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Pandemic pressure and peace: Building effective partnerships in fragile states

OECD blog
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Ahead of the 2021 Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development, SIPRI is pleased to share guest blog posts from partner organizations.

The Covid-19 pandemic is compounding global fragility. From Yemen to Myanmar, it has increased pressure on already fragile states, systems and communities, where limited capacity to cope with diverse risks moves them closer to, or deeper into, conflict. Addressing this multidimensional challenge will require a collective effort. Learning from recent history and thinking on partnerships for peace and development is essential for smart and effective action in fragile and conflict-affected contexts.

Compound risk and rising pressure increasing need for effective partnership

Even before the impact of the pandemic, the furthest behind were falling further behind on most Sustainable Development Goals. The 57 fragile contexts identified by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) States of Fragility 2020 report were home to almost a quarter of the world’s population, but approximately three-quarters of all those living in extreme poverty. In 2019, 65 per cent of the population of fragile states were exposed to active state-based conflict, while 14 of the top 20 states most affected by terrorism were fragile. And as the pandemic took hold, violent conflict displaced 660 000 people between April and May 2020 alone, adding further burdens to fragile states, which already hosted half of the world’s refugees.

Beneath these trends lie further layers of fragility. For example, reduction in daily incomes and remittances has caused financial stress for families who have no alternative means to livelihood. Falling global oil prices have hurt those fragile contexts that depend on revenue from gas and oil. Public trust in the effectiveness of governments has deteriorated in many fragile states due to perceived ineffectiveness or the manipulation of responses to the pandemic for political advantage. This multidimensional impact pushes the coping capacity of vulnerable states and people to breaking point. Reducing that pressure in part means dealing with the current fragmented character of peace and development support.

Developing effective partnerships to address fragmented approaches

The fragmentation of peace and development efforts fosters uncertainty and inefficiency. Programmes for conflict prevention, peacebuilding and state building at multilateral and local levels are often disjointed, overstretched, and under-resourced. In recent years, international cooperation (particularly for United Nations peacekeeping) has declined to make way for alternative ‘peace support’ and stabilization activities and most have struggled to achieve their aims. Policy commitments have fallen short of expectations, for example, the meaningful participation of women in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Between 1992 and 2019, women made up only 6 per cent of mediators, 13 per cent of negotiators and 6 per cent of signatories in major peace processes.

Support from members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) for fragile and conflict-affected contexts remains high, but there is a clear preference for humanitarian response over prevention: in 2019, for every dollar that went to prevention, six dollars went to humanitarian assistance. This reflects an uncertainty about how best to finance responses in a fragmented landscape.

Options for adapting partnerships for dynamic challenges

Official Development Assistance (ODA) is a critical resource for fragile and conflict-affected contexts. As pandemic-related financial pressures build, levels of ODA must be protected as far as possible. The most recent ODA figures are encouraging: more net bilateral ODA—US$ 76 billion—went to fragile contexts in 2019 than ever before. In extremely fragile contexts, ODA amounted to 10 times the level of foreign direct investment and 2.3 times the amount of remittances.

The case has never been stronger for better alignment on peace and development outcomes across international organizations, financial institutions and bilateral donors. Partnering for collective outcomes at a multilateral level should also align with the priorities identified by fragile states and apply the logic of prevention always, development when possible, humanitarian when necessary. From Gambia to Ghana, reinforcing fragile contexts' capacity in areas such as social protection, points to ways for supporting localized approaches that contribute to social cohesion, peace and stability.

Concentrating support on the convening power and adaptability of country platforms has demonstrated the potential for building peace. As seen in Liberia and Somalia, locally led country platforms enable collective action and peer learning for governments and partners to make sense of complex political, social and economic realities, agree shared priorities and solve collective action problems. Effective partnerships depend on strong coordination platforms and they must also deal with the impact of digital technology on peace and development.

Peace and development actors must capitalize on the potential of digital technologies and tools. As we have seen in Iraq and Syria, from phones to drones, the adaptation and application of digital platforms in fragile contexts is an established feature of modern conflict, shaping narratives and behaviour across political, societal and economic dimensions. More positively, digital platforms can enable systems-focused analysis of the issues that drive fragility and conflict. Digital technology can also help to establish the evidence base for better decision making by informing multi-stakeholder collaborations and agreements. For example, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda have used mobile networks to capture civil registration data in remote areas.

Finally, the New Deal principles, endorsed a decade ago, matter more than ever for effective partnership. As exemplified in Sierra Leone and Somalia, when applied in the manner intended, the New Deal principles have proved to be a useful framework for cohesive approaches to building peace and stability. However, for partnership to flourish, politicians must be active participants at every level. Innovative thinking on accountability within partnerships is reshaping the conversation on national ownership, in part addressing the issue of political vacuums in peace and development programmes. The insight of organizations such as G7+ in forums such as the UN General Assembly and the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding will be critical for maintaining political focus on what matters most in the countries most affected by conflict and fragility.

Join the OECD–United States Institute of Peace (USIP) high-level panel on 5 May at 15:30 CEST to hear expert insight from Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Abdiraham Antye, Helder da Costa and Jorge Moreira da Silva.

Register for the Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development here


Jorge Moreira da Silva is director of the Development Co-operation Directorate at the OECD, overseeing the organization’s work measuring progress in development cooperation, analyzing global and regional trends, and helping to design development policies that meet recipient countries’ needs. His role also supports the work of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee.