Planting the seeds of peace, breaking cycles of crisis

UNDP Resident Representatives from Iraq, Myanmar and Nigeria share perspectives on how the humanitarian-peace-development nexus offers fertile grounds for seeds of peace to be sowed early and prevent future crises

November 9, 2021

In Iraq, Myanmar and Nigeria, UNDP experiences show an integrated approach addressing the humanitarian-development-peace nexus can help break the cycle of crisis.


UNDP opened this year’s Geneva Peace Week (GPW21) alongside peacebuilding and humanitarian partners by exploring how more coordinated and complementary efforts between humanitarian development and peace actors can support and sustain peaceful societies. The theme of GPW21, From seeds to systems of peace: Weathering today’s challenges, explores the importance of ensuring that all our actions contribute to peace and are systematically integrated into the way in which we work.

In a crisis, humanitarian, development and peace interventions should not be thought of as sequential. Waiting for a situation to emerge from a humanitarian emergency before laying the foundations for sustainable development or lasting peace runs the risk of keeping those living in conflict trapped in a cycle of crisis, where new drivers of tension and instability overlay existing grievances and are never truly resolved.

What is needed is a much more responsive and adaptable approach where the three are applied simultaneously and are mutually reinforcing. We must also place greater emphasis on people-centred approaches, engaging local capacities and moving beyond the principle of ‘do no harm’.

Such an approach, referred to as the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, operates under the mantra ‘prevention always, development wherever possible and humanitarian action when necessary’.

In Iraq, Myanmar and Nigeria, our own experience has shown that such an integrated approach can have a significant impact in breaking the cycle of crisis and putting communities on a path to peaceful, sustainable development.

Tackling drivers of fragility in Iraq

In the past year, Iraq has not been just plagued by COVID-19, but also by political turmoil and a significant drop in oil revenue. While Iraq’s fiscal position is slowly recovering, the basic needs of the population remain significant with 4.1 million people in humanitarian need – of which 2.4 million are in acute need. Close to 25 percent of the population live below the national poverty line. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has also had a limited revival during the pandemic.

We have learnt through experience that moving away from fragility and recovery from shocks such as a pandemic can only be achieved through a strong foundation of state-society trust. Our research indicates that corruption and security are at the top of the list of grievances for many Iraqis and the recent elections present an opportunity for the new government to rebuild trust by taking into account these priorities and establishing a more equitable and participatory social contract.

UNDP in Iraq has launched of a number of joint analyses such as its Socio-Economic Impact Analysis series. The focus on fragility dimensions ensures a deeper understanding of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and key fragility drivers. UNDP has also integrated a nexus lens in development of strategies, plans and programming, such as the launch of a large-scale Durable Solutions strategy jointly with IOM, and a programme to address the specific multidimensional needs of displaced people and communities, including those with perceived affiliation to ISIL.

UNDP’s multi-dimensional stabilization approach was also designed as a set of holistic interventions working to safeguard against risk of violent conflict, government ineffectiveness, socio-economic vulnerability and gender inequality. This builds on the premise that stabilization priorities and needs fall across the breadth of the humanitarian, development and peacebuilding spectrum.

Laying foundations for sustainable peace by addressing multidimensional crisis in Myanmar

In Myanmar, the combined shocks of COVID-19 and the military takeover are being felt throughout the country. Basic human rights are being compromised, democratic space is increasingly restricted and respect for the rule of law is rapidly diminishing.

With nearly half of the population projected to fall below the national poverty line in 2022, poverty may revert to levels not seen since 2005. Significant resources (4.5 percent of pre-COVID-19 GDP) would be needed to raise the newly poor above the poverty line.

In addition to increasing vulnerabilities in many contested ethnic areas, many cities are now the focus of insurgency, also leading to increasing poverty. 

Given this trend, a narrow focus on and prioritization of humanitarian programming in the current crisis (a usual pattern in protracted and cyclical crises) would risk weakening civil society.

Under the UN socio-economic resilience response plan, UNDP is applying a nexus approach through its Community First Programme, which helps address basic needs of vulnerable populations in urban and rural areas while fostering resilience to current and future shocks. Partnerships are key. In Rakhine, UNDP is launching a “Triple Nexus” Joint Programme with UNHCR, building on previous results in northern Rakhine where Quick Impact Projects have proven excellent entry points to build trust and gain physical access to communities previously kept off-limits by authorities. “Triple Nexus” interventions aim to build social cohesion while preparing the ground for the future return of refugees and the internally displaced. To support nexus programming for urban populations, UNDP is partnering with UN Women and UN Habitat in areas where UNDP’s rapid response programme already assisted 100,000 people.

Applying the HDP nexus approach in Nigeria’s northeast

The northeast of Nigeria is plagued with protracted insurgencies, and violent extremism, with far reaching humanitarian implications. The north-central zone is heavily burdened by natural-resource-based violent conflicts leading to massive displacement of communities and loss of lives and livelihoods; whilst the northwest region is grappling with pervasive organized crime, escalated amidst a broader deterioration in security.

In the northeast, three interlinked strategies are deployed through stabilization, enhancing physical security and safety of communities, while also ensuring increased access to basic services.

UNDP’s approach, which integrates peace building and is defined by stabilization investments, early recovery and reconciliation, ensures that conditions for long term development are guaranteed while humanitarian support is ongoing.

The state of Benue is characterised by herder-farmer crisis. To deliver a comprehensive package that piloted integrated responses to the immediate, medium and long term needs of communities, UNDP worked with the government through a ‘joined’ programme with UNHCR and the Human Security Trust Fund.

In the immediate term, there was a need to provide relief to displaced communities while also laying a foundation for sustainable recovery by restoring livelihoods and basic social services. From a policy perspective, strengthening core governance functions, supporting institutional arrangements for rule of law, promotion of peace and timely action was pertinent for long term coordinated prevention of violence.

Strengthening development pathways to prevention and peace

Applying the HDP nexus approach has shown real impact of overcoming multidimensional crises.

UNDP has a vital role to play in efforts to integrate and scale up actions that tackle the structural drivers of conflict and help to build lasting peace, as well as ensuring that these efforts are maintained, before, during and after crises hit. This means having the right people in the right place at the right time.

Together with our partners, we look forward to continuing to strengthen development pathways to prevention and peace, and to accelerating the exit of affected populations from crisis and conflict and prolonged humanitarian situations to avoid aid dependency and, ultimately, to end humanitarian need.