Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Societies

Somali community members gather.
September 09, 2020

The COVID‑19 pandemic presents an array of challenges to societies affected by armed conflict and acute fragility. The threat to public health, along with governments’ responses to the pandemic, risk exacerbating violence and instability worldwide, which could consequently undermine efforts to contain the virus. While scholars, policymakers, and practitioners have speculated about the potential effects of COVID‑19 on conflict, stability, and governance, Mercy Corps is drawing on its presence in more than 40 countries to better understand how the pandemic is having an impact on the ground. In addition to assessing the impact on social cohesion, state-society relations, economic well-being and resource competition, we are tracking how our programs are adapting both to mitigate the effects of COVID‑19 and to overcome the difficulties of operating in its midst. This page collects our latest research and analysis on COVID‑19 impacts, including recommendations for how policymakers and practitioners can rise to the challenge and seize opportunities to bolster communities’ resilience to the crisis.

Advancing Peace in a Changed World: COVID‑19 Effects on Conflict and How to Respond

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This research brief outlines five areas in which COVID‑19 and government responses to it are impacting conflict dynamics: fraying social cohesion, deteriorating state-society relations, armed groups filling the void, proliferating dis/misinformation, and increasing scarcity and economic opportunities. Drawing on evidence and examples from Mercy Corps programs around the world, this brief describes these impacts, how our programs are adapting, and provides recommendations for policymakers and practitioners for building an effective response.

Linking Good Governance, Peacebuilding, and Public Health in the Midst of COVID‑19: Lessons from Northeast Nigeria

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When strained state-society relations are part of pre-existing conflict dynamics, responses to COVID‑19 that fail to incorporate governance and peacebuilding approaches run the risk of undermining their intended disease prevention goals and further exacerbating cycles of violence. This report uses a case study of ongoing dynamics related to governance, conflict, and the pandemic in Northeast Nigeria to identify how donor funding and programs can be oriented to both address the immediate COVID‑19 public health crisis and broader governance and peacebuilding goals.

Overcoming the Trust Deficit: Engaging Communities to Succeed in Vaccinating the World Against COVID‑19

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The process of COVID‑19 vaccine distribution will be protracted, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected settings. While concerted global efforts are working to accelerate equitable access, vaccine hesitancy -- driven in part by a trust deficit between communities and the actors leading vaccine rollout -- risks prolonging the pandemic and its secondary waves of conflict and economic devastation. This brief outlines three interventions to overcome mistrust of vaccine distribution in fragile and conflict affected settings: facilitating inclusive planning by communities, training government agencies on the skills and values needed for vaccine rollout, and building equal partnerships with local civil society organizations and community health workers. Drawing on evidence and examples from Mercy Corps’ programs and other vaccine trials and distribution initiatives, this brief describes the impacts of mistrust, how our programs are adapting, and provides recommendations for policymakers and practitioners for building more effective global vaccine campaigns.

A Clash of Contagions: The Impact of COVID-19 on Conflict in Nigeria, Colombia, and Afghanistan

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COVID‑19 and efforts to contain it are exacerbating the underlying drivers of conflict which, left unchecked, have the potential to foment instability and violence in the future.

A Clash of Contagions: The Impact of COVID‑19 on Conflict in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Nigeria is the culmination of a year-long, rigorous analysis by Mercy Corps based on semi-structured interviews and participatory workshops involving more than 600 individuals. The report identifies three primary pathways through which the pandemic and response measures are shaping conflict dynamics and processes, analyzes the far-reaching implications of the research findings, and offers recommendations to donors, governments, policymakers, and practitioners.