The Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus – Old wine in new bottles?
Linking humanitarian action closer to development assistance has been on the global agenda for decades and discussed under various themes. From ‘Linking relief, rehabilitation and development’, to building resilience, to the ‘Humanitarian-Development-Nexus’ – the underlying notions and goals remain similar: humanitarian and development actors both strive to improve the well-being and resilience of affected populations and by creating stronger linkages between them the overall impact of their interventions could be increased.
In recent years, the nexus concept gained new momentum. At the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in 2016, strengthening the humanitarian-development nexus was identified as a priority and as part of the Grand Bargain, donors and aid providers committed themselves to enhance engagement between humanitarian and development actors. With the addition of a peace perspective emphasized by António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, the nexus advanced further into the ‘triple nexus’ uniting the humanitarian, development and peace agendas.
Since the aim of the humanitarian-development-peace nexus is similar to earlier concepts, the question arises whether it is just a revival of a longstanding idea under a different name. However, what distinguishes the nexus from previous concepts, is that it goes beyond a programmatic approach and places emphasis on the strategic and structural changes from the perspective of donors, governments and organizations delivering services that are needed in order to adapt to the fundamental shifts occurring on a global scale, ranging from increasing risks as a result of climate change to smaller funding streams which necessitate more efficient and pre-emptive responses to natural and man-made disasters. Thus, the nexus is not merely a revival of an old concept, but rather an evolution of an approach that is able to close some of the gaps left by compartmentalized planning and programming and change the way humanitarian and development assistance is funded and delivered.
The Philippines – A promising nexus laboratory
The nexus has the potential to catalyse progress in the Philippines on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to deliver on the pledge ‘to leave no one behind’ (LNOB). Inclusive development in the Philippines is hampered by vulnerable parts of the population getting left behind as they endure socio-economic deprivation and disadvantages and at the same time are often exposed to ‘setbacks due to the impacts of climate change, natural hazards, violence, conflict, displacement, health emergencies and economic downturns’. This necessitates approaches that integrate short-term and long-term efforts in the areas of humanitarian action, development assistance and peacebuilding to reach the furthest behind.
Further, experiences and lessons learnt in the Philippines – a developing middle-income country frequently affected by natural and man-made disasters – offer great potential to contribute to the nexus discussion and inform efforts in other country contexts. Frequent clashes between various armed groups and government forces create pockets of insecurity for large parts of the population, particularly in Mindanao, the Philippines’ second-largest island which includes four of the five poorest regions in the country. In Mindanao, hundreds of civilians become displaced every month, often repeatedly, because of clashes between insurgents and government forces as well as due to ‘rido’ – violent and often longstanding clan feuds. This is in addition to the protracted displacement of an estimated 66,000 people as a result of the Marawi crisis in 2017. These violent confrontations are compounded by political and economic conditions leading to more insecurity, which in turn hampers political and economic development – a dynamic described as a conflict trap and points to the crucial relationship between peace and development.
Besides man-made disasters, the Philippines is prone to a multitude of natural disasters. Every year, an average of 20 tropical cyclones enter the Philippines Area of Responsibility, bringing strong winds and heavy rainfalls, which cause subsequent flooding and landslides often affecting the underdeveloped parts of the country and the least resilient communities the most. As a country located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines is also vulnerable to earthquakes and volcanic activities. In 2019, three earthquakes of magnitudes between 5.4 to 6.4 have struck Central Luzon, Eastern Visayas and most recently the island group of Batanes causing severe damage to infrastructure, killing dozens and leaving hundreds of people injured. Both natural and man-made disasters can set back development efforts significantly and often negate them entirely by putting affected communities in a prolonged state of recovery. This creates strong incentives for development assistance to address existing vulnerabilities to external shocks and contribute to increasing resilience of communities at risk alongside humanitarian and peacebuilding actors.
There is a momentum for a more joined-up collaboration among humanitarian, development and peacebuilding actors to collectively tackle the aforementioned issues. The recent peace agreement and the establishment of an autonomous Bangsamoro opens up opportunities for development organizations to enter underdeveloped areas of the country, reach marginalized communities and work in congruity with humanitarian and peacebuilding actors. With an improving economic outlook – the Philippines are projected to make the leap to an upper-middle income country in the near term – and increasing capacities of the National Government and Local Government Units, the need for humanitarian aid is expected to decrease. This creates incentives for humanitarian agencies to work in conjunction with development actors to create durable and sustainable solutions for those parts of the populations which are the furthest behind.
The New Way of Working as a framework to kick-start the nexus
In light of these developments, the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) in the Philippines, composed of senior leaders of UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations and the private sector, initiated a structured dialogue around humanitarian-development cooperation in the Philippines to explore opportunities for greater coherence between the activities of humanitarian and development actors. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is supporting the HCT in this endeavour by identifying strategic areas that could benefit from a nexus approach and facilitating efforts to bring diverse actors closer together.
On a global level, these actions are supported by the Joint Steering Committee (JSC), a mechanism which has been established by the Secretary-General in 2017 to promote greater coherence of humanitarian and development action. As a joint endeavour by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and OCHA, the committee is vice-chaired by the Administrator of UNDP and the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC). The JSC has recently called upon designated representatives of the Secretary-General in a country, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinators (RCs/HCs), to strive for greater coherence and collaboration among humanitarian, development and peacebuilding actors and to provide good practices and lessons learnt to inform global discussions.
Guidance is offered by the ‘New Way of Working’ (NWOW) – a framework to put the nexus into practice. NWOW is meant to bring a diverse range of actors, including those outside of the UN system, closer together and offer a path for collaboration. The framework centres around ‘collective outcomes’ – commonly agreed quantifiable and measureable results or impacts in reducing people’s needs, risks and vulnerabilities, which shall drive the funding and programming decisions of key stakeholders.
Adapting the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus to the Philippines
Although a countrywide framework in the Philippines has not been implemented yet, some regional projects and programmes are already applying elements of nexus thinking. In particular agencies with dual mandates and those who applied a cross-cutting theme such as ‘Strengthening resilience’, or a holistic perspective such as the ‘peace lens’ or the ‘protection umbrella’ were able to successfully bridge the artificial divide between humanitarian assistance, development efforts and peacebuilding and forge mutually reinforcing strategies. “We see the nexus as building on long-running efforts in the humanitarian and development fields, such as ‘disaster risk reduction’ (DRR); ‘linking relief, rehabilitation and development’; the ‘resilience agenda’; and the embedding of conflict sensitivity across responses – done by international agencies certainly, but more especially by national and local actors,” says Lot Felizco, Country Director of Oxfam in the Philippines. “If we take this approach seriously, it will have profound implications on how we work, including how we organize resources and plan our interventions.”
A good example is the project ‘Enhancing Sustainable Income in the Philippines’ (ESIP), which was jointly implemented by People in Need (PIN) and ACTED in Eastern Samar in response to the destruction caused by Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 that devastated coconut farms and deprived farmers of their main livelihood. Aimed at strengthening businesses in an aid-intensive context by creating a sustainable business environment, ESIP complemented existing direct assistance (food distributions and distributions of farming material) by providing farmers with skills training, opportunities for income diversification and links to other market actors and service providers. In the province of Maguindanao, located in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), Islamic Relief implemented the ‘Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding in Fragile Contexts’ project, which coupled socio-economic development with peacebuilding elements. Communities, youth in particular, were provided with access to specific livelihoods (e.g. mushroom farming) and vocational and entrepreneurial skills development. The provision of livelihood opportunities was complemented by working with local authorities on peacebuilding and conflict transformation capacities and improving social interaction between different conflict groups.
The nexus in the BARMM context
Examples of nexus implementation are not scarce in the Philippines, yet its implementation faces a number of challenges. During a meeting of HCT core members on the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, participants highlighted that funding structures and donor practices often present a significant obstacle by enforcing the divide between humanitarian and development assistance. The divide is also reflected in existing coordination mechanisms, which are traditionally not designed for cross-sectoral exchange of knowledge and experience between humanitarian, development and peacebuilding actors.
In recognition of the great potential for development organizations to learn from the experiences made by aid agencies and vice versa, the Mindanao Humanitarian Team (MHT), a coordination forum composed of the humanitarian actors based in Cotabato City, decided to create opportunities for strengthened coordination between humanitarian agencies, development and peacebuilding actors. This would allow for a more coherent engagement with the new BARMM authorities on matters of assistance, capacity building and advocacy, thus increasing the value proposition of the MHT. While this constitutes only one element of a comprehensive nexus approach, it is a first step towards forging coalitions that work together on reaching the furthest behind in the Philippines.