Comment & analysis

The forgotten pillar of the triple nexus – why is peace so under-resourced?

6 June 2023 Chiara Jancke The forgotten pillar of the triple nexus – why is peace so under-resourced?

Recent analysis shows that funding for peace is at a five-year low. Not only is peace the least-defined area of the triple humanitarian-development-peacebuilding nexus in terms of its objectives, but it is also the least well-funded. Based on Development Initiatives and SIDA's latest report 'Leaving no crisis behind with assistance for the triple nexus' we examine this stark contrast to the aims of many organisations and institutions within the aid system to work effectively across the nexus, and the urgent need for an increased focus on peace and conflict prevention.

The humanitarian-development-peacebuilding nexus – known as the ‘triple nexus’ – was developed to address severe pressures on the international aid system. While humanitarian needs have more than doubled within the past five years, funding, despite reaching record levels, has increased by only one and a half times in the same period. One of the main reasons for this unsustainable situation is conflict.

This year has seen the highest number of conflicts since the Second World War. Conflict is the common denominator across the majority of countries with the greatest humanitarian needs, such as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Haiti, Syria and Yemen. The World Bank projects that ‘by 2030, an estimated 59% of global extreme poor will be in countries affected by [fragility, conflict and violence]’.

The triple nexus is designed to coordinate international efforts, reduce duplication and waste of resources and programmes, and make the prevention of crises and conflicts a shared goal of all those involved in humanitarian, development and peace work. However, since its inception, the triple nexus effort has yet to contribute to widespread changes in the aid architecture, and peace funding in particular is at a new low.

‘Prevention rarely, humanitarian action always’

The nexus pushes for ‘prevention always, development wherever possible, humanitarian action when necessary’ – but the peace pillar is crumbling. New analysis by Development Initiatives and Saferworld of official development assistance (ODA)1 looks at the balance of humanitarian, development and peace financing in crisis settings.2 It finds that peace is not only the least-funded nexus pillar but that its funding has been steadily decreasing: the most recently available figures from 2021 showed that peace funding was at a five-year low of USD$3.2 billion, 12 per cent less than in 2018. Only 11 per cent of all bilateral ODA funding in 2020 and 2021 was focused on peace, even in conflict and crisis contexts. By contrast, in 2021 countries experiencing protracted crises increasingly relied on humanitarian assistance, with humanitarian-focused ODA at a five-year high of 41 per cent.

Figure 1: ODA provided by members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee for development, humanitarian and peace to countries experiencing protracted crises, 2017–2021. Source: ‘Leaving no crisis behind with assistance of the triple nexus’ (p 10).

When looking at the breakdown of funding in fragile and extremely fragile countries (see Figure 2), it is evident that there is a low supply of funding for peace. This is in line with the 2022 States of Fragility report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which asserts that there is not enough focus on peace and conflict prevention in fragile contexts. The human and financial cost of this shortage could be immense, as fragile and extremely fragile contexts already experience a heightened risk of continued conflict – making it even more important to adequately fund projects focusing on peace objectives.

Figure 2: Proportion of ODA for development, humanitarian and peace in fragile and extremely fragile countries, 2021. Source: ‘Leaving no crisis behind with assistance of the triple nexus’ (p 13).

The fog of funding

The recent report by Development Initiatives and Saferworld highlights how the lack of funding for peace is aggravated by challenges in tracking nexus funding. Because there is no commonly agreed definition or scope of nexus programming approaches, it is difficult to assess the volume of funding and whether it is effectively addressing needs. The report also takes a broad view of peace when tracking peace-related funding – including programmes on, for example, migration, the prevention of violence against women and girls, or the prevention of election violence. Consequently, the share of funding for programmes that address inter-group conflicts (whether involving uniformed armed forces, informal armed groups or community militia) might be even smaller, despite the fact that these conflicts result in significant humanitarian needs. Unfortunately, the lack of transparency regarding data on nexus financing hinders understanding of how the pillars interact to prevent crises and conflicts, and how peace is being integrated.

Getting back on track: working across the nexus

If the triple nexus is to be effective in preventing conflict-driven crises and reducing humanitarian needs, we must change our approach to financing it. The concentration of humanitarian needs and poverty in protracted conflict settings needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. This is not just about providing more funding, although this is clearly necessary. It is about deeper integration of peacebuilding approaches in the nexus; ensuring that aid is delivered in a conflict-sensitive way, with transparent data to track how integration is happening; distinguishing peace from ‘security’ programming; and a targeted, long-term focus on the root causes of conflict. Without building on the deep knowledge of peacebuilders and conflict-affected communities of what it takes to tackle the root causes, the treadmill of humanitarian crises may prove impossible to escape.

This is not only the most effective option right now, but it is also a strategic investment for the future. Savings generated from conflict prevention ‘range from US$5billion to US$69billion in a year’, up to 20 times the entire annual bilateral ODA spend on peace in 2021 (US$3.2bn). The evidence is clear – peace programming works.3 In the wake of more conflict, protracted crises and fragility, donors must recommit to ‘prevention always’ to reduce humanitarian need, increase the effectiveness of assistance, and work better in solidarity with people and communities to overcome these long-term challenges.

To learn more about humanitarian, development and peace funding in crisis and conflict-affected contexts, read ‘Leaving no crisis behind with assistance for the triple nexus’.

1The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee defines ODA as government aid that promotes and specifically targets the economic development and welfare of developing countries. 

2The report uses the most recently available ODA 2021 data, focusing mostly on 30 countries with humanitarian response plans and considers 21 protracted crisis countries with humanitarian response plans – all from 2017 to 2021.

3See also: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development: ‘States of Fragility 2020’ and ‘States of Fragility 2022’.

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