Advancing peace in a changed world: COVID-19 effects on conflict and how to respond

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Dire predictions regarding the impact of COVID-19 on armed conflict and violence have proliferated since the pandemic began. One notable forecast projects that thirteen countries are likely to experience new conflicts in the next two years due to the exacerbating effects of the pandemic. COVID-19 is now widely understood as a potential threat multiplier that can amplify existing conflict drivers, as well as an accelerant of existing conflict processes that can hasten a spiral into deeper instability. Research from past pandemics, like HIV/AIDS and Ebola, makes clear that exposure to infectious disease increases the risk of armed conflict. Conflict, in turn, tends to exacerbate disease transmission and hinder public health responses. Pandemics have a similar effect as other external shocks, such as natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and droughts), extreme temperature rise, declines in export prices and economic crises---all of which are associated with the outbreak or intensification of conflict within a year of onset, especially in low-income and ethno-linguistically fragmented countries.

On the other hand, COVID-19 could present opportunities for governments, donors, and practitioners to catalyze some positive trends toward peace while blunting the political, economic, and social consequences of the virus. Before these opportunities recede, the international community must ensure that crucial investments to address conflict drivers---both those that predate the pandemic and those that have been exacerbated by it---are not diverted elsewhere, while proactively anticipating and preventing COVID-19's worst impacts in conflict-affected contexts. History suggests that the conflict-intensifying effects of pandemics can linger for years after the outbreak ends. We urge policymakers and practitioners to 1) incorporate conflict sensitivity in all COVID-19 responses; 2) address the impact of COVID-19 on conflict dynamics by strengthening social cohesion, improving state-society relationships, combating mis- /disinformation, and extending economic assistance; and 3) seize 'windows of opportunity' created by COVID-related disruptions to advance peace. In aggressively addressing these impacts, we have an opportunity to bolster communities' resilience to COVID-19 and build the foundations for lasting security.