Deficit of Peace in the Humanitarian and Development Interface

Jahal de Meritens and Lisa De Vitis

In recent years, the world has seen a dramatic change in the nature of crises:

  • • Most humanitarian crises are protracted and man-made
  • • Crises no longer remain in their distinct boxes (disasters or conflicts), nor contained in national borders
  • • Civilian populations are increasingly affected by violence particularly in urban areas
  • • Development continuity is essential in protracted crises where humanitarians are not only responding to immediate needs.

The debate on the humanitarian and development nexus originally focused on removing the unnecessary barriers hindering the collaboration between humanitarian aid and development to respond comprehensively to people’s needs, risks, and vulnerabilities. Since 2005, early recovery addresses recovery needs that arise during the humanitarian phase of an emergency, using humanitarian mechanisms that align with development principles. It enables people to use the benefits of humanitarian action and seize development opportunities. Early recovery strengthens their resilience and establishes a sustainable process of recovery from crisis. The concept of early recovery is now firmly rooted in the humanitarian system, although the deficit of peace hinders the full recovery of populations affected by conflict.

The former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called for sustaining peace to be considered as an essential third dimension of a new way of working together towards collective outcomes. The current UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres highlighted the need for a global response that addresses the root causes of conflict, and integrates peace, sustainable development and human rights in a holistic way – from conception to execution.

The concept of peace that spontaneously comes to mind is the elimination of armed conflict. Hence, humanitarian actors shy away from engaging with military, governments, and other national actors in conflict settings, fearing the erosion of humanitarian principles. Indeed, the resolution of armed conflict is not the responsibility of humanitarian and development organisations. However, the concept of peace is understood and used in different ways, and drastic variations exist in how it is conceptualized and operationalized by a wide range of international actors.

Peace can be seen as ‘negative’ or ‘positive’. Negative peace refers to situations in which violence has stopped but the underlying issues are still unresolved. Instead, positive peace exists where people are interacting in a non-violent manner and are managing their conflict with a respectful attention to the legitimate needs and interests of all concerned. Peacebuilding addresses the root causes of conflict and may set the foundations for positive peace and long-term development. In crisis settings, humanitarian and development activities (including restoration of basic services, local governance, livelihoods, social cohesion, rule of law, community stability, capacity-building and investing in people) often intertwine or overlap with the components of peacebuilding.

Against this backdrop, the interface between humanitarian action, development and peace should be reconsidered, as the current deficit of peace is too much of a cost to bear.

If humanitarian organisations were not engaged in peacebuilding:

Action Against Hunger (ACF) would not engage in collective efforts that address the root causes including poverty, conflict, inequality, climate change, poor governance and insufficient political will.[1]

In Burundi, CARE would not work with local civil society organisations and peace groups to resolve community tensions and promote social cohesion, trauma healing and the importance of a truth and reconciliation process.[2]

In Niger, OXFAM would not support women in gaining legal entitlement to land and participating in decision-making processes, including engaging with religious leaders to discuss how their views and rights can be represented.[3]

In Ethiopia, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) would not provide mental healthcare for some 6,200 Eritrean refugees in Shimelba and Hitsats camps in Tigray region, services which included psychosocial and psychiatric support, as well as community education and awareness activities.[4]

In Nepal, Niger, Malawi, and Uganda, OXFAM would neither work with the UN Food and Agriculture organization (FAO) to pilot a multi-stakeholder land governance program, nor with civil society organizations to raise awareness and enhance the skills of local people to advocate for their rights and engage in dialogue with those in positions of power.[5]

In Colombia, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) would not strengthen communities as well as local authorities in transitioning towards durable solutions. [6]

In Ukraine, the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) would not promote local community empowerment and social cohesion as cornerstones in preventing further discord and paving the way for long-term solutions.[7]

In Palestine, the humanitarian country team would not support the capacity of Palestinians to cope with and overcome protracted crisis, including environmental threats, while solutions to violations and other root causes of threats and shocks are pursued.[8]

In Sudan, the humanitarian country team would not prioritize capacity building for partners and government counterparts (local communities, civil society, local and national institutions) across the response in order to strengthen national response mechanisms and ensure the sustainability of the response. [9]