Image by UN Women/Fahad Abdullah Kaizer
  • Report
  • 1 April 2021

Development actors at the nexus: Lessons from crises in Bangladesh, Cameroon and Somalia: Executive summary

Executive summary


The promise of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to ‘leave no one behind’, yet people caught up in protracted crises are often those furthest left behind. The impact of Covid-19 is reversing development gains across the globe, with an estimated 86 million people already pushed into extreme poverty since the start of the pandemic.[1] Given the risk that crisis-affected populations will be left even further behind, effective action is needed to address the root causes of crises, combining immediate emergency assistance with longer term investments to reduce risks and vulnerabilities and sustain peace. Development cooperation could play a more effective and complementary role building on initial progress in finding lasting solutions to protracted humanitarian crises, as part of a coherent approach linked with humanitarian and peace actions.

Building on previous work by Development Initiatives (DI) analysing donor approaches to the nexus, this report explores, from the vantage point of development cooperation, how to operationalise the ‘triple nexus’ of humanitarian−development−peace (HDP) action across five key areas: 1) partnerships and strategy, 2) coordination and joined-up planning, 3) programming, 4) financing and 5) organisational issues. This synthesis report brings together findings from three country studies carried out in 2020 on Bangladesh, Cameroon and Somalia and draws out common themes, lessons and considerations from the country studies. These can provide useful insights into how to operationalise new and better ways of working across the humanitarian, development and peace communities. More joined-up, coherent programming among humanitarian, development and peace actors requires these actors to understand each other’s language, systems, ways of operating, and the challenges they face when working in crisis contexts. This research was led by DI’s Crisis and Humanitarian team, in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). It represents an initial effort to scope out, from a humanitarian’s perspective, how development actors − such as multilateral development banks (MDBs), bilateral donors and UN agencies − approach and operate in protracted humanitarian crises as a way to identify both the differences and areas of synergy, and to foster mutual understanding among HDP actors.

We recognise that development cooperation covers a broad group of actors that operate in different ways and have different roles, and that development approaches will differ depending on the context (see Appendix 2). This synthesis report focuses on specific lessons for different actors and some themes generally common to all, while recognising that some development actors are more advanced than others in their ways of working in protracted crisis contexts and often what is required is a greater ‘collective’ effort.

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Most development partners − donor governments, multilateral organisations and funds, and MDBs − commit to work in partnership with national governments, including in crisis, conflict and fragile settings. As observed in Cameroon, Bangladesh and Somalia, their ability to leverage strong relationships with governments and deliver at scale can be game-changing. But development partners face the dilemma of how to balance an approach based on partnership, cooperation, capacity development and mutual accountability with governments with responsiveness to crisis-affected populations in contexts where political commitment is wavering (as in Cameroon) or the legitimacy of certain political actors is challenged (as in Somalia). Where the government is an active party to conflict, partnership with it is challenging or impossible. Although the largest share of development finance in protracted crises is channelled to recipient governments, development partners also work with other partners, such as local governments and NGOs, to both promote bottom-up, participatory development in crisis-affected regions and build capacities and accountability, particularly where government structures are weak or unresponsive to local populations. In particular, partnerships with local governments through local governance programmes have been an important entry point for development actors in crisis-affected regions in the three country studies. Nevertheless, non-governmental service delivery remains dominated by international actors, and local NGOs, local businesses and other community representatives are often not adequately engaged, funded or supported to play a lead role.

What does effective partnership at the nexus mean at the country level?

  • Build effective partnerships in crisis settings that are dynamic, flexible, risk informed and context specific to enable not only longer term partnership but also short-term mechanisms for flexibility and responsiveness to immediate needs.
  • Partner with local governments as a critical player, particularly in conflict-affected regions and where the central government may be weak, supporting decentralisation where it will enable better inclusion and long-term peace.
  • Invest in partnerships beyond the government – local civil society and the private sector are vital and too often lack investment in protracted crises. Pooled funds and NGO consortia are a useful way to do this at scale.
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Coordination, prioritisation and planning

Learning from Cameroon, Bangladesh and Somalia shows that there is an elaborate coordination architecture at the country level but joining up humanitarian with development action and humanitarian with peace action remains weak. Efforts to improve the coherence of development and peace and security actions are more advanced, but humanitarian actors have been concerned that working directly with peace and security actors could undermine humanitarian principles. A consensus is now being built at global level around a broader notion of peace and how it can be integrated into humanitarian action. Efforts at the country level in Cameroon and Somalia to bring actors together across the HDP nexus are also hampered by insufficient buy-in and senior leadership from development partners outside the UN system, as well as across government. While progress has been made in identifying collective outcomes in Somalia and Cameroon, there is a risk that these create a new, parallel layer of planning and are not sufficiently embedded in existing national development plans and accountability frameworks, and the coordination structures that support them. Scope for joining up HDP action is context dependent, and there is a clear need to protect independent humanitarian coordination in certain political contexts, such as some areas within Somalia, to safeguard principled humanitarian action.

What does effective coordination, prioritisation and planning at the nexus mean at the country level?

  • Key development actors, such as MDBs, national governments and leading bilateral donors, play a prominent role in leading the nexus – practically, politically and in policy – alongside humanitarian and peace actors.
  • HDP actors work together to embed collective outcomes in existing development planning frameworks and increase the coherence of existing coordination structures. Development planning processes at the country level include humanitarian and peace actors, drawing on their expertise to jointly analyse risks, conflict dynamics, needs and capacities.
  • The UN and World Bank collectively ensure a process is in place to monitor and review how nexus coordination structures are working at the country level and evaluate the implementation of collective outcomes, including a process to share and systematise this learning.
  • Donors consider how funding can incentivise nexus planning by establishing pooled funds or dedicated budget lines to support joint programmes that focus on collective outcomes, or other collaborative actions across the nexus.
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Programming approaches

Experience from Cameroon and other conflict contexts shows that development actors often decrease their engagement or pull out when conflict risks escalate. Sequencing gaps can also occur if development actors are not present on the ground and ready to scale-up when humanitarian assistance declines. Therefore, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) recommends a shift away from sequential towards simultaneous humanitarian, development and peace programming, however this is not fully engrained. In the three country case studies, multiple areas of synergy between humanitarian, development and peace programmes were identified that are suitable for greater nexus collaboration. Effective development in crisis contexts requires both the development focus on long-term, strategic structural and institutional issues that contribute to resilience and sustained recovery and the ability to flexibly respond to short-term pressures, shocks and needs, for example as the World Bank is doing in Somalia. Regular and ongoing context analysis, integration of risk management and resilience across programming, and more adaptive management – more advanced in some development actors than others – enable better anticipation and response to escalation in conflicts or crises. Recent evidence from the Covid-19 pandemic in Bangladesh, Cameroon and Somalia has shown that development donors are able to respond effectively and flexibly to such shocks through either reprogramming or rapidly approving and disbursing new funding at scale.

What does effective programming at the nexus mean at the country level?

  • Exploit existing synergies between HDP programming, such as in disaster risk reduction or durable solutions to protracted displacement, to strengthen coherence, clarify division of labour and develop a shared language and common approach.
  • Strengthen internal capacity and systems to carry out ongoing context analysis that covers the full spectrum of risks (e.g. economic, environmental, political, conflict, security and societal), drawing on expertise of humanitarian and peace actors at the country level, and establish systems to regularly review and adapt implementation strategies to changes in the context, including identifying preventative actions.
  • Scale up adaptive programming drawing on learning, best practice and existing initiatives, and, in particular, take effective programming approaches for building resilience to scale through national frameworks (e.g. on safety nets, local governance, shock-responsive social protection) for greater reach and impact.
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Financing tools

Globally, development partners have scaled up finance targeting fragile and conflict settings over the last decade and have established a range of financing instruments. However, more could be done to create new, more effective financial instruments for protracted crises and to improve targeting of crisis-affected regions, including at subnational levels. It is apparent from the country studies that improved tracking and targeting of official development assistance (ODA) to ensure it responds to needs and does not leave countries and people behind would (alongside improvements in quality) help to ensure it benefits crisis-affected populations. Alongside the volume of finance, a core challenge is whether the types and quality of finance and the modes of delivery are well suited to financing needs in these challenging environments. Development partners have established a number of financing vehicles tailored to crisis, fragile and conflict contexts that are helping to fill important gaps in the three country contexts, though these remain niche overall, poorly understood by humanitarian and peace actors, and could be better integrated, as in Cameroon. The new UN-led Integrated National Financial Framework (INFF) processes are a potential opportunity to bring HDP actors together around shared financing priorities and build capacities on broader financing approaches and instruments. Greater donor flexibility and quicker approval as was seen in the Covid-19 response in Bangladesh, Cameroon and Somalia, supported by strong management and analytical capacity, is also critical. The potential for in-country pooled funds as flexible instruments to incentivise greater collaboration across the HDP nexus was highlighted in all three countries. In Somalia and Bangladesh, anticipatory action pilots have shown promise but need investments by development donors to mitigate the risk of diverting limited humanitarian funds from existing needs.

What does effective financing at the nexus mean at the country level?

  • Build a common understanding among HDP actors of the needs of crisis-affected populations, including what constitutes a crisis and who is ‘left behind’, to improve targeting and tracking of ODA, especially at the subnational level.
  • Ensure crisis financing is coherent with broader development financing strategies, and that overall funding modalities and volumes respond to the needs of particular contexts – including improving the quality, type and mode of funding delivery.
  • Expand the use of anticipatory, flexible and risk-informed financing tools in development cooperation, and support actors across the HDP nexus to better understand the full range of financial instruments, including innovations in financing, so they are better used in protracted crises, and generate an understanding of how instruments align, their complementarity and where the gaps are.
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Organisational issues

Siloed working – the opposite of a joined-up, coherent, nexus approach to development – remains a fundamental challenge in Bangladesh, Cameroon and Somalia, and one that must be addressed by organisational change. Practically speaking, for many development actors this means re-orienting or adapting management structures to be more context responsive and driven. Re-organising management structures, strategic planning and high-level allocation decisions around geographic priorities (rather than sectors or funding flows), as at least one bilateral donor does, is a promising approach. Decentralised management and country focus, particularly at subnational levels, supported by stronger partnerships with local actors would help deepen engagement in crisis contexts and ensure the right capacity is in the right places. It was apparent from the research that humanitarian, development and peace disciplines each have their own language and conflicting interpretations of the term ‘nexus’, and to operate effectively in protracted crisis contexts more staff need to become ‘tri-lingual’, with greater investment in multidisciplinary skillsets and longer term contracts.

What does effective internal organisation at the nexus mean at the country level?

  • Accelerate adaptation of organisational processes to fragile and crisis contexts, building local engagement and, where possible, presence and embedding risk and crisis-sensitive/responsive approaches.
  • Support decentralised management and decision-making, where possible (from centre to periphery, capital to country, and national to subnational) and build on learning from the Covid-19 pandemic to address obstacles to quick and context-specific decision-making in protracted crisis contexts.
  • Make decision-making context-driven and for multi-mandate organisations strengthen the overall coherence of support across development and humanitarian programming. Considering how management structures, strategic planning and high-level financial allocation decisions can clearly respond to, and potentially be organised around, country or geographic priorities, is important for this coherence.
  • Break down barriers between HDP disciplines by investing in building skills and knowledge of staff across HDP specialisms and disciplines and bringing actors together across disciplines to develop a common language.