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A volunteer sprays disinfectant to help contain the spread of the coronavirus in Rio de Janeiro. A volunteer sprays disinfectant to help contain the spread of the coronavirus, at the Santa Marta favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 10, 2020 (AP photo by Leo Correa).

What the Pandemic Looks Like in the World’s ‘Ungoverned Spaces’

Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020

Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is testing and revealing the limits of state authority. Simultaneously elevated and enfeebled, the nation-state has been the principal organizing unit behind the global crisis response. But often, it has lacked the legitimacy and authority it needs to manage the pandemic in the territories it purports to govern. In disputed territories and conflict zones, on remote isles in archipelagos, in favelas and urban settlements, citizens may look to the state for protection. But there at the margins, where the world’s most vulnerable populations often live, communities are instead enduring the pandemic without help from, and sometimes in spite of, the state.

Even though these spaces ostensibly lie beyond the control of a centralized state, they are not governance vacuums. In the absence of state authority, myriad entities are stepping up and stepping in. From cartels to community organizations, aid agencies to violent rebel groups, nonstate actors are performing vital public health functions and delivering essential services. This pandemic response beyond the reach of the state is a messy arrangement where new and adapted social and political organizations are collaborating to ensure people’s everyday survival. ...

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