Our Perspectives


If prevention is the best cure, we have to do better in fragile states

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Justice and security are central to crisis recovery in fragile countries. In Somaliland, Sexual Assault Referral Centres have been established with UNDP’s support. Photo: UNDP Somalia

In this blog series leading up to the World Humanitarian Summit, UNDP experts and practitioners share their experiences and views on responding to conflict and disasters.

Not all humanitarian crises can be anticipated or prevented, but man-made crises involving conflict and state failure can be and must be. This puts states affected by conflict and fragility front and centre of discussions leading up to the World Humanitarian Summit in May.

This week, the 5th Global Meeting of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding in Stockholm will emphasize the connection between revitalising the fragile states agenda and addressing the recent surge in humanitarian crises.

In 2011, the International Dialogue oversaw the adoption of the New Deal For Engagement In Fragile States, a landmark international framework signed by over 40 major bilateral and multilateral agencies and countries. The process brought together development partners, civil society organisations, and governments of g7+ countries to talk frankly about issues like political space, corruption, and poor donor performance that were previously seen as too sensitive to air. They agreed on an ambitious set of principles to make aid and development work better in fragile environments.

Poverty and instability are increasingly concentrated in places where weak institutions and poor social cohesion make traditional development approaches less effective. Donors often make matters worse by bypassing weak government and creating 'parallel systems', or operating in slow and overly cautious ways. This can exacerbate poor state capacity and even drive conflict.  

The New Deal seeks to address these issues by calling for greater transparency, country leadership and use of country systems, and conflict-sensitive programming.

I have worked on the New Deal since its inception, most recently at UNDP, which hosts a dedicated Facility to support New Deal implementation.

Progress since 2011 has been mixed. Although the framework is widely credited with shifting global policy in a positive direction, behaviour change among donors has been slower to materialise. In countries like Somalia where there has been more of a 'blank slate', the New Deal has provided the template for donor re-engagement. But in places where there are already multiple policy frameworks in place, it has proved harder to make reforms stick.

The Ministerial gathering in Stockholm will renew the mandate of the New Deal for a new five year period. But in my opinion the meeting must also bring the framework up to date in three important ways.

First, New Deal principles of country-ownership, conflict-sensitivity and better donor coordination must be applied to humanitarian as well as development activity. This means working transparently and with local partners where possible. We must also be sensitive to the ways in which external support can inadvertently undermine (or build) peace in the long term.

Second, the New Deal must work in support of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). If the SDGs provide the 'what', the New Deal provides the 'how' of SDG implementation. It can provide guidance on how to make international support more effective in fragile settings.

Third, the International Dialogue structure must evolve to remain relevant. Our growing understanding that fragility affects all countries to some extent, and the universal nature of Agenda 2030, has moved us beyond the donor/recipient dichotomy of old. The crosscutting nature of fragility means that we must reach out to new constituencies in our work, including the private sector, humanitarian actors, and emerging donors.

We should not underestimate what this means for the international community. With the SDGs, we are working towards a wholesale transformation in fragile states.  But this cannot be achieved without also fundamentally transforming the approach taken by all organizations - donors, NGOs, humanitarian actors - that wish to partner with those countries on this journey.

Claire Leigh Blog post blog series Crisis response Governance and peacebuilding Conflict prevention Accountability Development Effectiveness Effective development cooperation Sustainable development Agenda 2030 partnerships aid coordination and effectiveness Sustainable Development Goals Aid Partnerships Donors

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