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Aid Security and COVID-19 - Bulletin 6 (22 May 2020)

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This bulletin from the Aid Security and COVID-19 series highlights the use of explosive weapons in populated areas in Syria, Yemen, and Libya during March and April 2020.

The Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas

The effect of airstrikes, shelling and IEDs on health care and the COVID-19 health response in March and April 2020.

On 23 March 2020, UN Secretary General António Guterres called for a global ceasefire amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Reminding the world that in war-ravaged countries health systems have often collapsed and that health professionals have been targeted, he called on warring parties to cease hostilities, silence guns, stop the artillery, and end airstrikes on civilians.

Turkey and Russia had already agreed to a ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib province on 05 March after violence escalated that left scores of Turkish and Syrian soldier’s dead. The Houthi rebels, Yemeni government, and Saudi Arabia, which leads the military campaign in support of the Yemeni government. initially responded positively to the UN appeal for a ceasefire. In Libya, the main protagonists in the conflict also initially welcomed the UN call for a ceasefire.

However, Insecurity Insight’s monitoring of events affecting health care in March and April 2020 reveal that the use of explosive weapons against health care facilities and personnel continued in Libya and Yemen throughout this period, with potentially devastating consequences for an effective COVID-19 response. Only in Syria, by contrast, has the ceasefire had the effect of reducing bombings of hospitals and attacks on health responders.

Damage from airstrikes forced the closure of health facilities. At least one of them was treating COVID-19 patients. Three COVID-19 quarantine centres were reportedly hit by airstrikes. Loss of trained health workers and destruction of vital health equipment during a pandemic weakens the ability to respond effectively. These reverberating effects of explosive weapons use continue beyond the day the damage occurred. The full impact of the consequences of the use of explosive weapons in during the pandemic will only become apparent with time.