Magdy Martínez-Solimán: UN70: Rethinking the humanitarian-development nexus: How can the UN achieve a better integration of long-term aid and humanitarian assistance?

Mar 15, 2016

May I start by thanking the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Norwegian Institute for International Affairs  and the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies on hosting this seminar.

In the United Nations system, we highly appreciate our partnership with Norway. It is based on shared values and shared objectives.Together, we promote human rights, democratic and effective governance, gender equality and economic development. We do this alongside measures which secure the planet, build peace and lift people out of poverty.

The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs “UN70 initiative”  is a fine example of the positive way in which Norway engages the UN system. With foresight, intellectual rigor, consultation and political commitment.  I feel privileged to play a part in this process.

I spent yesterday with the Oslo Governance Centre dissecting how to prevent violent extremism. Today, we will focus on a different challenge, but one with equally global dimensions: the nexus between reducing humanitarian need and securing the path to development.

I would like to recall a comment made by Mr. Trygve Lie, the first Secretary-General of the UN and a distinguished Norwegian. In his installation speech, on 2nd February 1946 he said: “There is a close connection between the peace problem and the economic and social conditions of the countries of the world.  The creation of better economic and social conditions for all peoples is one of the principal aims of the United Nations”.

His analysis endures. Peace and development are inseparable.

As a UN leader, I wish to decisively underline my support for humanitarian action.  As a development practitioner and advocate, I am also compelled to focus on the prevention of humanitarian emergencies.  I believe these two endeavours are one and the same.  

Let me set the scene,

•    More than 1.5 billion people live in countries affected by fragility and violent conflict.  This violence is estimated to have caused global economic losses in the order of US$14.3 trillion in 2014. This is the equivalent of the combined economies of Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Spain and the UK.

•    During the lifetime of the Hyogo Framework for Action, from 2005 - 2014, over 700,000 people lost their lives; over 1.4 million were injured; and approximately 23 million were made homeless as a result of disasters. The total economic loss was more than $1.3 trillion.  

•    By the end of 2014 there were 59.5 million displaced people, including refugees, the majority children. The highest number on record.

•    Humanitarian appeals have more than tripled in just one decade, rising to an all-time high, in 2014, of US$24.5 billion .  In the same year, 38% of the needs defined in these appeals were unmet.

•    Between, 1991-2010 – only 13% of the $106.7 billion spent on disasters was invested in pre - disaster risk reduction.

•    In 2014, 66% of OECD-DAC humanitarian aid went to countries who have been receiving humanitarian assistance for eight years or more.

•    On average, only about 3% of total humanitarian aid goes to national governments.

So, what do we learn from this?

•    Crisis is deadly and costly. We are either unable or unwilling to meet all humanitarian needs.

•    Humanitarian aid has been growing, but humanitarian need grows faster.  In spite of an ever more generous humanitarian donor community, the gap is widening. This is evidenced through food rations that are cut, programmes dismantled, populations unprotected and organisations left struggling.  

•    Crisis is long term, impedes development, and compromises opportunities for national capacity building.

•    Current levels of displacement and violence – and the transnational reverberations - cannot be managed or absorbed. We must rethink.

Fortunately, we are not blind to these challenges. In 2015, there has been significant discourse on how global systems are mismatched to need. Plus, we now have several emboldening international commitments:

•    The 2030 Agenda. The first ever universal development framework. It includes a set of seventeen interconnected Sustainable Development Goals which seek to eradicate poverty in all its forms, and to do so within the context of sustainable development. It is an agenda for people and planet. Crucially, it aims to “leave no one behind.”

•    The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, adopted at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction provides a road map for building resilience and risk management, and emphasizes that risk informed development is sustainable development.

•    The global climate change agreement reached at COP21 in Paris was a turning point and puts the world on a path towards zero-carbon, climate-resilient development.

•    A positive and realistic framework on financing for development – the Addis Ababa Action Agenda – was agreed on at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development.  The new paradigm takes us from funding to financing: A very helpful reframing which will be built upon in World Humanitarian Summit in May.

Within the UN, the Secretary-General’s Peace Operations and Peacebuilding Reviews and his recent Report “One Humanity, Shared Responsibility” all put a spotlight on prevention.  The peace reviews highlight the pressing need to understand the political dimensions of peacebuilding and development. Across the board, they promote a more integrated UN system – peace, development, human rights and humanitarian action – as a means to promote sustainable peace. They advocate working across the Charter, because the interconnections and interdependences are felt strongly..

My three main points today draw from these reports.

Firstly, we must prioritize prevention,

The thrust of all UN action must be to avert and mitigate shocks – whether these shocks are caused by violence, disaster, climate, famine or epidemic.  We must aim to support national partners to address the root causes of conflict and to reduce risks from other hazards.

Successful prevention is based on strong analytics and risk management strategies. Risks are complex phenomena – Ebola and Zika are ample evidence of that – but as international actors we need to improve our capacity to predict and respond together.

UNDP’s approach is to invest in conflict-sensitivity, prevention, risk reduction and preparedness.  We have a country presence before, during and after a crisis which enables us to sustain this effort.

“Building back better”, as Bill Clinton say once, is a basic principle of disaster recovery. In essence, it means we take measures to address future risks whilst also supporting ongoing recovery efforts. Our post-earthquake response in Nepal embeds these types of resilience measures.   

In Bangladesh, we are supporting a Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme which uses early warning and flood forecasting systems. This could potentially save the lives, livelihoods and assets of 88 million people.  

Engaging women in risk reduction has proven to be not only fair but more effective.  We are alert to how gender influences our impact. Let me give you an example – there are 1 billion fewer female cell phone users than there are male users – so “disaster alert” systems need to factor that in.  In countries like Ethiopia and Honduras, we specifically work with women’s groups on disaster risk planning to ensure an approach which works for them and with them.

We have learned that a joint and consistent approach from the international community improves the chances of national partners being able to manage potentially violent events peacefully.  Political transitions – such as elections - are violent flashpoints. As a result UNDP provides consistent support to prevent electoral violence as we have in Guyana, Nigeria and Afghanistan.

With the Department for Political Affairs and the Peacebuilding Support Office, we enable conflict analysis and conflict prevention activities to field operations including through the deployment of around 40 Peace and Development Advisors.  My sincere thanks to the Norwegian government as you haveit has been a very reliable and consistent funder of this work.

Last year’s 1325 Global Study from UN Women has, once again, proved that women play a crucial role in conflict prevention. UNDP has recently contributed to this end by promoting women’s participation in the Colombian peace process and in Afghanistan’s efforts to strengthen community level mediation.

Member states are currently debating a General Assembly Resolution on Peacebuilding. It will contain a clear message that staying the course is essential for long term prevention or “sustaining peace”, after having conquered peace.”  

Together with colleagues from the MINUSCA mission, the Peacebuilding Support Office and the World Bank we supported the re-establishment of core government functions and the delivery of basic justice and security services in the aftermath of the 2014 violence in Central African Republic.  However, that accompaniment will have to be financed long after the media has moved on.

Likewise, countries like Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and Haiti, where peacekeeping missions are departing, continue to need our attention to prevent backsliding into instability.

The humanitarian crisis currently engulfing the globe is a powerful signal to donor states that overseas development assistance is needed now more than ever. We must prevent crisis - the causes of forced displacement.  

My second point is that we have to change both the aid model and the business model

I see a lot of positive energy for change in the multilateral and bilateral system.  UNDP is certainly committed.   I believe partners like Norway are also committed. However, we should not under-estimate the task ahead. Because inertias are powerful and change is complex.

We are in a conundrum.   We must not overlook our humanitarian responsibilities but we must also dedicate ourselves to rethinking the financing architecture and the overall business model.  

In UNDP, we are using the “Grand Bargain” discussions as one platform for change. We are elaborating commitments on the efficiency of the system and, particularly, on the “humanitarian - development divide”:

  • We should aim for a new business model of joint action between development actors and humanitarians on issues like forced displacement. We must identify incentives for this collaboration. We should advocate for these actions to routinely incorporate resilience approaches. Our joint effort with UNHCR on the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan in response to the Syrian Crisis “3RP” is a good example of this.
  • We will advocate with donors to assist by establishing fungible and flexible financing models. These should support multi-year joint appeals and cut across peace, humanitarian, development actors. This is especially important for countries in protracted crisis situations. Among other advantages, the flexibility would give UN country leadership, mainly our Resident Co-ordinators, the ability to respond rapidly to changing needs and risks.
  • We will promote financing over funding.  This involves working closely with government – whenever possible - on how they are managing and spending their own revenue streams, national and aid budgets. It involves working with authorities on how to address humanitarian need, promote resilient development and build peace nationally. The Somalia Compact is such a model and is based on the peacebuilding and state-building goals of the New Deal. The engagement of financial institutions like the World Bank and the development banks is crucial here.

Within the UN system we are promoting integration across the three pillars.  As the UN Development Group, we propose the following:  

  • Joint UN analysis and planning – This is at the heart of making a shift towards better integration. Having one common problem statement and one common plan to address risk and vulnerability is crucial. 
  • One UN Framework in One Country – We should pull together all the data, analytics, and strategic planning in one place.
  • Multi-year combined humanitarian and development planning - to avoid institutional and mental silos. If we have one team, we need one plan.
  • Strategic UNDAFs – hopefully soon relabeled United Nations Sustainable Development Frameworks - agreed with government partners, with resource mobilization strategies for common outcomes.
  • Empowered leadership - Our senior leadership should be able to fulfil their role with authority, trust, and support. They should be able to call on all capacities and resources to ensure the UN can ‘deliver as one’.  Logically, it follows that development and humanitarian co-ordination should be linked.
  • In particular, closer engagement with peacekeeping and political missions which, in defining their mandates, should build explicitly on the strengths of the UN Country Team.

A word on the private sector. Changing the business model involves deepening our partnerships with the private sector. We believe that public financing and aid can leverage private investment. In this way, we can enable communities affected by crisis, refugees and displaced job seekers.  

I commend the efforts of the Norwegian private sector which has demonstrated its commitment to the SDGs through the Business for Peace Award coming up at the Oslo City Hall in May.

My third message is that localized development saves lives.

The Secretary-General’s message on the importance of “localization” strikes a chord with UNDP. It has long been at the heart of our approach to crisis.  Localizing humanitarian action and development is a process of empowerment of stakeholders, aimed at making assistance more responsive and relevant to community needs and aspirations.

For UNDP, livelihoods is an important dimension of this engagement which encompasses three tracks:  livelihoods stabilization; early economic recovery; long term employment and inclusive growth.

The Syrian Crisis presents a compelling case for resilience through localized solutions and this is the approach we take with UNHCR and national governments.  We aim for sustainable strategies to address protection and livelihoods of refugees and displaced people.  

Within Syria itself, strengthening the resilience of people and communities means supporting livelihoods initiatives and improving basic services and infrastructure.  Our Humanitarian Livelihoods Programme is helping affected communities to avoid further destitution and dependence on aid by providing emergency income to people who have lost jobs or businesses. We have a special focus on vulnerable groups – the displaced, young people, women, and people with disabilities.

In Jordan, and Turkey, we promote development progress by engaging with host communities. These projects aim to increase community security, expand local livelihood options, and strengthen local service delivery such as waste management, and encouraging community cohesion, resilience and self-reliance.

UNDP, with UNHCR and UNICEF, is expanding participatory planning and service delivery to host communities in Lebanon including to the 1.2 million Syrian refugees living within the country’s borders. Through the Lebanon Host Community Support Project we are working in 45 of the most affected Lebanese communities. Through these joint efforts, we have helped to reduce tensions across communities and over 600,000 people have been provided with improved access to water, education, and social services. As a next step, we are working with government, civil society and communities in the development of a “Roadmap to Stabilization”.

Localised and joint actions are a vital hallmark of the UN’s approach to bridging the humanitarian-development nexus.


To sum up, we enter an era of SDG implementation with a less than robust global economy and with the existence of protracted displacement, conflict and crisis on a grotesque scale.  Increasingly, severe weather events are the new normal and natural disasters continue to cause unnecessary death and damage.

Resources are finite. Every single dollar (or krone) matters – national revenue, development and humanitarian aid, private enterprise, IFI and government loans.  And every single dollar needs to be used more effectively.

I strongly believe the 2030 agenda has the power to address these challenges and should itself be understood as a life-saving appeal.  

Finally, I will take the liberty of having the podium to suggest five actions I would like to see taken by the next Secretary-General:

  • Strengthen OCHA and UNDG – (“the how”) as the coordination platforms for both UN communities in the multilateral system;
  • Improve planning horizons (the “when”): accelerating development planning (emergency development) and broadening the horizon of humanitarian action to address the “mid-term”.
  • Put the SDGs at the Centre: (the “what”) clear Goals defined by the international community, with an emphasis on leaving no one behind. All humanitarian-development action happens under and in pursuit of the SDGs – perfectly compatible with and inspired by humanitarian principles.
  • The “why”- prevention, prevention and prevention. Acting fast when the alarm bells of fragility ring.
  • And finally, the “money”. With donor support, the UN should integrate funds for joint programming between humanitarian and development actors, first and second responders together. Joint endeavours should be rewarded while we strive for a more profound systemic reform.

Once again, I applaud and appreciate Norway’s thought leadership and pragmatic solidarity.

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