Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace

Statement to the Peacebuilding Commission on “Institution Building and System-Wide Engagement for Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace".

May 22, 2020



Distinguished Members of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission,


Thank you for the invitation to address you today.

On behalf of the United Nations Development Programme, I would like to commend the leadership of the Peacebuilding Commission -- in particular, the chairs and co-chairs from Canada, Japan and Colombia -- for organizing a platform to complement the ongoing  Peacebuilding Architecture Review.

The focus of this consultation on Institution-building and System-wide Engagement for Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace is very timely.

The COVID-19 pandemic represents our greatest test since the formation of the United Nations.

The pandemic’s socio-economic effects are overwhelming -- and institutions are not spared.

As UNDP’s Human Development Report Office points out, human development is now on course to decline this year for the first time since 1990.

COVID-19 also poses a significant threat to international peace and security.  

It is hurting the most vulnerable -- especially those already suffering from conflict and violence.  

However, the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire only had a temporary effect.

And in recent years, we have seen people come onto the streets to protest rising inequality, poor or inaccessible social services, a damaged climate -- and a deficit of trust in the institutions that are supposed to serve them.

In many places, the virus is exacerbating existing grievances and inequalities, stifling hard-won freedoms, and eroding social cohesion -- which can easily be manipulated and exploited by extremists.

So, the UN itself must stay ahead of the curve.

3 “Calls to Action”

To do that, I would like to outline 3 “Calls to Action” to the distinguished Members of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission.

1.    Firstly – we must be frank about the chronic and recurring issue of the inconsistent -- yet critical -- investment in SDG 16 – the enabling, institutions Goal – and the gaps in integrated responses on the ground.

Advances on Goal 16 are uneven and millions of people continue to be excluded -- deprived of their dignity, security, rights and opportunities.

This undermines the delivery of public services and broader economic development.

And critical gaps continue to persist in terms of the coverage and the quality of data available.

Indeed, the impact of COVID-19 is likely to be worst in fragile and conflict-affected countries, where health systems are weak, and there is a lack of any form of social protection.

But the pandemic is opening-up new avenues of much-needed assistance to institutions – especially supporting their crisis management capacity at local- and central- levels.

To give just one example, in Sudan, UNDP is helping key government offices to function remotely through digital technology. This is critical as they manage the nation’s response to the crisis -- and help to ensure a peaceful transition in the country.

Indeed, an eye-opening study by UNDP and Oxford Policy Management  asked an important question:

“Are fragile and conflict-affected countries that prioritize core government functions more successful in their transitions toward peace and development?”

The answer was “yes” -- but only when:

•    Core government functions are prioritized and sustained -- even in protracted crises;
•    When public expenditures on these functions result in reforms, which are genuine and equitable; and
•    When core government functions are prioritized by both governments and donors and there is national ownership and leadership;

This leads me to my second point.

2.    The UN must work even more closely, coherently, and predictably on the ground.

I commend the call by the Peacebuilding Commission to the UN System to work even more closely together in the wake of several reform processes.

And many welcome changes are well underway.

However, concerns remain that “headquarter-driven” policy and programmatic activities do not always trickle down to truly joint action at the country-level.

When the humanitarian-development-peace collaboration is needed most -- there may be contradictory, or even competitive efforts to support national priorities and governance systems.

In spite of this, the UN is working hard to address such weaknesses.

For instance, UNDP and the Peacebuilding Support Office lead a UN Interagency Platform  to jointly assess, plan, and restore core governance institutions.

Or in Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Liberia where UNDP is working closely with UN Women, UNFPA, OHCHR on the Spotlight Initiative to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.

Together, we are “un-masking” gender-based violence in conflict-affected countries.

In sum, working closely together as part of the UN family, we will continue to support responsive, accountable, and inclusive institutions that can accelerate community-oriented services.

3.    The third Call to Action is for reliable funding and financing to strengthen public institutions -- especially for countries that are undergoing transition or during post-conflict peacebuilding.

Only 18 per cent of fragile and conflict-affected states are on track to meet SDG targets related to unmet basic needs.

Yet, only around 4.2 per cent of total ODA  funding in fragile countries went towards strengthening core governance systems.

However, we are helping to close this gap.

In Yemen, as the conflict rages, and where 80 per cent of the population depend on humanitarian assistance -- UNDP has partnered with the World Bank, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and others to preserve vital basic services and help institutions to function. This is critical to keep the country on the solid footing needed for recovery when peace returns.

And in nearly 40 countries, UNDP is the single largest implementer of PBF  funds -- delivering “peace dividends” alongside our sister agencies.

But we also need to examine the broader financing backdrop – as this session points out.  

UNDP commends the decisions of the IMF, the World Bank Group, and the G20 to immediately suspend debt service payments of 76 countries for one year.
However, the UN is encouraging all parties to put in place a debt moratorium for the next two years for all vulnerable countries -- especially those that are already fragile, conflict-affected or recovering from the dark shadow of war.
This debt relief and support for access to predictable, multi-year financing will enable governments to prepare, respond and recover in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It will also make their institutions more resilient to future shocks.

This simple policy tipping point – from funding to financing – should be part of a transformation in “thinking and doing” -- especially as we review the Peacebuilding Architecture 15 years on.


In closing, UNDP continues to serve as a key development actor in complex recovery and peacebuilding settings.

We are proud to now serve as the UN’s technical lead for the socio-economic recovery of countries across the globe – in a range of different development settings.

And one key takeaway over the past number of months was the rapid response by the UN to help governments to “keep their lights on” during the crisis.
We have also been thinking how institutions can adapt to this brave new world -- through improved ways of delivering services -- and through the use of digital technologies.
For instance, from Sierra Leone, to Burkina Faso, to Chad, to Somalia – our exciting network of UNDP Accelerator Labs is quickly coming up with ways to address this new reality -- including in conflict-affected countries.
In sum, UNDP will continue to support stable governance institutions to foster just, inclusive, and peaceful societies in a world that is now changed forever.

But we must build back better to regain stability and spur peace and prosperity.

And I believe that we can indeed turn the greatest reversal of human development into a historic leap forward.

Thank you for your kind attention.