Evidence shows that local communities played a central role in mitigating the impact of Covid-19, helping to bridge the governance gap in northwest Syria.
As Covid-19 was spreading across the world in the early months of 2020, Russia and Turkey reached a ceasefire deal in the contested Idlib province. Syria entered a year where there was a relative lull in fighting and bloodshed. But nearly a decade of violent conflict put a strain on the capacity and resources of governmental bodies to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on the 13.4 million Syrian people in need of humanitarian assistance. This was especially the case in opposition-held areas in the northwest of the country, which is home to over 4 million civilians – more than half of whom are internally displaced. While the economic and humanitarian toll of the pandemic in Syria has attracted much attention, fewer studies have looked into the impact of Covid-19 on local peace dynamics.
A research team led by Juline Beaujouan, University of Edinburgh, conducted a long-term study in northwest Syria to evaluate the impact of Covid-19 on issues of political trust, social cohesion, and youth inclusion. This brief highlights some of the key findings of this study, with the aim of informing policymakers, funders, and peacebuilders on opportunities to support local peace in Syrian opposition-held areas and other complex conflicts.
- Official responses to Covid-19 were highly politicised.
- Opposition governments were not trusted to deal with Covid-19.
- Covid-19 had no positive nor negative impact on social cohesion, including relations between host and displaced communities.
- Local civil society assumed a central role in the response to Covid-19 and was the most trusted actor during the pandemic.
- Covid-19 fostered bottom-up governance and community engagement activities, whereby civic actors and administrative local councils coordinated the provision of medical services and community awareness.
- The establishment of an umbrella organisation to represent local civil society and support cooperation and knowledge exchange across Syria is important and must be encouraged.