Approaching the humanitarian-development-peace nexus: A peacebuilding perspective

By Lorenzo Angelini

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the interlinkages between humanitarian, development and peace actions. It is estimated that more than eighty percent of humanitarian needs are driven by violent conflict, and that more than 500 million people living in extreme poverty inhabit fragile and conflict-affected contexts. [1] Actions which are aimed at addressing the root causes of conflict and/or contributing to the resilience of societies can therefore make a significant difference in alleviating humanitarian needs and in fostering development. Peace contributes directly to the sustainability of humanitarian and development efforts.

The European Union (EU) has made clear that it understands the importance of preventing violent conflict and of building sustainable peace in reducing humanitarian needs and in improving development outcomes. In 2016, the Global Strategy for the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy called for the synergies between EU development, humanitarian and peace actions to be developed further and, in May 2017, the Council of the EU expressly underlined in its Conclusions ‘the linkages between sustainable development, humanitarian action and conflict prevention and peacebuilding.’ [2]

In the framework of the Civil Society Dialogue Network (CSDN), EPLO recently brought together a number of civil society experts working in the areas of humanitarian aid, development co-operation and peacebuilding in order to share perspectives and explore ideas on the humanitarian-development-peace nexus (hereinafter ‘the Nexus’). The discussions yielded a diverse range of insights on how the EU (and other international actors) should approach and operationalise the Nexus, in particular with regard to its peace component. [3]

  1. The key message which emerged from the discussions was that it is paramount for actions across the Nexus to be driven by local needs and initiatives rather than by European political priorities. This means adopting a people-centred approach, listening to, working with, and supporting those people who are affected by conflict. In order to achieve this, it is essential that international actors partner with diverse civil society in fragile and conflict-affected contexts, and in particular with local civil society organisations (CSOs).
  1. Integrating the peace component of the Nexus also involves ensuring that actions across it are conflict-sensitive (and therefore gender-sensitive). This means that the EU should undertake and act upon rigorous conflict analysis (which fully integrates gender analysis) for the contexts where it engages or considers engaging. As each context is different, this is also necessary to understand whether or not adopting a ‘Nexus approach’ is helpful. In addition, carrying out joint conflict analysis across the relevant EU institutions can contribute to improving coordination and the integration of actions where appropriate.
  1. Conversely, integrating the peace component of the Nexus should not involve adopting ‘hard security’, militarised approaches to conflict issues. Indeed, such approaches tend to make it more difficult to carry out integrated work across the Nexus. In addition, they can have a counter-productive impact on local peace and conflict dynamics and they can pose risks to implementers across the Nexus (in particular humanitarian actors), who may be perceived to be associated with the military engagements in the eyes of local populations.
  1. It is essential for actions across the Nexus to contribute to resilience and peace, or to help to create the conditions for peace, whenever possible. Peacebuilders have specific expertise and carry out specific work to contribute to peace; humanitarian and development actions cannot and should not substitute their work, and not everyone should become a peacebuilder. However, humanitarian and development actors can still also contribute to peace (or to creating the conditions for peace) through their work – for example, by coordinating with peacebuilders, by contributing to community resilience through local partners and by helping to address the root causes of conflict when possible. Information sharing and learning mechanisms can also help actors learn from each other and be more effective in helping the people they are trying to reach. In particular, working with peacebuilders can help humanitarian and development actors in building their capacities and expertise for conflict sensitivity and conflict prevention.
  1. EU funding should provide incentives for CSOs to work together across the Nexus. In particular, it should (i) be flexible and adapted to local contexts and needs (e.g. multi-year funding is key to ensure the sustainability of efforts in protracted crises, including for humanitarian actors), (ii) adequately address the need for CSOs to be conflict-sensitive and to invest in robust (joint) conflict analysis, (iii) provide CSOs with more flexibility to use funds relating to one component of the Nexus to cover actions relating to the others (including in reaction to a changing context), and (iv) support the establishment of comprehensive information sharing and learning mechanisms for CSOs across the Nexus.

Overall, it is essential for efforts across the Nexus to be based on the self-defined interests of the people living in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. Fully integrating peace into the Nexus is necessary in order to (i) better understand and address their multiple needs, (ii) ensure that people do not fall into ‘support gaps’ (i.e. where one source of assistance stops before another source can take over and/or before the conditions are in place to ensure that violence will not erupt again soon), (iii) ensure that international actors do no harm, (iv) better support local people and communities and their initiatives to build peace, and (iv) ultimately have a more comprehensive, positive and sustainable impact.

As the international community looks for more efficient means of addressing the diverse needs of people in fragile and conflict-affected contexts, the EU has a unique opportunity to emerge as the global leader on the operationalisation of the Nexus through a people-centred approach focused on human security. This notably involves ensuring that the EU’s humanitarian, development and peacebuilding engagements are systematically sensitive to local peace and conflict dynamics, that they are designed and carried out in partnership with (local) civil society, and that they actively contribute to sustainable peace whenever and wherever possible.

[1] See for example: OECD, States of Fragility 2018 and United Nations, One humanity: shared responsibility — Report of the Secretary-General for the World Humanitarian Summit, 2016.

[2] The EU’s Integrated Approach to Conflict and Crises similarly emphasises the need to use the EU’s various policies and instruments in a more coherent, holistic and conflict-sensitive manner. See also the EU’s Strategic Approach to Resilience, the European Consensus on Development, the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid, and the EU’s commitment to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

[3] The meeting report is available here.

Lorenzo Angelini is the Policy Officer responsible for EPLO’s work in pursuit of its Policy Objective 3 (To integrate peacebuilding into EU development policy, programmes and approaches).


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