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  • Blog
  • 18 December 2019

Peace in the triple nexus: what challenges do donors face?

How does 'peace' fit in the humanitarian nexus? Sarah Dalrymple and Angus Urquhart identify and clarify four key questions


Sarah Dalrymple, Angus Urquhart

Peace now plays a central role in discussions around the nexus. The OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) recommendation on the Humanitarian-Development-Peace (HDP) nexus agreed in February 2019 provides working principles for DAC donors. It expands the well-established dual humanitarian-development nexus into a triple one to include peace. In practice this plays out through both the development-peace and humanitarian-peace nexuses. It is based on the recognition that sustainable development and durable solutions to displacement are not possible without peace and that addressing the underlying causes of conflict is fundamental to reducing humanitarian needs.

Donors and agencies alike are grappling with the reality of what peace in the nexus means at different levels – from leadership, policy and strategy to programming, organisational structures and staffing. There are four key systemic and conceptual challenges which need clarifying in order to move forward.

How to find common ground within the differing departure points for humanitarian, development and peacebuilding programming?

HDP programmes tend to work from different departure points. For humanitarians this can broadly be characterised as saving lives; for peacebuilding, as stability, security and longer-term conflict prevention; and for development as opportunities for addressing poverty. Moreover, the three components of the nexus also tend to have different ways of working, including targeting criteria and approaches to working with partners, most notably national government actors. These ways of working are embedded within the aid architecture.

Donors should identify common ground in target groups and partners through the shared ‘Leave No One Behind’ agenda, agree concepts and definitions and develop a shared language to create a critical starting point for engaging on the nexus in any context.

What are the ambitions of the triple nexus concerning peace?

Collaboration, coherence and complementarity (‘the three C’s’) are the stated ambitions of the DAC recommendation on the HDP nexus. They mean different things to different actors and are highly context specific. They could be viewed as a spectrum with the humanitarian-peace nexus at the lower end with a minimum expectation of complementarity; the development-peace nexus in the middle; and the more established and less contentious humanitarian-development nexus at the higher end between collaboration and coherence. Donors should clarify the different ambitions of each dual nexus upfront, at the country level, with regards to the three Cs.

The ways in which official development assistance (ODA) is targeted to HDP activities will determine the extent to which nexus-related ambitions are realised. Currently, funding for peacebuilding activities constitutes a small proportion of ODA (2% in 2017). This raises the question of whether a greater proportion of ODA should be allocated to peacebuilding activities in order to deliver on the triple nexus at scale and address the underlying causes of crisis.

What does peace in the nexus look like in practice?

There is no common definition or understanding of what peace in the nexus looks like in practice or indeed its scope vis-à-vis stabilisation. However, our reports on the nexus found that, for Sweden and the UK, there is a strong portfolio of context-response programming emerging although practitioners may not explicitly label or recognise it as this. Examples of programming approaches taken include:

  1. Embedding a peace (or ‘conflict-sensitive’) lens into development and humanitarian approaches. Integrating a conflict-sensitive approach to humanitarian assistance can range from efforts to ‘do no harm’ to contributions to peace, though the approach taken depends on the appropriateness to the context and safeguarding of humanitarian principles. See an example (approach 8) from the Department for International Development’s (DFID) programme in Somalia in our report 'Donors at the triple nexus: lessons from the United Kingdom'.
  2. Supporting peace dividends in parallel to humanitarian assistance to lay the foundations for recovery and peacebuilding. See an example (approach 5) from DFID’s programme in Jordan in our UK report, and an example from Sweden’s approach in Yemen in our report 'Donors at the triple nexus: Lessons from Sweden'.
  3. Peacebuilding or stability efforts on early recovery creating the conditions for humanitarian and development access down the line.

The challenge now is for donors and agencies to establish systems for capturing and sharing learning. This is necessary for developing a menu of programming options and systematising approaches to encourage broader uptake.

How to address tensions between donor political agendas on stability and security and needs-based principled humanitarian assistance?

Peacebuilding in most of its forms is a political enterprise. This makes it hard to do alongside humanitarian operations which seek to maintain neutrality – especially when the political objectives of donor governments are also at play.

Certain types of peacebuilding activities or partnerships may be more appropriate than others in offering an entry point for working on the humanitarian-peace or development-peace nexuses, and are likely to depend on the ambition behind the specific intervention and the extent that national political agendas are a driving factor. For example, apolitical community level peacebuilding activities may be accepted by all parties as an entry point, but counter terrorism or stabilisation activities engaging the national government may not.

Donors should work collectively to identify specific types of peacebuilding activities relevant and appropriate to the nexus, as well as limitations of the nexus regarding the scope for humanitarian activities.

Moving forwards on the agenda

Donors, agencies and organisations must be open in addressing the complex conceptual, systematic and programmatic challenges outlined with a willingness to work differently, question the status quo and break down historic silos. Commitment to change and leadership is critical. There are also clear windows of opportunity and examples of progress and innovation that can be built upon, systematised and scaled-up. Some would question whether the peace aspect of the nexus is realistic given the hurdles to be faced. However, if sustainable development is to be achieved and the underlying causes of crisis addressed, prioritising peacebuilding is vital. These key lessons, questions and considerations for donors are set out in Development Initiative’s research on approaches to the nexus from Sweden ('Donors at the triple nexus: Lessons from Sweden') and the UK ('Donors at the triple nexus: lessons from the United Kingdom'), and in a paper synthesising the key findings of both ('Key questions and considerations for donors at the triple nexus: lessons from UK and Sweden').