INDEPENDENT NEWS

Explainer: Five Tools For Keeping Peace

Published: Thu 30 May 2024 04:26 AM
29 May 2024
In 1948, the United Nations took a pivotal step by deploying peacekeepers to support countries in their journey toward peace. Since then, more than two million people – military, police and civilians – have served in over 70 peacekeeping missions around the world, offering assistance amidst ongoing conflicts or their aftermath.
Their tireless efforts span from monitoring ceasefire agreements to protecting civilians, rebuilding key infrastructure and facilitating elections to help countries and communities transition from war to peace. Peacekeepers can be soldiers, police officers, engineers, doctors, veterinarians, human rights officers, justice and corrections officers, radio producers, environmental scientists and surveillance experts.
When we think about keeping peace, we often think of mediation, treaties and international laws. However, peacekeepers use a wider array of tools to keep and nurture peace in some of the world's most fragile places. As we mark the International Day of UN Peacekeepers on 29 May, we look at five non-traditional tools peacekeepers use to protect the communities that they serve.
1. Helicopters
Across Africa, the Americas, the Middle East, Europe and Asia, peacekeepers have used helicopters to overcome geographical barriers and extend their support to communities across diverse landscapes.
Helicopters are critical aviation assets in peacekeeping missions for a variety of reasons. They help peacekeepers reach remote villages inaccessible by road or water, allow rapid response and evacuation during emergencies, deliver essential supplies and aid to communities in need and provide aerial surveillance and reconnaissance to monitor and gather intelligence. In some instances, armed helicopters can act as a deterrent to armed groups.
Helicopters have also played an indispensable role in delivering electoral materials to make sure that people in remote places can take part in their countries’ democratic processes. Sometimes, in the remotest places, peacekeepers rely on helicopters, followed by foot or carts, to make sure the materials reach people on time.
Their versatility remains vital in providing the support and protection that people need. There are currently 81 helicopters operating in peacekeeping missions. The United Nations branding is visible on the exterior of the helicopters, including on its underbelly, to signal that it’s a peacekeeping or humanitarian convoy.
Despite this, UN helicopters have come under attack, an indication of how volatile the security situation can be in many missions and how peacekeepers risk their lives every day. Earlier this year, a helicopter conducting a medical evacuation was attacked by armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) eastern province of North Kivu.
2. Excavators
To truly build peace, peacekeeping focuses on people and their needs. In countries affected by conflict, the loss and lack of key infrastructure such as schools, medical facilities, roads and bridges hinders any efforts to help communities build sustainable peace. That’s why engineers and sappers in peacekeeping operations are instrumental in helping people recover and rebuild from the destruction of war and natural disasters.
“We are saving people not from bullets but floods,” said Captain Taimoor Ahmed, an engineer working for the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Using excavators and other construction equipment, his team built dikes to help hundreds of people stranded due to the devastating floods in Bentiu. They also built roads along the dikes to make sure essential humanitarian supplies reached people displaced by the disaster.
Just outside South Sudan’s capital Juba, peacekeepers built new classrooms, a football field and a playground for a small school catering to a community that mostly relies on subsistence farming and has limited access to education. In the DRC, peacekeepers built an Ebola Treatment Centre in North Kivu and rehabilitated and expanded the road to the facility at the height of the disease outbreak in the country.
3. Satellite imaging
In the last two decades, satellite imaging has been used in peacekeeping missions to provide a good overview of conflict zones, greatly enhancing situational awareness. Peacekeepers, who are surveillance and geospatial experts, use satellite imagery to monitor troop movements, displacement trends and flows, potential threat and movements of armed groups and the impact of impending natural disasters.
With such critical information, they can make informed decisions, effectively plan patrols and coordinate response. Satellite imaging, one of the most innovative tools available to peacekeeping, helps to enhance operational awareness in many missions, particularly those in countries with vast, remote and difficult terrains. Real-time imagery of inaccessible regions also enables peacekeepers to swiftly assess the extent of any damage or needs and prioritise their interventions accordingly.
In Mali, where the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission was deployed from April 2013 to December 2023, satellite images helped identify routes used by traffickers in the north of the country. In the DRC, the imagery is used to track the movement of armed groups, monitor illegal mining activities and assess the impact of conflict on civilians.
In South Sudan, satellite data is used for an array of purposes, from monitoring natural disaster preparedness, response and recovery to tracking displacement patterns and cross-border movements. The UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, which was established to monitor the ceasefire agreement between the island’s Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, uses the data to monitor activities along the buffer zone.
4. Mine detectors
Mine detectors have played a crucial role in saving countless lives worldwide. From Angola to Cambodia, landmines remain a terrifying legacy of wars, killing or maiming mostly civilians. Today, nearly 70 countries and territories have landmines. The UN Mine Action Service deploys deminers to nearly 20 countries and territories, including in peacekeeping missions, to detect and destroy the mines.
Clearing landmines not only prevents the loss of lives and limbs, it also makes land safe and productive again, allowing local communities to farm or build schools or hospitals, essentially rebuilding their lives and livelihoods. Unfortunately, the cost of clearing landmines could be detrimental to the lives of deminers. In recent years, casualties among deminers have occurred in several places, including Afghanistan, South Sudan and Syria.
How do deminers protect themselves? They wear personal protective gear like blast suits, helmets, gloves and boots. They use metal detectors, prodders and mine clearance vehicles to detect and destroy mines. The detectors, which use electromagnetic waves to identify metal, are instrumental in locating buried landmines.
There are limitations to the detectors, but they have generally proven to be highly effective in mitigating risks. Since the late 1990s, more than 55 million landmines have been destroyed, over 30 countries have become mine-free and casualties have been dramatically reduced.
5. Radio
Radio may not be the first thing we think about when looking for information today, but it remains a powerful communications tool in many parts of the world, including in countries where UN peacekeeping exists.
Radio has played a vital role in many missions since the late 1980s. Today, three peacekeeping missions have their own radio stations – Radio Miraya in South Sudan, Radio Okapi in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Guira FM in the Central African Republic. Peacekeepers, who are radio producers and communications personnel, use radio for vital news, early warnings about potential threats, discussions on pertinent issues and educational programmes, empowering communities to make informed decisions. Moreover, they provide an invaluable platform for local voices and perspectives, helping to foster reconciliation between divided communities.
Why does radio work better than newspapers, television or the internet? Radio receivers and frequency are relatively inexpensive and widely available, even in the most remote areas. In places with low literacy rates, radio programmes can reach a wider audience, fostering a more inclusive way of information sharing. Radio can also provide information in local languages in real time.
Given its reach, radio is a reliable tool to counter misinformation and dispel rumours that can be harmful to people’s safety and health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Radio Miraya, which reaches two thirds of South Sudan, ran programmes to help counter the local population’s resistance to physical distancing. In the DRC, Radio Okapi worked with the Congolese Government to provide on-air education to roughly 22 million children who could not leave their homes, transmitting essential French, math and reading lessons.

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