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Development actors at the nexus: Lessons from crises in Bangladesh, Cameroon and Somalia: Chapter 4

Programming approaches


Development Initiatives’ earlier research on the nexus found that programming with an explicit focus on building collaboration, coherence and complementarity between HDP actors is implemented in places at the country level but is not generally systematised or taking place at scale.[1] Effective development programming targeting crisis-affected populations was found to include efforts to support livelihoods and lay the foundation for long-term development and recovery during a crisis, support shock-responsive, early action and preventative responses to crisis, and systematically embed risk, resilience and peacebuilding. The country case studies explored the programming approaches of development actors targeting crisis-affected populations and the systems in place to allow them to adapt and flex priorities during the programme cycle as a prerequisite to working effectively in fast-changing crisis contexts. This section summarises the key findings and considerations to emerge from the case studies on effective programming in crises.

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Key findings

What programming approaches are used by development actors in crisis-affected areas?

Humanitarian and development programming have often been conceptualised as being delivered in succession, with development relevant in prevention and recovery phases but limited in active crises or conflict. Experience from Cameroon and other conflict contexts shows that development actors often decrease engagement or pull out when risks escalate, while political actors often fail to take early action, getting involved only after a situation becomes violent.[2] Development actors have sometimes been slow or late to engage in ‘sudden-onset’ situations, where humanitarian actors are typically first on the scene. In Bangladesh, the World Bank became involved in Cox’s Bazar at an early stage compared with its responses in other refugee situations, but nonetheless even earlier engagement might have helped host communities to cope better with the refugee crisis and reduced tensions. Sequencing gaps can also occur as humanitarian assistance declines and if development actors are not sufficiently present to scale up support, as has been seen in northern and eastern Cameroon and in recently stabilised areas of Somalia. Thus, the recent UN−IASC guidance on the nexus[3] points to the need for a shift from sequential towards simultaneous programming, where diverse actors engage in a complementary fashion over multiple years according to their comparative advantages (see Box 4 for examples). For development actors this means staying engaged during crises or engaging earlier. Development actors increasingly recognise that conflict and other crises are often protracted and recurring and do not follow a linear trajectory, but the shift away from sequential thinking and programming is not fully engrained. Some development actors, such as the World Bank and other MDBs, have evolved from a focus on post-conflict reconstruction to engaging across the full spectrum of fragility, and with this they have also strengthened approaches to assessing and engaging directly to address conflict and fragility.

Box 4

HDP programming synergies

Synergies between humanitarian, development and peace programmes occur in many areas.[4] The following are examples of areas of synergy between HDP actions that came out most strongly in the research in the three focus countries.

  • Disaster risk reduction and climate change adaption. Development partners are playing a prominent role in disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and natural resource management programmes that aim to reduce long-term disaster-related risks and strengthen resilience to climatic hazards. In contexts such as northern Cameroon and Somalia, these issues are also directly linked to local conflicts over natural resources, and conflict and insecurity is linked with climate-related migration. The World Bank, UN agencies and other partners have invested heavily in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in the three countries. Humanitarian actors typically lead disaster management and response, even where there is a growing focus on preparedness and anticipatory action and on supporting nationally led response and recovery efforts, as in Bangladesh. While the approaches are largely complementary, there is considerable scope to review the existing division of labour, formalise partnerships and develop common approaches that bring together the full spectrum of activities, while also strengthening their peacebuilding focus.
  • Durable solutions to forced displacement. There has been significant progress in formulating a common approach to forced displacement, with increased engagement by development partners including the EU and World Bank. There is evidence of progress on the ground in Bangladesh, Cameroon, and Somalia, shifting the targeting of assistance from status-based criteria to vulnerability-based, and increasing investment in host communities and specific actions and approaches designed to promote social cohesion and acceptance by host communities. There is now an opportunity to capture learning from these and other initiatives. For example, World Bank support through its window for refugees and host communities has been instrumental in Cameroon and Bangladesh, but it is limited to refugee situations. Learning from this might inform a similar approach to address internal displacement or mixed migration situations. The Regional Durable Solutions Secretariat in East Africa, a consortium of international NGOs, is promoting collaborative approaches to internal displacement in Somalia, offering a model that could be replicated elsewhere.[5]
  • National social protection and safety net systems. Development actors, including the EU, UN agencies and World Bank, are supporting the development of government-led social protection and safety net programmes in Cameroon, Somalia and Bangladesh. There are obvious synergies with humanitarian action (cash-based assistance in particular) and scope for joined-up delivery especially where government capacity is weak but collaboration is not systematic.[6] In addition, these systems have the potential to play a role in sustaining peace, for example by building trust and addressing marginalisation, however these linkages are not well developed. In Somalia, where government capacity for delivery is weak, World-Bank-funded, nationally led programmes are being delivered by the UN and international NGOs with the aim of facilitating a transition towards government-led programming as this capacity is developed. Designing these systems to be shock responsive will be critical to reducing dependence on humanitarian aid in the long term (see below).
  • Livelihoods and economic recovery. Development actors are involved with a range of programmes that support socioeconomic recovery of conflict-affected areas with a strong focus on livelihoods, markets and employment, as in northern Cameroon, and climate and disaster resilient livelihoods, as in Bangladesh. In some cases these are directly linked with peace and security objectives, for example livelihoods and employment are seen as integral to stabilisation in northern Cameroon and to countering violent extremism in Bangladesh. While a significant focus for livelihood support in crisis contexts is on cash transfer programming, to build community self-reliance it is necessary to go beyond cash transfers to crisis-affected individuals and to build local market systems by strengthening conflict-sensitive development investments. This emerged as an issue in areas in eastern Cameroon hosting refugees from Central African Republic, where there was a need to better connect to and strengthen local markets and move away from dependency on humanitarian programming.
  • Local governance. Local governance programmes, which develop local government structures and capacity for service delivery and facilitate longer term local development plans, are an important entry point in crisis-affected regions. There are clear efforts to address displacement through local planning in Cameroon (described above) and Somalia, while in Bangladesh a core challenge has been to embed long-term planning for Cox’s Bazar district (e.g. the District Development and Growth Plan) in appropriate governance structures. There is scope to link local governance programming with community-focused resilience and peacebuilding approaches, taking a participatory approach and aiming to build relationships and accountability between local authorities and communities.

How are development actors embedding risk and flexibility into the programme cycle?

Development cooperation has a long-term, strategic focus, typically with three- to six-year strategy and planning cycles. Most development actors see their primary role in a crisis to address longer term, structural issues that will, over time, reduce risks of fragility, conflict or disaster, strengthen institutional resilience, and foster lasting peace and recovery. Development partners have a range of tools to assess risks and opportunities and to inform their prioritisation and strategic approach in country, such as the World Bank Risk and Resilience Assessment. While this study does not comprehensively review current practice, the extent to which donor and national development strategies addressed risk and resilience across the three countries appears uneven. For example, in Somalia, resilience to climatic shocks, conflict and political fragility is a major priority and theme in the national development plan and is reflected in donor strategies, while in Bangladesh disaster risk and resilience is an important priority, but other risks are not fully considered. A further issue is that context/risk analyses are usually undertaken upstream, at the start of the planning cycle, and tend to focus on the higher strategic level. When it comes to having capacities and systems to carry out ongoing context analysis, to translate high-level, long-term strategy into programming jointly developed with partners to address risks, and to regularly monitor, review and adapt strategies and plans, some development actors are much more advanced than others.[7] The ability to do so also depends on the government and other implementing partners, and the process to renegotiate plans with partners can be lengthy.

This can lead to the failure to anticipate or adequately respond to an escalation of conflict or crisis. In Cameroon, many development partners did not recognise the extent of the country’s fragility or prioritise support to mitigate conflict risks in their country strategies, and they were slow to react to the escalation of conflict in the English-speaking regions. Due to a range of factors, Cameroon went from being seen as a relatively stable country to being affected by several concurrent crises within the space of five years. In particular, stalled decentralisation and uneven economic growth, which has benefited the centre but left behind crisis-affected regions, has been an important long-term risk; however, this does not appear to have been a sufficient priority in donor strategies and aid allocations (and in some cases development support may have reinforced unequal development).

Risk management and resilience are integral to disaster risk reduction and climate change adaption programmes across the three countries, and are also sometimes reflected in approaches to fragility and conflict. In Bangladesh, where there are recurring disasters related to seasonal monsoon floods and cyclones, development partners have invested heavily in disaster risk reduction programmes. Resilience to disasters is a secondary, cross-cutting objective in infrastructure, urban planning, education, agriculture and food security programmes, and many other areas. There are some examples of innovative programmes that aim to strengthen resilience at the community level and address the full risk landscape, such as the programmes implemented by the Somalia Resilience Programme and Building Resilient Communities in Somalia (BRCiS) NGO consortia in Somalia, and the Inclusive Economic and Social Recovery Project for Lake Chad (RESILIAC) programme in northern Cameroon.

Some development partners, notably the World Bank, increasingly recognise the need to balance a long-term strategy with the ability to flexibly respond to shorter term pressures, shocks and needs in fragile situations. For the World Bank, greater flexibility has been enabled by special allocation mechanisms that supplement its longer term country partnership frameworks (see the ‘Financing’ section below), as well as programmatic models and operational policies and procedures that are tailored to fragile, conflict and crisis settings. For example, the World Bank played a key role in Somalia, with a project funded by the Crisis Response Window to respond to the 2017 drought. It supported both the immediate needs of drought-affected people and medium-term recovery through the restoration of agricultural and pastoral production, and has been credited with helping to avert a famine. In 2019, the World Bank also played a part in the response to the locust and flooding crisis. Regional development banks (e.g. the African Development Bank (AfDB) and AsDB) also operate in fragile settings, and more recently have scaled up their involvement in disaster risk reduction and disaster response. This has included developing contingent financing facilities to address these risks and further developing tailored approaches to fragility, such as the AfDB’s Transition Support Facility. Regional development banks were working in all three countries but were not focusing directly in (or were relatively new to operating in) protection environments alongside humanitarian actors. The only country where this occurred was Bangladesh, where AsDB engaged for the first time in a forced displacement context, approving grant funding within eight weeks of receiving a request for support from the government. This was used to improve severely strained infrastructure and construct facilities to make refugee camps and host communities safer.

The Covid-19 pandemic brought home the need for shock-responsive programming for many development partners. There is a growing recognition of the need for national safety net and social protection systems that can cope with spikes in need. For example, in Bangladesh national safety net programmes were set up to target only the poorest and most vulnerable populations, and development partners worked to adapt them to handle a rapid increase in case load as huge numbers of informal workers lost their livelihoods.

There have also been advances in adaptive programming and management models, which stress ongoing analysis, learning and feedback loops, rather than a typical linear programme cycle. In particular, the UK’s former Department for International Development (now the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) and the United States Agency for International Development have been prominent adopters of adaptive management ideas and approaches. There are many examples of adaptive approaches in smaller scale projects, especially community-based programmes implemented by NGOs such as the RESILAC programme in northern Cameroon and the BRCiS programme in Somalia (see Box 5). But adaptive approaches are much more challenging to scale: most large development institutions have stringent governance, management and accountability requirements, and programmes with larger budgets, larger teams and complex partnership arrangements and contractual agreements are more challenging to change.

Box 5

Adaptive management and programming in BRCiS and RESILAC NGO consortia

The complex and interrelated challenges facing development actors operating in protracted crisis contexts require programming approaches that are agile, responsive to a fast-changing environment, innovative and tailored to the specific context rather than the more traditional static and linear model of intervention. Adaptive management approaches respond to this need by providing a framework for better, evidence-based decision-making during the lifecycle of a project or programme, allowing implementers to adapt as needed, try new methods and approaches, and foster continuous learning.[8] Two examples of NGO consortia applying adaptive management approaches are Building Resilient Communities in Somalia (BRCiS) and the Inclusive Economic and Social Recovery Project for Lake Chad (RESILAC), covering Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria.

RESILAC, led by Action Against Hunger (Action contre la Faim, ACF) and implemented with CARE and Groupe URD (the knowledge manager), is an innovative project combining emergency response, rehabilitation and recovery in the Lake Chad region − an area affected by recurrent climatic shocks and a regional security crisis linked to the Boko Haram insurgency. The project aims to build the resilience of local communities, in particular young people, in three ways: by strengthening social cohesion, supporting economic recovery, and improving local governance and the management of natural resources. With ongoing monitoring of the context and activities, and an iterative evaluation and learning support system, Groupe URD supports the consortium partners to draw lessons as the project is implemented and adapt approaches as necessary, with a focus on conflict and gender dynamics. The project relies on strong community feedback mechanisms to assess the quality of the response, document expected and unexpected outcomes, and manage stakeholder expectations.

Learning generated thus far has confirmed the relevance of the strategy for reducing vulnerabilities over the medium term, which is appreciated by stakeholders in a region where short-term humanitarian programming is the norm. However, it also identified operational and organisational challenges in collectively implementing a multi-country, multi-sectoral, multi-stakeholder project in such a complex and volatile context. A mid-point evaluation workshop highlighted the risk that falling into pragmatic ‘business as usual’ humanitarian modes of implementation could reduce the impact of the project, and it recommended ensuring staff have the right skill sets and continue to pursue an integrated approach to implementation, respecting the principle to ‘do no harm’.[9]

Adaptive management is also a key strategy for the BRCiS consortium supporting communities in the southern and central regions of Somalia exposed to recurrent climatic, conflict-induced and economic shocks and stresses. BRCiS membership includes six international NGOs and three local NGOs. The consortium supports people to develop their capacity to resist and recover from minor shocks through community-led processes. It incorporates local partners and capacity-building activities to facilitate a localised response. The consortium’s programmes include crisis modifiers, enabling members to scale up community safety nets in response to spikes in needs identified through the FAO Early Warning Dashboard. The consortium supports its members to ensure ongoing adaptation that is grounded in evidence and cross-agency learning and to foster innovation. In 2020 an internal funding facility within the consortium was designed to encourage members to further use adaptation and try new approaches in their existing community-led interventions. This established the foundations for locally led innovations and their potential scaling up in future BRCiS programming.

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Key questions and considerations for development actors

  • How can HDP actors strengthen synergies in specific areas of programming such as those described above? Jointly developing policy and programmatic guidance that provides a common language and toolbox could be a first step. Multi-mandated organisations, which have been grappling with these questions for some time, could play a key role. To take this forward, it will be important to review the existing division of labour, formalise partnerships and develop a common approach that brings together the full spectrum of activities, bridging both immediate assistance and long-term approaches.
  • Working effectively in protracted crisis contexts requires ongoing context analysis that covers the full spectrum of risks (e.g. economic, environmental, political, conflict, security and societal)[10]. How can development actors ensure the right internal capacity and systems to carry out regular analysis and review and adapt their strategies to changes in the context, including identifying preventative actions? While systems for identifying and responding to disaster risks have developed over the years, there is a need to invest further in mechanisms to anticipate and respond to conflict risks. Drawing on the expertise of humanitarian and peace actors at the country level could help in this regard.
  • Protracted crisis contexts call for flexible and responsive programming, yet in the case study countries adaptive programming and management approaches remain small-scale. How can development actors scale these up drawing on learning, best practice and existing initiatives including the Global Learning and Adaptive Management initiative?[11] In particular, scaling up effective project-based pilot approaches for building resilience by embedding them into national frameworks (e.g. on safety nets, local governance and shock-responsive social protection) could enable greater reach and impact.


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    Such as food security, basic social services (health, wash, education), protection and human rights, and gender equality and gender-based violence. The report focuses on the synergies that came out most clearly in the research from the three focus countries.

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