will of states and of the international system — the UN, regional organizations, refugees, peacekeeping forces — to dedicate themselves to the resolution or prevention of conflicts.”
It will also throw up a whole set of new obstacles, he said, complicating access to conflict zones, making it harder to organize negotiations in neutral countries, and diverting financial investments to the fight against the coronavirus.
“What government would want to invest in the pursuit of peace in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, the Sahel or elsewhere when it is facing an economic, social and political crisis almost without precedent?” he asked.
With the news media obsessively focused on Covid-19, Malley said, “these conflicts, however brutal and violent they may be, will for many people become unseen and unheard.”
At the UN, which has been struggling to respond as best it can, diplomats insist that their efforts to monitor regional crises and conflicts will continue, even if the international organization has sharply curbed its schedule of meetings.
“We intend to ensure that #UNSC plays its vital role in maintaining global peace and security,” Britain’s interim ambassador to the UN, Jonathan Allen, wrote on Twitter. “Covid-19 is the major global focus, but we have not forgotten about Syria, Libya, Yemen.”
But Richard Gowan, a New York-based specialist in UN matters, expressed some doubt.
“Security Council diplomats say that it is hard to get their capitals to focus on UN issues,” he said.
Among non-governmental organizations (NGOs) dealing with human rights issues, like Human Rights Watch, concern is growing that whole areas of action are falling by the wayside.
One example: diplomats say the much-awaited and repeatedly delayed publication of a UN summary report on the bombing of hospitals in Syria — originally due at the beginning of the year — is now not expected before April, at the earliest.


Dubai ambulance service launches ‘Self Sanitization Walk’ to protect paramedics

Updated 24 min 47 sec ago

Dubai ambulance service launches ‘Self Sanitization Walk’ to protect paramedics

DUBAI: The Dubai Corporation for Ambulance Services has launched the first ‘Self Sanitization Walk’ as a safeguard against viruses that its paramedics may pass on to their colleagues and families.

The new device helps paramedics safeguard themselves from any infection that their clothes may catch during the course of working with confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19, WAM state news agency reported.

The ‘Self Sanitization Walk’ has been installed at the entrance of the accommodation facility of Dubai Ambulance’s field workers, along with thermal screening equipment.

The ‘Self Sanitization Walk’ sprays workers with a mist that disinfects clothes in less than 20 seconds. By detecting movements automatically, the device starts spraying only when a person passes through it, helping to save on energy. The device also has hand sanitizers.

“To ensure the safety of the community and the protection of frontline workers in the fight against COVID-19, we developed this innovative equipment, the first to be installed in the country. By efficiently sterilizing their clothes and shoes, the ‘Self Sanitization Walk’ allows paramedics and other staff to gain an additional level of protection,” Dubai Ambulance’s Executive Director Khalifa Aldrai said.

“The new device, developed in collaboration with SFFECO Global, enables health workers to perform their duties with a high level of safety.”

CAFU, the region’s first on-demand fuel delivery app, meanwhile said it will provide all ambulances operated by the Dubai Corporation for Ambulance Services with free fuel for a period of two weeks.

CAFU’s 180 trucks will deliver petrol on-demand to the corporation's fleet of ambulances that operate in over 100 locations across Dubai, bringing contactless fuel delivery to frontline health workers and eliminating the need for them to go to a petrol station.