International Development Committee Inquiry: The Philosophy of Aid
Saferworld welcomes the International Development Committee’s inquiry into the philosophy of aid. Saferworld is an independent international organisation working to prevent violent conflict and build safer lives. This evidence is based on our experience of programming and research which aims to prevent violent conflict. This submission is focused on questions in the Terms of Reference, in particular: what aid is for, what should be in the International Development Strategy, the relationship between humanitarian and development aid and the conditions for exit strategies.
1. The UK’s aid should be used to reduce poverty, prevent conflict and build peace. This can complement and advance UK’s interest in peace and human security but configuring aid as the ‘soft’ component of military and counter terror efforts tends to backfire, resulting in more restricted civic space, eroding trust between development partners and undermining longer-term peace efforts. The UK’s aid programme guided by the new International Development Strategy needs to be more deliberate in contributing to peace, human security and poverty reduction in line with the SDG16+ agenda. With the majority of the world’s poor now living in fragile and conflict-affected states (FCAS) (expected to reach 80% by 2030), delivering aid in conflict contexts is ‘the new normal’. As the UN and World Bank highlighted in their 2018 Pathways to Peace report, there is no linear relationship between more aid and more peace, and how money is spent is as important as the amount, even more so at a time of reduced UK aid budgets.
2. To apply a developmental approach to conflict the UK needs to ensure that it works to address the root causes of and issues that drive conflict. These will be different in each country and context but may include tackling poor governance, marginalisation and grievances. Given the design of the 2030 agenda to focus aid efforts on key conflict prevention priorities, UK aid should in practice align with the peaceful, just and inclusive societies agenda set out in SDG16+. In this regard, people’s experience of better governance, fair access to resources, livelihoods, justice and services, and full enjoyment of their human rights, is central to conflict prevention. This approach should be the core of the UK’s approach to conflict and reflected in the International Development Strategy which we elaborate on below.
3. Addressing conflict and poverty (including through aid) will have long-term benefits to the UK’s national interests. It requires designing strategies and programmes to address drivers of conflict, and improve actor relationships, based on consultation and analysis with those affected by conflict and local partners. Configuring programmes to advance immediate UK security interests can have negative impacts on conflict and the chances of addressing it. A key example of this is the trend to focus aid interventions on preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE). Our research in Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Somalia and Tunisia has consistently revealed how such programmes – with their narrow focus on the UK priority of stopping recruitment into violent groups, but their limited focus on tackling the wider grievances driving conflict and preoccupying local populations – are failing to make an effective and sustained contribution to peace and development. Local populations tend to find them alienating. Numerous groups have found that the P/CVE agenda and counter-terrorism priorities can instrumentalise and securitise initiatives and spaces for improving women’s rights, rather than helping women’s, youth and other groups advance equality and better governance on their own terms. Peace and development can be more sustainably advanced in support of the true national interest through more bottom-up strategy development and programming that focuses on achieving benign governance, equality and human rights for conflict-affected people.
4. Use of aid to support United Nations Peace Operations is a similarly complex area. Peace operations in some cases have counter-terrorism, stabilisation and ‘regime protection’ objectives and roles that undermine their scope to protect civilians and humanitarian action and to work for political conflict resolution. In such contexts, UN peacekeepers sometimes undertake, or actively support, offensive operations, making them party to conflicts. While human rights monitoring, community development, humanitarian aid and mediation by the UN in such contexts should be considered a legitimate use for UK aid, military, security assistance and intelligence aspects of such missions should only ever be supported from non-aid sources – and their impact on peace and conflict dynamics should be much more carefully managed.
5. The Committee should reaffirm the need for aid to address conflict as part of a poverty reduction objective. It should challenge any attempts to use aid for shorter term UK security objectives.
6. The UK and the committee should not only be considering the relationship between humanitarian and development spending but also their relationship with positive peace outcomes – for example, integrating a progressive approach that requires conflict sensitivity in aid, promotes peace and supports local agency (building on the strong points of what the OECD calls the ‘Triple Nexus’, while avoiding its pitfalls). The UK should join other donor governments to improve performance management of large multilateral agencies, pushing them to improve their collective contribution to peace and human rights, as well as embracing innovative approaches to ensure that nimble, local implementers from countries in crisis or at-risk are included in shared conflict-sensitive analysis, strategy development and monitoring processes – and then supported to play leading roles in relief, development and peacebuilding.
7. Improving on early experiences with the ‘Triple Nexus’ requires: developing long-term shared analysis more inclusively; making financing more predictable while conditioning it on commitment to address the drivers of conflict; and fostering trust and collaboration based on comparative advantages between development, humanitarian, and peace practitioners. Building such trust should learn from the case of Mali, where the predominance of counter-productive militarised counter-terror approaches has proven divisive. In such contexts, the ‘Triple Nexus’ should support the development of shared, sustainable strategies for improving governance and human security in response to communities’ needs and priorities, rather than pushing humanitarian and development efforts into the service of international security strategies that are patently feeding into escalating conflict and human rights abuses. Strong, safe accountability checks with local communities and civil society should be a safeguard for the beneficial application of Triple Nexus.
8. The Committee’s inquiry is right to ask about the nature and helpfulness of distinctions between development and humanitarian work but should also examine their relationship with peace, considering how the ‘Triple Nexus’ could support integration of a conflict-sensitive approach to aid, promote peace and support local agency.
9. The international development strategy is not being developed in isolation presenting an opportunity to ensure a more joined-up approach. One of several areas being reviewed is the UK’s approach to conflict. The aid strategy should reassert the importance of coherence. It needs to take into account how policies and guidance are taken up across the FCDO and beyond and how its objectives can be reinforced through other strategies by making connections to: the conflict strategic approach, the UK National Action Plan (NAP) for UN Security Council Resolution1325, the multilateral and civil society strategic approaches. Other government strategies that must cohere with the UK’s approach to aid potentially include defence strategies such as the Defence Engagement Strategy, and the MOD’s Joint Service Publication 1325 and human security guidance. Importantly, many NGOs understand the UK to be preparing different strands of its international strategies to feed into the Spending Review. The IDC should therefore present its views on aid spending priorities to the Treasury as well as the FCDO.
10. The IDC should urge the government to set out how the International Development Strategy links to other government strategies including the conflict strategic approach and vice versa.
11. The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review committed DFID to spend 50% of its budget in conflict-affected countries. Although the FCDO has prioritised conflict and open societies, it is unclear whether this financial commitment to fragile contexts has been maintained in some form following the FCDO’s creation and the UK’s Integrated Review. However, it is also important to improve how money is spent. Analysis of OECD-DAC figures indicates that from 2016-2019 the UK disbursed a declining share of the aid budget, culminating in less than 2%, of the total ODA budget under the OECD-DAC “Civilian peacebuilding, conflict prevention and resolution” coding. While in 2016 the UK was a leader in the proportion of its ODA budget spent in this way, the UK has now been overtaken by the Netherlands and Sweden who now spend a greater proportion of their aid budgets on civilian peacebuilding, conflict prevention and resolution. The priority attached to conflict prevention by the FCDO means the UK should make a commitment to assist fragile states and focus resources on addressing drivers of conflict in them.
12. Aid is not immune from the risk of doing harm. The International Development Committee’s work on safeguarding has already demonstrated this. Further harms can arise where aid does not fully consider and adapt to the social, political and economic impact of aid within a conflict situation. Research from Saferworld shows how the humanitarian response in Cox’s Bazar has contributed to conflict tensions by not addressing perceptions of the host community about not receiving aid. The response has also contributed gender inequality and gender-based violence. Examples of how the response failed to address these issues included not segregating WASH facilities by gender, failing to address male attitudes as women received food resources and working to maintain a male-dominated system of camp management that further marginalised women. The report recommends that donors ‘Require all partners to integrate gender and conflict sensitivity into their work. This should, at least, include a requirement to undertake gender-sensitive conflict analyses to inform strategy and programme design, implementation, and monitoring, evaluation, and learning at the camp and host community levels.’
13. The UK has been something of a leader in trialling resources and facilities to support conflict sensitivity. For example, the Conflict Sensitivity Resource Facility for South Sudan funded by the UK as well as the Netherlands, Switzerland and Canada. The facility provides analysis, tools as well as guidance on conflict sensitivity to donors to ensure that donors, UN agencies and development partners in South Sudan invest in programmes that are conflict-sensitive. However, the UK could do more to ensure that conflict sensitivity is embedded beyond pilot locations across all programmes in fragile settings, and the UK’s ability to convene other donors to invest in such facilities could be decisive in this shift from pilots to regular practice. Regional-level facilities could be explored where there is a strong rationale based on regional conflict dynamics, for example in the Great Lakes or the Sahel.
14. The Committee should ask the government to lay out how its International Development Strategy will ensure aid does no harm and is conflict and gender sensitive.
15. The UK has worked consistently on gender equality and to prevent violence against women and girls, positioning itself as a global leader on the rights of women and girls, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. But given the scale of the challenge globally, the UK can do more to ensure its international development strategy supports government efforts on gender, peace and security. In 2020, FCDO released the Women Peacebuilders Protection Framework, recognising the vital role that women play in conflict prevention and peace processes, and providing guidance to help countries provide payments, local authority training, and secure transport and communication for local women peacebuilders. However, implementation of these initiatives has been frustrated by the UK’s recent cuts to foreign assistance funding. To promote gender equality and sustainable peace it is crucial to develop context-specific gender strategies that take into account and seek to address the gender norms and roles that affect and are affected by conflict and that create a differential impact of conflict on women, men, boys and girls, and sexual and gender minorities, as well as gender-based violence.
16. Such strategies should be developed together with women and WROs working in the context and should be accompanied by concrete efforts to enhance their participation in public and political processes. To promote gender equality and ensure that women and girl’s needs and priorities are addressed, it is crucial to provide dedicated, long-term, core, flexible funding for local women’s rights organisations. This cannot be achieved without a tailored budget and expertise and therefore it is central to ensure that all ODA funded programmes pursue gender as a deliberate priority objective as per OECD’s Gender Equality Marker (GEM) 1, and that at least 15% of ODA funding is dedicated to programmes that have gender equality as their main objective, reaching GEM 2 (GAPS 2020 and GAPS submission to Integrated Review with practical ideas for gender prioritisation).
17. There is extensive research and case studies that demonstrate peacebuilding and other types of aid are more effective when locally led and owned. The UK Government’s commitment to localisation is not new. It is reflected in the FCDOs humanitarian funding guidelines as well as in several FCDO funding streams such as UK Aid Direct (launched in 2014 to better engage local civil society, acknowledging the importance of grassroots networks and local knowledge) or the Rapid Response Facility (RRF). These are examples of the central role that the UK Government can play in supporting local and national NGOs to access the resources they need and to shift the balance of power that currently mainly benefits INGOs, commercial contractors and multilateral agencies. However, progress towards this commitment is often slow and insufficient and has been undermined by recent aid cuts, resulting in approaches that continue to lack flexibility and are often too risk averse.
18. The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the role and important work that local people and organisations do already, including women and youth activists and women and youth-led organisations. It has also shown what can be achieved by responders and peacebuilders when they are given the space and resources to lead peacebuilding responses in their own communities and beyond. Local actors respond holistically to the priorities, outside of the siloed humanitarian/development/ peacebuilding frameworks or ways of working imposed by the aid system – as members of these communities.
19. The political environment for civil society and civic space makes localisation even more vital. Civicus has reported a continued decline in civic space worldwide and increasing repression. Varieties of Democracy and Freedom House has tracked similar declines in basic freedoms. Supporting civil society organisations including women, youth and marginalised groups in conflict-affected countries with appropriate inclusion in decision-making and flexible and sustainable funding is a key part of meeting this challenge.
20. The committee should urge the government to set out how it will continue to build on its approach to support locally led peacebuilding responses as a way to ensure sustainable, locally owned peacebuilding responses that challenge existing inequalities in the current aid system and contribute to peace and security.
21. Building peace takes time and requires flexible funding to respond to continually evolving contexts and conflict dynamics – mechanisms that are not naturally found within the traditional aid agency architecture. Inflexible funding and short-term project terms lead to difficulty in achieving local ownership and sustainable peace. Lack of resources dedicated to participatory practices is a consistent challenge. In order to fully engage communities in fragile settings, it takes significant resources—time, staff, and money—to convene stakeholders, check-in and support progress updates, engage remote communities, and other activities which budgets don’t include. Inflexible budgets also lead to an inability to respond rapidly and appropriately to evolving and often fragile contexts, which can delay success or even reverse progress made. Programmes lasting only a couple of years, while potentially beneficial for short-term conflict mitigation and confidence building, typically do not allow the time necessary to address deep-rooted, historical disputes or to deliver significant structural reforms of state services, including security and justice provision. Furthermore, small and insufficient funding for peacebuilding has a greater impact on women and youth-led organisations.
22. The UK strategy should make greater investments in sustained peacebuilding efforts to prevent, resolve and transform conflict. Much of DFID and the CSSF’s peacebuilding work to date has allowed for continuous conflict analysis, conflict-sensitive monitoring and adaptation. However, this can be and has been undermined by onerous reporting and contractual requirements, especially during rapidly evolving crises.
23. Short-term programme cycles also curtail the ability to plan for complex, long-term political changes. Funding focused on the delivery of activities leaves insufficient support for the sustainability of non-state civil society actors who can transform conflict and seize peace opportunities. The UK should support the organisational resilience of its peacebuilding partner organisations, particularly in conflict-affected countries, to ensure standing capacities to respond to crises and peacebuilding opportunities.
24. Key factors that enable an organisation to handle fluctuating dynamics and support long-term change processes include: how funding is delivered; its intended purpose; the degree of flexibility within the funding arrangement; adequate financial support for resilience, security, compliance and safeguarding in a dangerous and restrictive conflict environment (which constitute ‘core costs’); and a focus on monitoring and learning from activities and opportunities, rather than purely on the delivery of activities. Programming timelines also need to expand beyond 1-2 year cycles towards longer-term commitments.
25. The Committee should engage the Treasury and FCDO to ensure that funding mechanisms are flexible enough to adapt to the often rapidly changing contexts in which Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) operate, while ensuring long-term funding that will have a positive impact on the sustainability and peacebuilding effectiveness of local organisations.
26. To overcome power imbalances between donors, INGOs and local/national organisations, the latter must be given the space to play an influential role in decision-making over strategic objectives, funding priorities, programme design and an equal share in budgets. Programmes aimed at increasing the role of civil society organisations (CSOs) often focus on their weak technical and organisational capacities to access the existing funding system. While this approach can be helpful, it neglects wider structural challenges. Alongside support to improve their organisational capacities, CSOs and Women’s Rights Organisations (WROs) also require funding that supports work on issues that local communities prioritise. To grow as independent peacebuilding and development actors, CSOs and WROs must no longer be mere ‘implementers’ or ‘subcontractors’ of internationally-driven aid agendas, forced to accept priorities and capacity building support imposed from elsewhere. In this way, aid can do much better in supporting communities and CSOs to respond effectively to local priorities and drive the lasting changes they believe are needed in their own societies. As highlighted above, building a sustainable approach to conflict helps to support UK interests as well as those in fragile and conflict affected states.
27. The committee should encourage the UK Government to invest in/prioritise supporting peacebuilding efforts that build on CSOs’ and WROs’ self-defined existing strengths, and commit to ensuring that support is sustained through long-term flexible funding that will ensure sustainability.
 SDG16+ refers to all the Sustainable Development Goals which are crucial for peaceful , just and inclusive societies both the standalone SDG 16 which aims ‘to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’, as well as other goals particularly SDG5 on promoting gender equality and SDG10 on reducing inequalities. See Street J, Campbell I, Afqarshe A (2019), ‘Time to invest: how to support action on SDG16+’, Saferworld briefing, September (https://www.saferworld.org.uk/resources/publications/1224-time-to-invest-how-to-support-action-on-sdg16)
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 Varieties of Democracy (undated), ‘V-Dem: Global Standards, Local Knowledge’ https://gradesfixer.com/blog/v-dem/; Freedom House (2020), ‘Freedom in the World 2020: A leaderless struggle for democracy’ (https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2020/leaderless-struggle-democracy)
 Stephen M, Martini A (2020), ‘Turning the Tables: Insights from locally-led humanitarian partnerships in conflict situations’, Save the Children Sweden and Saferworld, May (https://www.saferworld.org.uk/resources/publications/1253-turning-the-tables-insights-from-locally-led-humanitarian-partnerships-in-conflict-situations)