UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Monday for an immediate cease-fire in conflicts around the world to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.N. chief said: “It is time to put armed conflict on lock-down and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”
Guterres said the world faces “a common enemy — COVID-19” which doesn’t care “about nationality or ethnicity, faction or faith.”
He said women, children, the disabled, marginalized and displaced and people caught in armed conflicts, which are raging around the world, are the most vulnerable and “are also at the highest risk of suffering devastating losses from COVID-19.”
It’s time to silence guns, stop artillery, end airstrikes and create corridors for life-saving aid and open windows for diplomacy, he said.
“The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” the secretary-general said.
Guterres spoke as the Syrian conflict has entered its 10th year, the conflict in Yemen is in its fifth year and Libya's rival governments have been fighting for nearly a year. Africa also faces unrest from Somalia and South Sudan to Congo. The conflict in eastern Ukraine is nearly six years old and Colombia has still not made peace with the smaller of the armed groups it had been fighting.
Extremist groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaida and their affiliates are also actively engaging in attacks in southeast Asia, Syria, Somalia, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso and many other countries around the world.
Guterres urged warring parties to “put aside mistrust and animosity” and take inspiration from efforts to get rivals to tackle the coronavirus together, but he stressed that much more was needed.
“End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world,” the secretary-general said. “It starts by stopping the fighting everywhere. Now. That is what our human family needs, now more than ever.”
The secretary-general said over the weekend that the parties in Libya had responded positively to calls for a humanitarian pause to tackle COVID-19, but he told reporters Mondat that a recently agreed truce “is not holding very well, and this is one of the reasons why I believe we need a global ceasefire."
He said U.N. envoys in conflict areas will be talking to warring parties “to try to make sure that this global appeal is not only listened to but leads to concrete action, leads to a pause in fighting, creating the conditions for the response to COVID-19 to be much more effective.”
Guterres stressed that in war-ravaged countries, health systems have collapsed, “health professionals, already few in number, have often been targeted,” and refugees and the displaced are “doubly vulnerable.”
“If the fighting goes on, we might have an absolutely devastating spreading of the epidemic,” he said.
The United Nations plans to launch a $2 billion humanitarian appeal on Wednesday to deal with the pandemic, including refugees and the displaced, he said.
Guterres said he also sent a letter Monday to leaders of the Group of 20 major economic powers, who are expected to hold a virtual meeting this week that he will attend, saying much strong coordination is needed to suppress COVID-19.
He said this coordination must not only make sure that richer developed countries can respond effectively to the pandemic but that there is “massive support” to prevent the coronavirus from spreading “like wildfire in the developing world.”
Then, Guterres said, there must be “a huge package” to respond to the economic and social consequences in developing countries, to keep households, businesses and societies afloat.
The secretary-general said that given the need to keep countries afloat during this crisis, major industrial countries and organizations like the World Bank and IMF will need to provide support in the developing word that would be equal to more than 10% of GDP for those countries.
Also Monday, the head of the IMF said that the IMF was ready to do its part, suggesting that if needed it would deploy all of its $1 trillion in lending resources to countries in need.
IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said in a statement following a conference call with finance officials of the Group of 20 nations that the IMF has received requests for emergency help from nearly 80 countries. She pledged that the IMF planned a strong coordinated response working with the World Bank and other groups.
AP Economics Writer Martin Crutsinger contributed to this report from Washington