In this article, Sonia Rahal, Dakar-based deputy director for the Sahel and Lake Chad for the humanitarian NGO Solidarités International, presents the position she set out during the December 17 National Humanitarian Conference in Paris as part of the round-table discussion entitled “Humanitarian Nexus – Development – Peace”. This round table brought together representatives from the OECD, AFD, UNHCR, the European Commission (EPLO), the NGO ENDA in Mali and Solidarités International.
Let’s recall here that while the double nexus was put forward at the 1st World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016 in Geneva, the triple nexus adds the specific issue of peace and therefore security and the military and provoke numerous debates as this article testifies.
A fashionable concept but one that conceals long-standing debates, the nexus responds above all to an observation. The observation that people in crisis situations do not experience compartmentalized realities, but have both short-term needs for humanitarian assistance and structural needs for development.
Protracted crises have become the norm
This observation is all the more relevant in fragile or protracted crisis contexts characterized by episodic violence, multiple displacements and climatic or health disasters. Today, protracted crises are the norm: two-thirds of humanitarian aid is earmarked for long-term crises with an average duration of 7 years[i]. One of the main challenges faced by humanitarian actors in protracted crises is that humanitarian action alone cannot meet all the needs of populations. In the absence of sufficient development efforts in these fragile contexts, humanitarians have often had to stretch their mandates and sometimes go beyond their initial expertise to fill gaps.
Nexus and reform
The Nexus is also part of a broader debate on UN reform. The World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 urged us to transcend the gap between humanitarian and development work, and to integrate peace actors. This New Way Of Working thus advocates a vision where humanitarian, development and peace actors work together towards collective results, based on their comparative advantages and according to the specificity of the context.
The divisive issue of the “Peace” pillar
For many NGOs, particularly those with multiple mandates, the integration of development is necessary, and the question is not whether to link humanitarian and development efforts, but rather when and how. On the other hand, humanitarians have strong reservations when it comes to integrating the third pillar of peace with a view to the triple nexus, the definition and operationalization of which are subject to debate. This third pillar is understood in very different ways by different players: while for states and the military, the peace pillar is perceived through a security prism as implying politico-military measures, communities and civil society understand it as an absence of violence and a form of social peace. It’s difficult to envisage synergies between humanitarian, development and peace players when the definition remains unclear.
The risk of compromising humanitarian principles
Although many NGOs have integrated the “do no harm” principle, conflict-sensitive approaches or social cohesion projects, few consider themselves to have a peace-building mandate. The fear that humanitarian principles will dissolve in the triple nexus in favor of a political agenda of securitization and stabilization is not unfounded.
In Mali, for example, where the debate surrounding the triple nexus has been lively, NGOs point to constant pressure from the military and politicians to abandon all forms of independence. We have thus seen donors asking for needs assessments to be carried out by military forces, or demanding more information in project reports, or diplomatic representation calling on NGOs to support a military contingent in order to promote its acceptance by the population. This mix of genres is extremely detrimental to humanitarian action and to the safety of both humanitarian workers and civilian populations. In Mali, 55 aid workers were kidnapped by non-state armed groups in 2020. This is indicative of a climate of suspicion towards humanitarians.
The humanitarian principles of neutrality, independence and impartiality are not just a theoretical and ideological framework. They guide our policies and procedures, and also reflect commitments made by states, such as the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid adopted by the European Union. Above all, respect for humanitarian principles guarantees our humanitarian access, enabling us to be perceived as a neutral, independent and impartial actor, and to negotiate access to populations in often highly volatile contexts.
Recommendations: Distinguish between the mandates of different actors:
It is crucial to distinguish military operations from humanitarian and civilian operations in order to guarantee humanitarian space and humanitarian principles. Humanitarian aid must not be used to further a political or security agenda, and must be deployed solely according to the needs of the population.
This does not preclude dialogue between humanitarian and military actors: civil-military coordination must be strengthened at meetings where there is significant absenteeism or an inadequate level of representation. These interactions between civilian and military actors are fundamental in humanitarian emergencies, each with their own role and responsibilities. We also need to step up training to ensure that military personnel are aware of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and humanitarian principles.
We also need to be very cautious about civil-military activities by the armed forces aimed at winning the acceptance of the population, such as Quick Impact Projects (QIPs), which can be confused with humanitarian actions. NGOs advocate that these activities should be infrastructure-related projects rather than food or medicine distributions, to avoid duplication of aid and confusion of roles. Finally, military forces must always communicate about these activities in advance, which is not always the case.
Adapting funding mechanisms and instruments:
Protracted crises have exacerbated humanitarian needs and sometimes negatively impacted development gains. We face large-scale needs in contexts where infrastructure and public services are weak or absent. In the Sahel, where 24 million people need humanitarian assistance, humanitarian response plans are less than 50% funded. We therefore need to adapt funding instruments and mechanisms to operate in fragile contexts, and we need flexible, multi-annual funding. Donors must also be able to translate the double nexus ambition into practice. Although there have been initiatives in this direction (European Commission with ECHO, DEVCO and framework contracts, crisis modification for USAID’s American funding), there is a need for reinforced and concerted dialogue between humanitarian and development donors, who still very often work in silos, and for more flexible funding instruments and mechanisms. At the same time, we need to ensure that development aid and humanitarian aid budgets remain separate and independent, to avoid any politicization of humanitarian aid.
Ensure the participation of civil society:
Local civil societies play a key role in responding to humanitarian and development needs by working towards the goal of “Leaving No One Behind”. The risk of centralizing decision-making through the approach suggested by the United Nations in the New Way Of Working (NWOW) through joint objectives is that the voice of the people is not reflected in a top-down approach. Any nexus approach must therefore include the participation of civil society and local stakeholders in all phases of the project cycle, from design to implementation and monitoring. Working with local actors who are present before, during and after the crisis increases the likelihood that both short- and long-term objectives will be achieved.
The debate around the Nexus has the merit of getting humanitarian, development and military actors to think together about the challenges of aid and peace in protracted crises. It has also reaffirmed the need for development players to become involved in these fragile contexts, and for funding mechanisms and instruments to adapt to the realities on the ground. Finally, in a context of increasing politicization of aid, it is essential to remember that respect for humanitarian principles is a prerequisite for any humanitarian action, and to work towards this goal.
Deputy Director of Operations, Sahel and Lake Chad
[i] Namitha Sadanand and Estefanie Hechenberg, Sphere Standards in Protracted Crises, A case study of DRC and Haiti, 2017
Who is Sonia Rahal ?
Sonia Rahal joined the NGO Solidarités International in January 2020 as Director of the Dakar regional office. From 2015 to 2020, she carried out numerous humanitarian missions with the NGO Save the Children in various contexts such as the Sahel, the Syrian crisis in Lebanon and the Ebola crisis in West Africa.
Before joining the humanitarian sector, she worked for several years in development in West Africa, in the microfinance sector. She holds a Master’s degree in Development Law and Policy from the University of Paris V and a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Politics from the University of Montreal.