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The pandemic's worrying ripple effects

March 2021: Countries facing the highest levels of conflict are likely to be among the last to achieve widespread Covid-19 vaccination, according to Mercy Corps.

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The ripple effects of the pandemic mean that countries facing conflict at the moment will experience serious delays in the widespread vaccination of their populations. Image: Vlad Georgescu/123rf

At a recent National Press Club event, Tjada D'Oyen McKenna, Mercy Corps CEO, highlighted linkages between Covid-19 and conflict, warning that: “The longer conflict-affected countries wait for vaccines, the greater the risk that violence will increase.”

Only two of the 20 countries that saw the highest levels of conflict worldwide in 2020 are projected to achieve widespread vaccination of their populations by mid-2022, with 18 unlikely to reach widespread vaccination until the start of 2023 or later.

Mercy Corps teams have observed first-hand that Covid-19 is exacerbating conflict. Government responses to the pandemic, including lockdowns and border closures, are fraying community trust; misinformation is proliferating; and competition for resources has intensified. Armed groups are exploiting the pandemic, leading to an increased risk of deadly violence.

“What we're hearing from communities tormented by violent conflict is even more worrying when you look at the timetable for access to Covid-19 vaccines. By the time vaccination efforts reach communities in fragile contexts, unequal distribution may itself deepen or sow new divisions. Vaccine refusal may be high and compliance with public health guidelines may be low, further prolonging the spread of the virus and fuelling protracted waves of conflict and economic disruption. We urge the US and other higher-income countries to take concrete action to ensure equitable vaccine distribution, provide sustained assistance to prevent millions from slipping deeper into poverty, and invest in conflict prevention,” says D'Oyen McKenna.
The graph illustrates expected vaccine dissemination to conflict-affected countries. Image: Courtesy of Mercy Corps

Preliminary findings from upcoming Mercy Corps research illustrate that in Colombia, armed groups are exploiting the pandemic, coercing households to return to illicit crops like coca and ramping up youth recruitment. The research also suggests that lockdowns and movement restrictions are undermining traditional conflict resolution mechanisms such as communal meetings, leading communities to warn of serious tensions from unresolved disputes in South Sudan.

The UN documented a 300 per cent increase in local and regional violence from January to July of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.

In Northwest Nigeria, Covid-related closures of the border with Niger increased unemployment and reduced trade for border communities, significantly reducing trust among community members and strengthening armed banditry groups. These groups have exploited rising economic hardship and grievances to recruit new members. According to ACLED, abductions and forced disappearances – including of schoolchildren – increased by 169 per cent in Nigeria from 2019 to 2020.

Read D'Oyen McKenna's full remarks to the National Press Club here.

About the data:

The summary statistic and corresponding graph of violent conflict overlaid with projected vaccine coverage were calculated using data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) Project and the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The summary statistic is based on the following list of countries: Afghanistan, Yemen, Mexico, Syria, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazil, Somalia, Ethiopia, Mali, Iraq, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Cameroon, Libya, Philippines, Niger and India. This list is made up of the 20 countries with the highest number of fatalities from battles, explosions, and violence against civilians from January 1 to December 31, 2020, as reported in the ACLED dataset.

Countries in grey on the list above are projected to have achieved widespread vaccine coverage by mid-2022. The rest are projected to achieve widespread coverage by either the end of 2022 or sometime in 2023 (or beyond), based on coverage projections in a January 2021 analysis by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

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