Some 2.6 billion people have been affected by natural disasters over the past 10 years; over 1.5 billion human beings are today living in countries affected by a violent armed conflict; and there are 60 million refugees around the world. “Crises” are no longer an exception: From the tragedy in the Central African Republic to the Ebola epidemic to the recurrent security tensions in the Sahel region, the areas exposed to crisis are ever-expanding.
Helping the victims of these tragedies poses a constant challenge to the humanitarian community. But this is also a cause for concern for development agencies, whose methods of intervention need to adapt to address shocks related to the long-lasting human, economic, social and political consequences of crises.
Crises cause suffering, whether they are induced by man or a natural disaster. They are synonymous with lost opportunities or steps backward. The advent of a crisis can destroy the economic and social progress achieved during a generation. When it remains uncontrolled, crises spread well beyond the borders of the countries where they emerged and can affect the trajectories of entire regions.
This is currently the case in the Middle East with what the United Nations considers as “the most serious refugee crisis since [World War II].” In this region alone, there are some 4 million refugees and over 7 million displaced persons.
Crises are complex and do not follow any chronological or geographical linearity. The situation in the CAR demonstrates this: Very different contexts coexist, calling at the same time for security, humanitarian and development responses. Certain regions in the extreme north and east of the country remain marked by heavy fighting, which hampers access for humanitarian assistance, while in Bangui or secondary cities such as Berberati and Bambari, it is not only possible but necessary to immediately trigger development dynamics so that the country can retake control of its future.
This involves reviving agricultural production in some areas, reviving access to health care in others to ensure economic recovery and strengthen essential public services provided to stricken populations. Meeting the multiple challenges of crises is not easy for development donors that, by definition, finance projects over the long term. It is however, and increasingly so, a requirement of their mandate.
6 principles for action
What can they do? The action required involves:
1. Coordinating humanitarian and development projects more effectively.
Meeting vital needs while immediately strengthening local capacities to prepare for the future is key. France’s action to combat Ebola in Guinea, for example, started by financing and installing treatment centers, one of which was run by the Red Cross in Macenta at the heart of the region most severely hit by the virus. But this emergency response was also combined with financing for Institut Pasteur in Conakry, intended to develop national and regional diagnostic and epidemic control capacities over the long term.
2. Targeting operations with a ‘double dividend.’
Operations that have an impact on both local development and weaknesses that fuel the crisis should be targeted.
In Bangui, for example, the French development agency AFD is financing a “high labor-intensive” stormwater drainage program, a project that provides a large number of jobs. The objective is not only to provide the capital with a cleaner environment and avoid flooding, but also to occupy and train an urban youth that has become the main recruitment pool for entrepreneurs of violence. AFD also invests in Mali’s education system to scale up access to youth training, while in the Sahel region it supports rural water projects to reduce tensions between farmers and herders. In Gaza and Lebanon, meanwhile, AFD works with nongovernmental organizations to manage the traumas endured by populations, with the objective of promoting resilience and limiting the reproduction of violence.
All these actions contribute, at their level, to dealing with some of the structural causes of crises.
3. Working more together in these extremely volatile and complex contexts.
In CAR, the European Commission and German, Dutch and French cooperation agencies have set up the Bêkou Fund — hope in Sango — to pool their emergency and development financing for the country’s reconstruction, but also to more effectively coordinate their initiatives. Several projects have been launched: one to strengthen the health system, the second to rehabilitate public infrastructure in Bangui, and the third for the economic and social empowerment of women.
This approach is an important step on the road toward collective action combining short- and long-term financing: an imperative of coordination to enhance effectiveness.
4. Working always with local actors.
Whether public authorities, NGOs, entrepreneurs or civil society associations, it is key to work with local actors. They alone can ensure the continuity and sustainability of development operations and it is therefore vital to involve them as early as possible.
This is the objective of the new call for projects that AFD has just launched to support Syrian refugees and communities that host them in the Middle East. A quarter of Lebanon’s population is made up of Syrian refugees (1.4 million people). This financing, which uses one of AFD’s new financial tools for crisis and post-crisis situations, aims to support the capacities of local actors (NGOs, municipalities, etc.) and the strengthening of social services in order to promote peaceful coexistence.
5. Learning from past experiences together.
The different donors and beneficiaries need to take time to enhance the feedback loop to take their innovative practices forward, draw conclusions from the difficulties and failures encountered, and create knock-on or leverage effects with other donors.
The Center for Mediterranean Integration is one example of the type of platforms for learning and exchange between practitioners north and south of the Mediterranean. This capitalization work conducted during meetings gathering technical ministries, local government representatives, multilateral organizations such as the World Bank and the United Nations, CSOs and bilateral donors needs to be continued and stepped up.
6. Planning for security and development jointly to avoid risks of mismatch.
The financing mobilized by AFD for crisis and post-crisis situations may seem marginal compared with the scale of needs. It goes without saying that it will never single-handedly provide a response to the impact of crises. But when it is complementary to humanitarian actions and the financing of other donors (European Union, World Bank, U.S., U.K., large philanthropic foundations), it provides essential support for the affected populations and France’s partners.
Prior to and after periods of crisis, the objective is to reduce the risk factors and invest in all the drivers for development, which is the only sustainable way out of the crisis.
Faced with the extremist threat in the Sahel region, for example, the international security response alone will be insufficient if it is not backed by an extensive development action plan, capable of supporting progress and peace.
There can be no sustainable development without security, but, at the same time, there can be no sustainable security without development.
This guest opinion is published in association withID4D, an international blog for exchanges and constructive debates on development. Hosted and facilitated by the AFD, the French agency for development, ID4D is aimed at all development stakeholders.
Olivier Ray heads the French Development Agency’s crisis prevention and post-conflict recovery unit since January 2014. He was previously diplomatic adviser to French minister Marisol Touraine and has served in the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in AFD's Middle East and North Africa department, and the United Nations’ Department of Peacekeeping Operations and Security Council Report.
Pierre Salignon joined the Health and Social Protection Division at Agence Française de Développement as a project manager in early October 2013. His responsibilities include the follow-up of projects for Chad, the Comoros and Indian Ocean. A lawyer by training, he has been working for international solidarity and public health in fragile countries for over 20 years. His previous positions include executive director of the association Doctors of the World in France, project manager for the World Health Organization and executive director of the French Section of Doctors Without Borders.
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