Image by Christopher Herwig, UN Women
  • Blog
  • 4 February 2020

As development practitioners, we need to improve vital coherence with humanitarian and peace actors

The ‘triple nexus’ is a shared responsibility between development, humanitarian and peace actors – Amy Dodd considers the steps needed to move from discussion to increased action.

Amy Dodd

Written by Amy Dodd

Head of Engagement

The development landscape is changing as poverty is increasingly concentrated in fragile, crisis or conflict contexts. This is well recognised and well understood in the development world – and is hardly surprising given the obvious interconnectedness of crises and poverty. Yet despite high levels of awareness, we have seen little concrete change in practice.

The well-known historic divide between humanitarian, peace and development actors and activities means that so-called ‘traditional’ development has not always been designed to focus on fragile or crisis contexts and isn’t set up to adapt to the rapid change that can often characterise them. But right now, when a third of people living in extreme poverty worldwide are in countries with recurrent crises, that siloed approach cannot continue and the need for change has never been so necessary. Leaving no one behind – really delivering effective development in increasingly fragile contexts, ending extreme poverty and addressing widening inequality – means a different approach is an imperative.

There has been a lot of discussion and rhetoric around working more coherently at the ‘triple nexus’ of peace, development and humanitarian for years, and this has certainly accelerated in the ‘post-2015 world’. The pace of change, however, is not good enough.

As someone who works more on the development side, I’m conscious there is a lot more that development actors could do to take on greater responsibility. The emergence of a crisis – in whatever form, long or short term, does not mean we should automatically pass responsibility over to humanitarians. Doing so puts longer term development programming at risk and reduces the coherence of emergency response with those longer term objectives. Too often people see ‘the nexus’ as the responsibility of humanitarian actors, and a culture shift is needed so that this is seen as a shared responsibility.

So, what should we as development actors be doing?

DI is doing some in-depth work on how different actors are working at the nexus (recently, how two of the more advanced donors – Sweden and the UK – are delivering at the nexus) to draw out some practical lessons.

Here’s a summary of some that are particularly noteworthy:

  • We need to build nexus issues into overarching strategies (whether humanitarian or development) and bring in risk assessments much more systematically to development planning and programming. In practice this means building nexus-related issues into development policy frameworks so risk, resilience and peacebuilding, in particular, are part of development approaches. At the programming level, planning jointly with humanitarian and peace actors could pay significant dividends in enabling development to work more effectively alongside and with humanitarian programmes, for example, to lay the foundations for recovery and build resilience.
  • The need for flexibility in financing is critical as having the ability to scale up and down, particularly in response to the changing nature of protracted crises, is vital. There are existing means to do this. Risk financing mechanisms need to be systematically embedded into development planning and programming, currently more common in humanitarian programmes, but development also actors need to be able to flex and continue to engage in protracted and recurring crisis contexts.
  • We need to ensure we have the right staffing capacity with the right skills – either themselves or in the team – to be able to respond effectively to a crisis, and equally that learning is shared between and across teams. Practically speaking this can mean training or establishing multi-disciplinary teams but, perhaps most importantly, it has to mean embedding the right incentives to shift the culture from viewing nexus issues as the responsibility of humanitarian or peace actors to a shared responsibility.

What are the challenges of this change of approach?

There are inevitable tensions and trade-offs, and we should be honest about these. The long-term approach that development actors want to take is challenging in crisis-prone or protracted crisis contexts given the relative lack of flexibility to adapt to fast-changing circumstances. However, it allows crucial long-term investment and planning, more effective community engagement, and all the benefits that these things bring. Equally, if we ask development actors to do a lot and know a lot more, this creates obvious challenges even with support and training. If we bring in new people with a specific skill set, this requires more resources and may not tackle the desire to eliminate silos. There is no quick fix here.

Finding a balance and addressing these trade-offs that respect the valuable and hard-won lessons we’ve learned in different contexts is challenging. This does not, however, excuse the lack of progress to date, and we have a duty to overcome any obstacles in our way. Looking forward, all the projections are that crises of all types, and particularly protracted crises, will be an increasingly important limit to development. Crises put development gains at risk, and if development actors want to reach the furthest behind, it is in these contexts that we will need to put our focus. This is not a small challenge – we are talking about changing the way the development world works. But there are practical changes we can and should be making right now. We have to start somewhere and we have to do it now.