It’s hard to remember a time when more crises were jostling for space in the headline news, or when the world’s leading diplomats, like Secretary of State John Kerry and the UN Secretary General, were engaged in shuttle diplomacy on so many issues simultaneously.
Top of mind by late last month were the conflicts in Gaza and eastern Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Mali, Nigeria.
Meeting the costs of humanitarian relief is proving overwhelming. By the end of June this year, UN coordinated appeals for humanitarian crises had already reached $16.4 billion. This was before the latest conflict in Gaza began, and before a lot of the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Could more be done to anticipate, prevent, or mitigate these traumatic events? The short answer is – yes and there is a compelling need to try to get ahead of the curve of future crises and disasters, to avert huge and costly development setbacks and lives lost.
Rough estimates suggest that for every dollar spent in disaster preparedness and mitigation, seven dollars will be saved when disaster strikes. It is also true that spending in fragile states which have been or still are immersed in conflict does absorb a significant amount of global Official Development Assistance.
A good deal of that, however, goes on humanitarian relief, leaving relatively small sums for the longer term investments which might advance inclusive governance, mediate local tensions, and ward off conflict.
To make the investments to maintain cohesion within nations, development actors need to be more pragmatic and fleet of foot. It is ultimately a political process which requires leadership, vision, tolerance, and inclusion. If a process of inclusion and change is not embraced by a country’s leadership, sooner or later change will be forced upon it. That may come at a terrible cost in human life and to economies.
The Millennium Developments Goals (MDGs), which are largely drawn from the United Nations Millennium Declaration of 2000, are due to run their course by the end of next year. What should replace them is the subject of a major global debate.
But to prevent conflicts and achieve cohesion of nations, our world will need a sea change on inclusive and effective governance, equity, human rights, and the rule of law. As development actors, we can play our part, but those who lead countries and those who aspire to lead must also play theirs.