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  • Report
  • 1 April 2021

Development actors at the nexus: Lessons from crises in Bangladesh, Cameroon and Somalia: Chapter 1



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. With less than a decade left to achieve the ambitions of Agenda 2030 on eradicating poverty, addressing inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice, insufficient progress has been made, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected states. Poverty, vulnerability and conflict are increasingly concentrated in the same settings. When the systemic drivers of crisis are left unaddressed, humanitarian needs become more severe and protracted, with a growing number of countries receiving humanitarian assistance year on year. Over half of the world’s extreme poor live in countries experiencing protracted crisis and, even before the global pandemic, up to two-thirds were projected to reside in fragile and conflict-affected contexts by 2030. Now, the impact of Covid-19 is reversing development gains and hitting the poorest and most marginalised hardest – pushing millions of people even further behind.

Now more than ever, effective action is needed to address the root causes of crises. A coherent response requires a multifaceted approach, which combines immediate emergency assistance to those most in need with investment in developing local capacities to prevent, cope with and recover from crises, and to sustain peace over the medium to long term. There is growing policy consensus among multilateral players including the United Nations (UN), World Bank and European Union (EU) on the need to strengthen synergies between their humanitarian, development and peace actions in order to move towards lasting solutions to protracted crises and to support the achievement of the SDGs in fragile and conflict-affected contexts (see Appendix 3 for an analysis of policy commitments). In addition, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC), whose members include the largest and most influential donors in fragile contexts, promotes a shift towards “development where possible and humanitarian only when necessary” in its recommendation on the humanitarian−development−peace (HDP) nexus (Box 1).

This report focuses on the role of development cooperation in addressing protracted humanitarian crises, defined as situations characterised by prolonged or recurring threats to the fundamental wellbeing, health and safety of the population, and where there is an ongoing humanitarian response. Over the last decade, key development partners, including the World Bank and regional multilateral development banks (MDBs), the EU, and a number of donor governments, have scaled up development finance and technical cooperation in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. ODA provided to protracted crisis countries[1] more than doubled from US$19 billion in 2010 to US$41 billion in 2019 (Figure 1). Even though humanitarian ODA increased more than fourfold from US$3 billion to US$13 billion over the same time period, developmental ODA is still much greater than humanitarian ODA in protracted crisis countries, making up 78% of total ODA in that period.

Figure 1: ODA to protracted crisis countries, 2010−2019

Figure 1: ODA to protracted crisis countries, 2010−2019

Official development assistance to protracted crisis countries has been increasing since 2010, and more than doubled from a total of US$22.1 billion in 2010 to US$54.0 billion in 2019. Even though humanitarian official development assistance increased more than fourfold from US$3.1 billion to US$12.9 billion over the same time period, developmental official development assistance is still much greater than humanitarian official development assistance in protracted crisis countries, making up 78 percent of total official development assistance in that period.

Source: Development Initiatives based on OECD DAC Creditor Reporting System (CRS).

Notes: Data is in constant 2018 prices. ODA is from DAC and multilateral donors only. Developmental ODA excludes ODA reported under humanitarian purpose codes 720 (emergency response), 730 (reconstruction relief and rehabilitation) and 740 (disaster prevention and preparedness). Protracted crisis countries are those with humanitarian response plans and other appeals for five consecutive years or more in the year of the disbursement.

This points to the significant and growing importance of development finance in countries experiencing protracted humanitarian crises. However, previous research by Development Initiatives[2] on donor approaches to the nexus and by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Results Group 5 on Financing[3] identified gaps in the evidence base relating to how development actors operate in or address crisis-affected regions and populations alongside or in collaboration with humanitarian actors. Furthermore, discussions on the ‘triple nexus’ have primarily been grounded in humanitarian policy circles, while the implications for development cooperation have been underexplored.

This study aims to address this gap by analysing current development practice in three countries with protracted humanitarian crises: Bangladesh, Cameroon and Somalia. This synthesis report brings together findings from the country studies, which were selected to represent diverse crisis contexts (e.g. type, duration, level of government capacity and donor engagement) and for their potential to generate lessons on the nexus (involvement in global policy or pilot processes on the nexus). Bangladesh has longstanding cooperation with development partners, strong nationally led disaster risk reduction and management efforts, and a largely separate humanitarian response to the Rohingya refugee situation in Cox’s Bazar. Cameroon, in contrast, is not a priority of most donors and has moved from a position of stability to three concurrent crises in the last five years, offering an opportunity to explore how development actors have adapted to this shifting context. Somalia is a conflict-affected country with nascent and fragile government institutions. It has faced protracted and recurring humanitarian crises for decades and has also been a high priority for development, peace and security actors.

This synthesis report identifies common themes, lessons and considerations around how development cooperation could play a more effective role in lasting solutions to protracted crises, as part of a coherent approach linked with humanitarian and peace actions. In doing so, it explores what the ‘triple nexus’ means for development actors, attempting to broaden the discussion beyond its traditional ‘home’ in humanitarian policy circles. It is primarily directed towards decision-makers with a global perspective at the global/headquarters level, while the country reports contain specific findings and recommendations relevant at the field level within each context. The study has been led by Development Initiatives in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and carried out in collaboration with the IASC Results Group 5.

This research was led by DI’s Crisis and Humanitarian team, building on previous research by DI on responses to crisis and the HDP nexus, and represents our 'humanitarian' perspective of current development practice in protracted humanitarian crises.

The research explores opportunities and constraints across five key areas:

  1. partnerships and strategy,
  2. coordination and joined-up planning,
  3. programming,
  4. financing and
  5. organisational issues.

The development actors that are the main focus of this study are MDBs, OECD DAC member government entities responsible for development cooperation, and UN entities with a development (or dual humanitarian−development) mandate. We recognise that this is a broad group of actors that operate in different ways, each with distinct roles. In this research, we focus on specific lessons for different actors while drawing out themes generally common to all. Given the breadth of actors included, the extent of progress necessarily varies between them; where we make recommendations to development actors, this is not to imply that some actors are not already doing this but that as a community or collective such action is needed. In exploring how to operationalise the ‘triple nexus’, the main focus is on the relationship between development and humanitarian actors, finance, and actions in contexts where both are active. This study primarily treats ‘peace’ in the nexus as an approach that should be integrated across humanitarian and development action, and defines peace as ‘positive peace’ or the attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies, rather than the absence of violence.[4] Furthermore, the study recognises that there is no one template or model for a ‘nexus approach’ that suits all contexts. The extent to which collaboration between HDP actors is possible, and the form this takes, depends on the political and security context, the capacities of government and non-governmental actors, and the engagement and resources of actors, among other factors.

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Research methodology and limitations

These research findings are based on a desk review of relevant documentation, analysis of financing data from the OECD DAC Creditor Reporting System (CRS), and key informant interviews with development and humanitarian actors, including government representatives, bilateral and multilateral donors, national and international NGOs, UN agencies and resident coordinators, MDBs, and other relevant stakeholders based at local, national and international (headquarter) levels. It is not intended to be a comprehensive or exhaustive review, and various observations that would benefit from further research are highlighted in the report. One of the limitations of the research in covering a range of issues across three country contexts is the trade-off with the degree of depth we were able to look into specific areas. By its nature nexus collaboration is broad and touches on many themes that were beyond the scope of this study, including: the role of the private sector in protracted crisis contexts, South−South cooperation, climate finance, stabilisation financing and programming, and resources beyond ODA. Furthermore, the research took place during the global Covid-19 pandemic, with all interviews conducted remotely at a time when actors in-country were under significant added strain, which consequently impacted on who we were able to reach. Some actors we would have liked to interview – some regional MDBs, donors, national NGOs, government representatives – were not reached. Nonetheless, this report draws out common themes, lessons and considerations from the country studies that can provide useful insights into how to operationalise new and better ways of working across the humanitarian, development and peace communities.

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Box 1

The emergence of the ‘triple nexus’ concept

A series of multilateral summits between 2015 and 2018[5] built a policy consensus around the need to strengthen synergies between humanitarian, development and peace actions in order to move towards lasting solutions to protracted crises and achieve the SDGs in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. While strengthening linkages at the ‘double nexuses’ of humanitarian−development action or development−peace/security action has been the subject of attention over several decades,[6] the so-called ‘triple nexus’ of humanitarian−development−peace (HDP) action was brought into focus by UN Secretary-General António Guterres. On taking office in December 2016, he called for “sustaining peace” to be considered “the third side of the triangle”[7] and subsequently made prevention a key cross-cutting theme of UN reform efforts.

The Secretary-General’s ‘sustaining peace’ agenda, centred around twin resolutions on peacebuilding[8] and sustaining peace,[9] affirmed the importance of the UN development system and development practitioners in general to conflict prevention and sustaining peace. It made organisational changes to deliver a coherent, comprehensive and holistic approach to peacebuilding across the UN system. Part of this is putting into practice proposals set out in the comprehensive UN−World Bank conflict-prevention study, Pathways for Peace.[10] To deepen reflections on the humanitarian−peace ‘double nexus’, the IASC recently published an issue paper on peace in the HDP nexus,[11] with an emphasis on the possible engagement pathways along a ‘peace spectrum’, within humanitarian action.

In preparation for the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing put forward three proposals to address the humanitarian financing gap: 1) shrink humanitarian need, 2) broaden the resource base for humanitarian action, and 3) improve delivery through a ‘Grand Bargain’ on efficiency. The first proposal highlighted the need to address the root causes of crisis by increasing investment in conflict prevention and resolution and disaster risk reduction, increasing ODA in fragile states, building resilience and providing multi-year funding for joint humanitarian−development programming. The third proposal − the Grand Bargain − was adopted by some of the largest donors and humanitarian organisations, who undertook a series of commitments to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian action.

Spurred by the World Humanitarian Summit, the UN spearheaded a commitment to implement a ‘new way of working’ in which humanitarian and development actors work collaboratively together, based on their comparative advantages, towards collective outcomes that reduce need, risk and vulnerability over multiple years. One of the concrete manifestations of this was the United Nations−World Bank Partnership in Fragile and Conflict Affected Situations signed in April 2017. This aimed to strengthen coherence, engagement and coordination among security, political, development and humanitarian operations in crisis-affected situations to better serve the 2030 development agenda and meet the SDGs. The UN and World Bank have developed joint guidance and tools to operationalise the partnership in countries where both are present.

Most recently, the OECD DAC, whose members include the largest and most influential donors in fragile contexts, adopted a recommendation on the HDP nexus, promoting a shift towards “development where possible and humanitarian only when necessary”.[12] Since adoption of the recommendation, a number of UN agencies have also adhered in an effort to strengthen normative and operational coherence between bilateral and multilateral HDP actors.[13]


  • 1
    Protracted crisis countries are defined as having five years of consecutive UN coordinated humanitarian appeals.
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  • 5
    Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (Sendai, March 2015); Financing for Development (Addis Ababa, April 2015); Sustainable Development Goals (New York, September 2015); Conference of the Parties UNFCCC (Paris, December 2015); World Humanitarian Summit (Istanbul, May 2016); Intergovernmental Conference on the Global Compact for Migration (Marrakech, December 2018). See Humanitarian Knowledge Exchange, 2019. Linking thinking. Available at:
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