Every day, United Nations peacekeepers work to protect millions of vulnerable people in increasingly dangerous places in the world’s most fragile political contexts.
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.
Ahead of the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers (29 May) whose theme this year is People Peace Progress: The Power of Partnerships, here are 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.
In December 2021, 70 per cent of the Unity region of South Sudan was submerged by water, following the worst flooding in 60 years.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), in partnership with humanitarians and local authorities, took immediate action, with engineering peacekeepers from Pakistan building 70 kilometers of dykes 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 communal effort, displaced families monitored the perimeter, checking for cracks in the mud dykes.
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. We are working in solidarity. I think we are making progress.”
2. On the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, peacekeepers have continued to protect civilians from violence and maintain peace, while also supporting national responses to the pandemic.
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.
3. Supporting local livelihoods
For peace to last, conflict-affected communities must be supported to rebuild livelihoods. Peacekeepers deliver and fund vocational and skills training workshops and services to help local communities generate income to support their families.
In South Sudan, healthy livestock is not only a symbol of social status, but also a lifeline for many families, helping them put food on the table, meet nutritional needs and educate their children.
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 then 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.
“Helping people sustain their livelihoods goes a long way in contributing to peacebuilding efforts across this young nation,” says Lt-Col. Phillip Varghese.
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.
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 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,” according to Lt-Col. Abdoul Aziz Ouédraogo.
5. Supporting women and youth in building sustainable peace
The leadership of women and youth is crucial in shaping the solutions that impact lives and which lead to peace and development. UN Peacekeeping operations support the meaningful engagement of women and youth to ensure that their priorities are central to security and political decisions.
Decades of conflict has divided 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 to exchange their weaving knowledge.
“At the beginning, we felt like strangers, but through this bi-communal collaboration we got to know that we are the same,” explains Hande Toycan, a Turkish Cypriot. “By meeting each other, getting to know the life and habits of each other, we will slowly pave the way for peace.”
“Until this, I had no contact with Turkish Cypriots at all,” says Greek Cypriot Flora Hadjigeorgiou. “The first time I came into contact with a Turkish Cypriot was through the Klotho project. At the age of 65.”