Why are least developed countries (LDCs) and conflict zones particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic? Has there been adequate attention given to the needs of war-affected populations and LDCs during this crisis? Why is helping LDCs and war-affected communities particularly important in the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic? To answer these questions and to discuss this important issue further, the Hollings Center for International Dialogue organized a virtual talk for its Young Professionals in International Relations network (YPIR), entitled COVID-19 Response in LDCs and Conflict Zones with Alpaslan Özerdem, Dean of the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University.
The scale of the pandemic in LDCs and conflict zones is not known, which creates major challenges in trying to respond to it. According to Özerdem, LDCs and conflict-affected countries do not have the necessary systems in place which are vital to pandemic response. LDCs suffer from weak, informal healthcare systems that in some cases are nonexistent. These states also have weak governance, infrastructure and welfare. Conflict zones bring additional challenges to responding to the pandemic including security challenges, access to war-affected populations, destroyed infrastructure and services, and divided communities. The global aid towards LDCs and conflict zones was very little at the start of the pandemic, said Özerdem. Even developed countries proved unprepared to deal with the pandemic, making the poor response in conflict zones more pronounced. However, initiatives have been launched by the United Nations, World Health Organization, World Bank and international NGOs to provide aid to LDCs. Though most of this aid is in the form of financial assistance, conflict zone countries in particular need full cooperation in all aspects in order to deal with the pandemic.
Özerdem responded to questions from participants which allowed for deeper discussions on specific issues related to the effects of COVID-19 on LDCs and conflict-affected countries. The discussions included how the COVID-19 pandemic response compares to past health crises such as Ebola and HIV; the gender impact of COVID-19 in LDCs and conflict zones; the declaration of a global ceasefire during the pandemic and why this failed; international cooperation and the status of international NGOs currently working on the ground.
Aiding LDCs and war-affected countries is particularly important in the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic. The implications of not helping these countries will have major global impacts including worsening security situations, collapsing economies and increasing social fragilities. Assisting LDCs and conflict-affected communities would also accelerate the control of the pandemic for a quicker normalization globally according to Özerdem. Özerdem highlighted that there is “a moral responsibility for humanity to help each other in solidarity.” This is a time for further cooperation; individually, as a community, nationally and globally.