The invisible enemy known as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) surfaced in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 and has now gripped the entire planet, killing hundreds of thousands, throwing the global economy into turmoil and sending social shockwaves far and wide.
This unprecedented and formidable enemy has not spared anyone—not even United Nations peacekeepers. These women and men work around-the-clock to maintain peace and security in the most difficult of situations, far from their family and friends. The virus pandemic has further compounded the conditions under which peacekeepers serve.
Let me go deeper into how I, a United Nations peacekeeper from Italy serving in south Lebanon, have been affected personally, and how the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) continues to deliver on its mandate despite the acute adversities posed by the pandemic.
As I have been a part of UNIFIL since August 2019, I can identify myself as a witness to the problems that quickly unfolded in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak in Lebanon. Working together with the host communities, everything we do, think or talk about is geared towards containing the virus’ spread while adhering to the mission mandate set out in United Nations Security Council resolution 1701(2006). During these “corona times”, all mandate-related tasks have been conducted with extra layers of precaution and in accordance with guidelines from the host Government as well as the World Health Organization.
Being a United Nations peacekeeper is an honour and sometimes a hard job, especially when you live far away from your family for a long period of time. It’s even harder when you also have to deal with this unseen adversary, the virus that is threatening not only you, your mission and the host communities that you are serving, but also your family back home. The challenges are colossal, especially when you come from one of the hardest-hit countries.
Overcoming the challenges
I am worried about the well-being of my family back home, but they are even more worried about me. As the number of COVID-19 cases peaked in Italy, they began living under a nationwide lockdown, going out only once a week to buy essential items; this situation persisted for almost two months. Fortunately, they fully understand my commitment here in Lebanon and continue to support me. Thanks to technology, we are able to communicate daily through videocalls, during which we encourage each other, allowing me to fulfil my United Nations mission to uphold peace.
On a positive note, by the time the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Lebanon at the end of February 2020, there were enough lessons to learn from hard-hit countries, including Italy. The strict measures put in place by the Government and UNIFIL helped contain the spread of the virus. At the time of writing this, there were no positive COVID-19 cases in the camp in which I live, home to some 900 United Nations peacekeepers. That’s another comforting factor that helped reduce my family’s anxiety.
The support of my family and the opportunity offered by UNIFIL have propelled me, as a United Nations peacekeeper, to play an active part in this global, unconventional war for the good of the humankind. This is how I feel: as a peacekeeper, I can contribute to the solution.
Contributing to the solution
When UNIFIL started to support the local communities, I was honoured to take part physically in the first donation carried out by the mission to benefit Naqoura municipality on 31 March 2020. Delivering medical and protective equipment with the aim of preventing infection and saving lives makes me feel proud and closer to my comrades in Italy, who are engaged in similar activities to protect my countrymen.
At mission headquarters, I coordinate and compile details of all UNIFIL donations to local communities before sharing that information with the relevant mission components. This helps in our overall response and support to the host communities in containing the spread of the virus. I also contribute to fighting the disease through my continuous involvement in the Strategic Communications and Public Information Section, in the UNIFIL Coronavirus Crisis Cell (CCC), an emergency team focused on the timely sharing of all COVID-19-related news and emergency plans. This is a forum in which practical steps are discussed before they are referred to leadership.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected not only the operational activities of the mission, but it has also changed our lifestyle on base. As many of our fellow civilian peacekeepers are now working from home, I shoulder additional responsibilities. It is fair to say that we military personnel are “holding the fort” in close coordination with the civilian components of the mission through videoconferences, phone calls and other messaging means. I have the honour to represent my unit when physical presence is required. The whole experience has been an excellent learning opportunity in my professional career.
Life in the camp
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, there are new rules in the camp for all of us to follow strictly. We are rigorously observing social distancing, even during breaktime or at lunch, which is now served in multiple shifts in order to reduce the number of diners, and seats are organized in a checkerboard pattern. In addition, sanitizers are provided to all offices, workstations and accommodations. These precautions are taken to minimize the possibility of infection. CCC has played a fundamental role in these measures, especially in establishing timely communication channels and providing instructions to implement UNIFIL best practices.
UNIFIL personnel wear masks when driving outside of our bases and passing through municipalities and villages. Masks help protect the local people and demonstrate that the UNIFIL Blue Helmets are fighting the same battle that they are, and helping take care of their health, as well.
Despite the emergency restrictions and thinking about what my family back home is going through without me, I muster all the necessary energy to proceed with my mission. I am a UNIFIL Blue Helmet, acting in support of peace in Lebanon, and I can’t tire while that work is still underway.
I will not give up on my mission with UNIFIL. The local people have tremendous trust in us peacekeepers, especially during this time of COVID-19; they see us as role models to emulate during the fight. Working shoulder-to-shoulder with our comrades defeats our fear and gives space to the conviction that UNIFIL can help restore a general sense of normality, calm and stability, as envisaged in its mandate.
28 May 2020
The UN Chronicle is not an official record. The views expressed by individual authors, as well as the boundaries and names shown and the designations used in maps or articles, do not necessarily imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations.