Let’s hope old habits don't get in the way of what is truly in the interests of people affected by conflict and crisis
World leaders will be gathering in Istanbul, Turkey this week during the World Humanitarian Summit; a first time event since the inception of the United Nations. Officials from conflict-affected countries will be there, trying to share what they go through, and listening carefully to what will be decided.
The Secretary General of the UN (UNSG) has submitted a call for One Humanity - Shared Responsibility; a reminder to the world of the preamble of the United Nations charter signed by more than 190 nations. The five “core responsibilities” he identifies are highly relevant, and we hope that the UN will have the courage to also critically review its own role within the global governance system. However, the execution of these ambitious plans will require world leaders to nurture states organically, rather than using imposed means, and to live up to the commitments made in 2011 in the New Deal for engagement in fragile states.
The top 10 countries receiving humanitarian aid in 2015 were all affected by conflict, and the UNSG has rightly made his first “core responsibility” that of preventing and ending conflict. Conflict has become more protracted, with the average conflict lasting 37 years in 2013, compared to 19 years in 1990. In today’s interconnected world, wars and conflicts do not leave behind winners or losers, and instead leave behind wounds that permeate through regions and across oceans. Meanwhile, beneficiary perceptions of humanitarian responses are low and it seems that sensitivity to local context is lost in the saviour complex of humanitarian aid.
Five years ago a framework defining principles for engagement in conflict-affected countries was launched in the similar but less global event of the 4th High Level Forum on aid effectiveness in Busan, in the home country of the UN Secretary General. The New Deal for engagement in fragile states was born out of iteration and review of country experiences. The countries and organizations who endorse the "New Deal" include major OECD bilateral donors and multilaterals such as the World Bank and UN agencies. On the recipient side were countries which had experienced and still experience conflict and violence, who now form a Group of 20 nations called the g7+. The New Deal agreed 5 Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (Inclusive and legitimate politics, Security, Justice, Economic foundations, and Revenue and services) to be considered the foundations to help (re)build these countries. These PSGs should be worked towards using the New Deal’s TRUST principles of partnership and aid effectiveness, and with a FOCUS on country context and priorities. I view the New Deal principles as equating to a country-level version of the 5 core responsibilities advocated for by the UNSG.
The essence of both the call for One Humanity – Shared Responsibility and New Deal principles is the recognition of the state and its society’s ownership of defining and addressing its challenges, in the light of their specific contexts. Recognition of local realities will make indispensable the redefinition and reconsideration of international norms that to date have been tacitly or otherwise defined. Through the different experiences of the g7+ member countries, we have found that states and their societies need to be given space and support to manifest a country-sensitive peace agenda, even if they have to patch up the peace for the time being. International values such as the democracy agenda are manifested against the nature and context of countries, oblivious to the fact that these values take decades to nurture. In order to realize the vision of strengthening political sources to address conflict, we need to invest in and support the organic politics of countries in a way that is responsive and accounts for the country context. The international aid system should avoid fragmentation on one hand, and become flexible enough to accommodate the varying needs of a country on the other.
While the expected impact of the New Deal principles has not gone far enough and may still need even greater political will, they have provided an opportunity for an international dialogue to frankly negotiate what works well and what doesn’t in complex post-conflict situations, for example as regards peace-building. Our experience says that there is a need to mobilize an international community of champions for peace to help in reconciliation and ensuring peace in countries affected by conflict. The little g7+ has tried to share our experiences under our Council of Eminent Persons as part of what we call fragile-to-fragile cooperation; we are sure this work has more potential if we mobilize more champions of peace.
In the preparations for the Summit and the actions that will follow, I hope that world leaders will agree on a roadmap to peace that considers the realities and choices of people in crisis. The instruments used and implementation modalities chosen will determine the success of future actions. Let’s hope the powerful in the humanitarian world don’t let old habits and entrenched ways of working get in the way of what is truly in the interests of the people affected by conflict and crisis. I wish the UNSG every success in the approval of this agenda.
Habib Ur Rehman Mayar is Deputy General Secretary of the g7+ Secretariat. The g7+ Group is a voluntary association of the world’s poorest countries affected by conflict and fragility. He was head of aid coordination at the Ministry of Finance, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, before joining the g7+ Secretariat.