By: Maya Kelly / Editor: Urjasi Rudra
Every day, United Nations peacekeepers work to protect millions of vulnerable people in the world’s most fragile political contexts and increasingly dangerous places.
UN peacekeeping is not a fighting force. It is a political endeavour dedicated to helping secure lasting peace so that recovery can take place.
From protecting civilians in war-torn areas and building social cohesion to ensuring the safe delivery of humanitarian aid, rebuilding infrastructure, and providing livelihood skills to impoverished communities, peacekeepers work with local and international partners to help create conditions for political solutions and sustainable development.
Partnerships are at the heart of peacekeeping. This year, in recognition of the need for a strong and united approach to saving and changing the lives of the communities we serve, the theme of the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers (29 May) is: “People Peace Progress: The Power of Partnerships”.
Here are just five ways that peacekeeping partnerships drive change.
1. Advancing Climate Action
Climate change exacerbates the risk of conflict and makes recovery more difficult. Increasing drought, desertification, flooding, food insecurity, and water and energy scarcity in many parts of the world is making it harder for conflict-affected communities to rebuild their lives. UN Peacekeeping serves on the front line of these compounding crises, while working to reduce its own environmental impact.
UNMISS, South Sudan
In December 2021, the Unity region of South Sudan found itself in a debilitating crisis — 70% of the state was submerged in water, following the worst flooding in 60 years. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), in partnership with humanitarians and local authorities, jumped into action, with engineering peacekeepers from Pakistan building 70 kilometers of dikes to protect the town, camps for displaced families, the airport and roads that provide vital access for humanitarian aid as well as trade.
On 4 January 2022, UNMISS and its partners marked 100 straight days of battling the rising waters. In a truly community effort, displaced families prowled the perimeter, checking for cracks in the mud dikes. When they spotted seepage, a call went out to the peacekeepers and the International Organization for Migration, who rushed to respond with bulldozers, excavators, and water pumps. The community laboured alongside peacekeepers, using buckets, pieces of metal, and their bare hands to shore up what they called the last line of defence.
Reflecting on the remarkable effort of all partners involved, the Head of the UNMISS Field Office in Bentiu, Hiroko Hirahara explains, “What I can proudly tell you is that everybody came together. I mean, this is the beauty of the people in Bentiu that we may be arguing here, there, everywhere, but once the situation hits, everybody comes together. So, I was very grateful that… we are working in solidarity. I think we are making progress.”
UNIFIL, South Lebanon
On 2 March 2022, the UN mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL)’s Indian peacekeepers (INDBATT) handed over an electric solar project to Mayor Youssef Fayad, to power the municipal building of El Mari in the south-east of the country. The solar project is just one part of UNIFIL’s efforts to go green in its area of operations in south Lebanon, and to address power outages in the municipal building, which also houses the Lebanese Social Development Centre. Solar projects are particularly significant as Lebanon is going through a debilitating power crisis. Frequent power outages continue to put essential services at risk.
2. On the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic
Since the onset of COVID-19, peacekeepers have continued to protect civilians from violence and maintain peace, while also supporting national responses to the pandemic.
In November 2021, the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), Justice and Corrections Section, launched a vaccination campaign to prevent COVID-19 among detainees and prison personnel at the Bamako Central Prison. The campaign resulted in 1,637 people receiving their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, including 1,566 prisoners, 62 prison staff, and nine prison visitors. This campaign covered 56% of detained people and 55% of corrections officers in the prison. The vaccinations were offered free of charge, under the World Health Organization’s “Covax” initiative, and was carried out by a local medical team.
MONUSCO, Democratic Republic of Congo
Throughout the pandemic, radio has been an essential channel to disseminate timely and accurate information about COVID-19 transmission, prevention, treatment, and best practices, especially in local communities. At a time when most people were teleworking because of rising COVID-19 cases, MONUSCO’s Radio Okapi host, Jody Nkashama, was in the studio, trying to stop the spread by keeping listeners informed.
“We braved fear to serve more than 24 million listeners with reliable information on the pandemic, which had sparked various rumours and loss of lives, with a negative impact on the national economy,” explains Nkashama.
Beyond providing life-saving information and combating dangerous misinformation about the virus, Radio Okapi, which is run by the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), played an important educational role for young students. As millions of children were unable to attend school due to stay-at-home orders, Radio Okapi stepped in to fill the gap.
In May 2020, it was the first media outlet to answer the Congolese Government’s request to broadcast lessons via radio, launching classes on air, aimed at approximately 22 million children stranded at home because of COVID-19. In partnership with UNICEF, Radio Okapi and the Congolese National Radio (RNTC) committed to daily broadcasts of classes in mathematics, French, reading and writing, health and environmental education, and hygiene.
3. Supporting local livelihoods
For peace to last, conflict-affected communities must be supported to rebuild livelihoods so that they can live in dignity. Peacekeepers deliver and fund vocational and skills training workshops and services to help local communities generate income to support their families.
UNMISS, South Sudan
In South Sudan, livestock is a lifeline for many families, helping them put food on the table, meet nutritional needs and educate their children. It is the preferred currency for paying dowries and also a symbol of social status. The importance of healthy livestock cannot be overstated.
A weekly veterinary clinic is a longstanding tradition in Malakal, South Sudan, thanks to Indian peacekeepers serving with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). From 2006–2015, and picking up again in 2018 after a hiatus during heightened conflict in the region, Indian peacekeepers offered free veterinary services and training for local farmers to ensure the health of their livestock. With no other veterinarians treating animals in Malakal, UNMISS’ veterinary services saved lives and livelihoods.
Recently, when animal breeders in Renk were losing livestock to a disease outbreak, they turned to UNMISS for help. In partnership with local authorities, peacekeepers organized a two-day veterinary assistance and animal health awareness camp, treating 1,749 animals for a variety of conditions including tick-borne issues, anemia, pneumonia, and more. Indian veterinary peacekeepers also educated local animal breeders on preventive care for livestock.
Lt-Col. Phillip Varghese from UNMISS emphasizes the significance of such support: “Helping people sustain their livelihoods goes a long way in contributing to peacebuilding efforts across this young nation.”
4. Building national capacity to maintain peace and security
Peacekeeping missions work with host governments to build and improve national capacities to maintain security, law and order, and effective policing and justice mechanisms.
MONUSCO, Democratic Republic of Congo
As a Corrections Advisor serving with the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Karima Mohammed provides guidance, mentoring and coaching to National Corrections partners on the management of prisoners, upholding human rights, and strengthening state institutions to meet international standards for secure and safe prison populations.
During her time with MONUSCO, from 2016 to 2018, and from October 2020 to present, Mohammed has worked with local and national partners to spearhead countless projects to improve prison security as well as the health and well-being of prisoners. She has facilitated early referral of detainees in need of secondary health care, advocated for personal hygiene and healthy nutrition, improved the living conditions of female inmates and their infants, implemented solar energy projects to manage the environmental impact of prisons in the country, and led COVID-19 prevention and vaccination for prisoners.
Mohammed’s efforts have yielded concrete results: 600 inmates received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and 120 inmates received surgery for chronic medical conditions. With a key focus on preventive healthcare, Mohammed initiated a fishing and bakery project in Uvira Prison (South Kivu, DRC), which not only improved nutrition of the inmates, but also gave them new skills and a sense of fulfillment.
In recognition of her impact within the corrections field, Karima Mohammed is a nominee for the United Nations Trailblazer Award for Women Justice and Corrections Officers.
MINUSCA, Central African Republic
In March 2022, the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), launched operation “Zia siriri ni Akomandé”, (meaning “let peace reign”) in the north-west of the country. The operation aims to reduce the influence of illegal armed groups and the impact of explosive devices through increased patrols and aerial reconnaissance missions.
Working closely with local communities and the national army, peacekeepers conduct patrols to assess the security situation and also learn about the concerns of the local communities. During recent patrols, the lack of medical supplies and access to schools were highlighted by the communities. In response, peacekeepers have provided daily clean drinking water, school supplies and sport equipment, as well as free medical assistance, including for women and children. Roads have also been rehabilitated to improve living conditions and access to service.
The patrols have already paid dividends. MINUSCA Lt-Col. Abdoul Aziz Ouédraogo explains,“the number of incidents and attacks in the area has drastically decreased over the past few weeks, proof that there is a real impact from the actions of our units.”
The initiative is also helping build trust between the peacekeeping mission and the local communities.
5. Supporting women and youth in building sustainable peace
For sustainable peace and development, we need the leadership of women and youth in shaping the solutions that impact their lives. UN Peacekeeping operations support the meaningful engagement of women and youth in peace processes to ensure that their priorities are central to security and political decisions.
Decades of conflict divides the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. In 2021, a project facilitated by the UN Mission in Cyprus (UNFICYP), and sponsored by the Netherlands Embassy, helped bring women from both communities together, through a centuries-old tradition: weaving.
The Klotho Women’s Initiative created projects on the loom that allowed Greek and Turkish Cypriot women of different ages learn and exchange their weaving techniques and ideas.
This is how Hande Toycan, a Turkish Cypriot, and Flora Hadjigeorgiou, a Greek Cypriot found friendship.
“At the beginning, we felt like strangers, but through this bi-communal collaboration we got to know that we are the same,” explains Hande. “By meeting each other, getting to know the life and habits of each other, we will slowly pave the way for peace.”
If it weren’t for UNFICYP, Flora might not have met a Turkish Cypriot at all. “Until this, I had no contact with Turkish Cypriots at all. The first time I came into contact with a Turkish Cypriot was with the Klotho project. At the age of… 65,” reflects Flora.
While Flora and Hande weave strong threads of peace, this year, a group of six young Cypriots from Greek and Turkish communities came together to develop the “Green Mahalla” — a project to tackle common environmental challenges, while fostering communication between the communities which have been separated by the long conflict. Working together, they cleaned up polluted areas and encouraged community members to change their behavior towards the environment and one another.
The project is part of the Youth Leaders in Action initiative, supported by the UN Mission in Cyprus (UNFICYP), the British Council and the British High Commissioner in Cyprus. It equips youth leaders with the skills and tools needed to implement intercommunal social action projects.
Sofia Polydorou, one of Green Mahalla’s founders, explains how the group came up with the idea. “We all agreed that the separation of our island prohibits us from seeing the bigger picture of common environmental problems. We recognised the need to initiate intercommunal environmental activities to prevent conflict and build peaceful relations between our communities.”