While global news coverage has focused heavily on Europe and North America, infections are quickly growing throughout the world and cases have now been reported in countries like Syria and Yemen.
As the UN Secretary-General has cautioned, “we are only as strong as the weakest health system in our interconnected world”. We have witnessed COVID-19 spreading across borders in the blink of an eye. Conflict, fragile healthcare systems, lack of medical resources, poverty, high density population and cultural norms are making it hard to contain the virus. The inability to suppress the spread of the novel coronavirus in conflict zones may reverse the gains made elsewhere.
The private sector should therefore urgently join forces with governments and international organizations to address the situation not only where they currently operate, but also in countries that are normally outside of their purview, actions could include:
- Regardless of size, industry or geography, every company can advocate for the importance of supporting vulnerable nations. Companies can lend their voice to encourage multilateral responses that increase the resources required to tackle the outbreak. Development and humanitarian budgets that had been committed earlier are still needed to address the needs that existed before COVID-19. Equally important is to join the UNSG call on a global ceasefire, as COVID-19 is not the only threat to people living in conflict affected areas.
- Businesses that have operations in or close to conflict affected countries should find solutions to ensure cross-border movement of essential products including PPE, diagnostic equipment, oxygen and oxygen-based clinical care commodities. Where possible, they should maintain open trade, help move priority materials and keep humanitarian corridors open by air, land and sea. Humanitarian organizations need to be able to deliver life-saving assistance despite the pandemic.
- Companies that have the capacity, should repurpose manufacturing facilities, ramp up production or support the provision of essential supplies, such as protective and medical equipment. While local and regional production are preferred for their positive socio-economic implications, exporting personal protective equipment, ventilators and others supplies can also significantly augment the existing yet limited resources that countries have. In one encouraging example, a group of multinational companies recently announced they will donate tens of thousands of coronavirus testing kits and medical equipment to Yemen.
- Companies that operate in conflict areas need to pay heightened attention to the principle of “Do No Harm” while considering positive contributions to peace. The pandemic is already creating severe consequences on peace and security due to restrictions on movements, elections have been postponed, economic inequalities increased and communal tensions is growing. However, the pandemic may also present an opportunity for companies to re-configure global transport and supply chains, and for example explore local purchasing opportunities to support the economy.
- Conflicts pose higher risks (perceived or actual) to companies that want to support humanitarian action in such contexts. However, collective action can mitigate some of the risks and therefore companies should explore joining forces with others. The CBi guidance on manmade disasters provides a starting point for companies to understand if and how they might best support before, during and after crisis.
- Companies around the world who have liquidity should also consider contributing to the WHO COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. Donations help countries, particularly those with the weakest health systems, to effectively prepare and respond to the pandemic.
*Photo credit: OCHA
 Opening remarks at virtual press encounter to launch the Report on the Socio-Economic Impacts of COVID-19: https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/speeches/2020-03-31/remarks-launch-of-report-the-socio-economic-impacts-of-covid-19