Perspectives of peacebuilding actors in the humanitarian-development-peace nexus: Follow-up questions

On 19 July, PHAP and ICVA organized an online event exploring how peace actors see their role in the nexus – including both what humanitarian and development actors can learn from peacebuilding and how peacebuilding efforts can better work towards shared outcomes with other actors in the nexus.

This fourth session of the learning stream on the "nexus," featured Scott Weber of Interpeace, who provided an overview of peacebuilding work in ongoing emergency contexts. Anna Chernova shared some of the experiences of Oxfam and how they have been integrating peacebuilding in their work as a multi-mandated organization. Rabia Nusrat of International Alert also shared her perspectives on how humanitarian organizations interact with peacebuilding in emergency contexts in Asia. While many of the questions from participants were answered during the event (listen to these in the event recording), there were more questions than there was time for, and the guest experts have answered follow-up questions in writing, which you can now read on this page.


How do peacebuilding actors engage with humanitarian coordination structures and what should be changed to ensure better integration and understanding of the respective views?
 - Staff Development Officer, Norway

 Anna Chernova

As a multi-mandate INGO, we find that our own organization can mirror some of the silos in the wider sector. In my experience, peacebuilders and humanitarians may meet in thematic and/or coordination meetings. But not often enough. At the field level – we hear different things. In some countries, peacebuilders and humanitarian workers meet as part of existing cluster and NGO coordination meetings. There have been some great initiatives such as the Conflict Sensitivity Resource Facility in South Sudan, and plans to establish one in Yemen and good precedents in Iraq (including with local CSOs). These would bring together these two sectors. Oxfam increasingly engages with peacebuilders in Syria, Iraq and other forums in the UK and the Netherlands through inter-agency policy and advocacy meetings with the British and Dutch Governments, and that has been very productive. We are also part of the Conflict Sensitivity Community Hub (a community of practice that brings together humanitarians and peacebuilders). We need the donors to help push for this change as well – coordination should start at the micro level (i.e. communities/districts in our field of operations and then feed all the way up to UN clusters and Special Envoys). We are also actively seeking to bridge this gap internally. In South Sudan, the Oxfam Country Office recently undertook a conflict analysis exercise which has informed both its work related to governance and peacebuilding, as well as humanitarian activities. Ideally, both our humanitarian and development work contributes to supporting and strengthening local capacities for peace. Both peacebuilding and humanitarian actors need to talk to many sides of a conflict. However – while coordination is important and issues such as conflict sensitivity must be cross cutting, peacebuilding and humanitarian sectors are not always the same and do not always share the same goals. All actors need to respect the objectives of the coordination they are taking part in – i.e. at the moment, “clusters” are not about peace building – nor are peacebuilding forums about humanitarian response.


What about UN integrated missions (peacebuilding component), and their potential interference with humanitarian actors? Those of states and the EU whose development and policy ambitions may weaken humanitarian actors and principles?
 - Social Protection and Humanitarian Advisor, Germany

 Anna Chernova

The problem here is that peacebuilding becomes politicized – integrated missions are almost inevitably strongly in support of the government. This is very different from peace builders working at a local level on community cohesion, conflict resolution where objectives are often shared. Once peace becomes politicized like this, there is a risk that political interests in peace trump humanitarian considerations. This is a key reason humanitarian actors are often skeptical of peacekeeping missions. That said – peacebuilding is extremely important. Humanitarians would generally just like humanitarian actions to stand apart from the mission with separate and non-politicised coordination structures – as per the UN’s own Integrated Analysis and Planning policy. Sadly, this almost never happens – again, largely for political reasons.

There is the example of UN missions in Afghanistan and DRC that have convoluted the lines between military and humanitarian interventions, as well as cases where Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan with their own ‘stabilization force’ whilst also funding the activities of CSOs which have major knock on effects for perceived impartiality of humanitarian actors for decades.


Are there other entry points to working on the humanitarian-peace nexus, beyond humanitarian negotiations for access and protection, and the confidence-building that might be generated?
 - Head of Programme, Afghanistan

 Anna Chernova

In addition to access, protection and related humanitarian issues, we are particularly interested in understanding how we can support local capacities for peace in humanitarian contexts. We have engaged on raising women’s rights and sustainable, inclusive peace (political solutions) in humanitarian contexts like Yemen, drawing attention to the need to focus on longer term issues while delivering emergency assistance. Undertaking joint conflict analysis (involving both humanitarian and development/ peacebuilding colleagues and perspectives) is a critical starting point to ‘unlocking’ potential avenues for collaboration/ linkages.

From what I know of NRC’s approaches to humanitarian negotiation and access, there a strong focus on social cohesion. Perhaps an entry point would be to further build on this to invest more in local capacities as. It’s the empowerment of local people to use their own resources (their agency) that is so important.

 Rabia Nusrat

I would see the following entry points:

  • Due to the often urgent nature of humanitarian assistance interventions and then prospects of protracted chronic crises, a solid framework for conflict sensitivity at all stages of the intervention cycle needs to be established in order to formulate contingency plans and respond rapidly to changing circumstances. There is the need for humanitarian and peacebuilding actors work together to gain better and continuous understanding of power dynamics in zones of conflict, especially historical dynamics, power relations, socio-political alliances, cultural systems, and their impacts on opportunities for engagement.
  • Humanitarian and peacebuilding actors should work together to prioritize early planning for transition from emergency response to recovery, development and peacebuilding.
  • In a conflict context, humanitarian and peacebuilding actors should collaborate at the outset to identify entry points to support a peace process ( that maybe on-going) at the national level. In such contexts, humanitarian aid can easily exacerbate conflict situation and the peace efforts and potential spoilers in the broader context need to be recognized and supported. This is even more crucial in fragile contexts , as funding for peacebuilding work tends to stop or is diverted towards humanitarian crisis and any gains made towards peace processes are lost.


What are the main obstacles to the use of peacebuilding perspectives in humanitarian work?
 - Director, United States

 Anna Chernova

Much of peacebuilding work is centered around supporting civil society actors in a manner echoes ‘local humanitarian leadership’ - it’s still about partnership and local capacities for peace - just in different jargon. Of course, there are obstacles for organizations that are multi mandated in terms of balancing the mandates in a highly contested context, delivering humanitarian programmes based on principles of impartiality and neutrality whilst at the same time supporting civil society to challenge systems of power, operational needs to respond with speed and at scale.

 Rabia Nusrat

As highlighted during my presentations, there are a few concerns from the humanitarian community regarding the use of peacebuilding perspectives/approaches:

  • One of the key objections from the humanitarian community towards engaging with peacebuilders is that it is said to compromise humanitarian actor’s neutrality, independence and impartiality (the humanitarian principles). However, from the perspective of peacebuilding community, it is possible to ‘think politically without being political’ and the humanitarian actors are already engaged in highly political activities. These include negotiating access (e.g. with government, non-state actors), procuring resources, moving people, housing people (to and on others land) and in some cases, such as, the Rohingya in Burma, even recognizing peoples and crises. What language is applied around conflict sensitivity in a humanitarian context is also a critical issue in this debate. Humanitarians generally do not like the idea of contributing to peace or stability, as they see it as political.
  • Like other institutions and sectors, humanitarian organizations also have limited and constrained resources. Thus, there is usually limited or no funding to apply and/or institutionalize conflict sensitive practices.
  • On the outset, peacebuilding could appear as a long-term initiative which raises apprehension amongst humanitarian actors, given the urgent nature of their response.
  • Whilst in our experience, humanitarian practitioners are demanding support around very practical things like conflict sensitivity procurement, employment and how conflict analysis can integrate with needs assessments at the local level, there seems to be a dis-connect with headquarters which are still trapped in circular discussions about humanitarian principles vs. contributions to peace.


On the conflict and hunger nexus - the discussion seems limited to conflict sensitivity in food assistance distributions, using food assistance to encourage resettlement of IDPS, or agriculture for greater food security. How else can the food assistance/food security sector contribute to resilience in context where food insecurity is not a significant cause of conflict?
 - Senior Policy Advisor, Canada

 Anna Chernova

Addressing drivers of insecurity is key. In many contexts, it’s the governance of resources and/or persistent social tensions (leading to politico-military tensions) that drives food insecurity. In many countries, greater investment in resilience (i.e. a focus on the agriculture sector) and stronger social accountability (combined with gender responsive State budgeting, addressing inequalities, etc.) can help ensure that conflict affected communities are more food secure in the long run and support longer term capacities for peace. Some of this is already in resilience thinking – but as crises are not linear, neither are our responses and we need to do much more to think and work politically to address underlying development challenges. It’s as much about how we programme in terms of support locally led governance systems and structures for transformative adaptation.


How do you see the difference between this idea of integrating peacebuilding and humanitarian, compared to conflict sensitivity at its fullest when building connectors (rather than just mitigating dividers)?
 - Peace & Conflict Adviser, United Kingdom

 Anna Chernova

As one of the other speakers noted – peacebuilding is a ‘how.’ So is conflict sensitivity. A conflict sensitive approach to all aid – allows inter alia for greater collaboration. In Oxfam, we aim to distinguish this through “Safe Programming” (avoiding inadvertent harm – Do No Harm approaches) and approaches to actively support local capacities for peace. Collectively, we all need to work harder to have more dialogue and clarity on this – not just among ourselves, but also among and with our donors.


What can be the role of public health professionals in the prevention of war?
 - Associate Professor, United States

 Anna Chernova

We would prefer to defer to organizations like MSF and others working explicitly on public health. In my opinion, cases where we have engaged on public health promotion in conflict, we have found community engagement lends itself very naturally to conflict prevention – engaging core infrastructure sectors, and a wide range of stakeholders. Public health requires attention to the rights-based development approach, and therefore in most conflict contexts – needs a conflict sensitive approach, maximizing opportunities for conflict prevention.


How is it possible to promote a culture of trust in humanitarian organizations in places where an armed conflict has led population polarized?
 - Student–intern, Panama

 Anna Chernova

Transparency and collaborative approaches are key, with as much as possible done locally – with international support. Conflict dynamics, as well as donor’s increasingly competition-based approach to funding NGOs, can undermine trust among humanitarian actors. iNGO coordination fora and UN clusters help build that trust, but we need more emphasis on engaging with a wide range of local stakeholders – to ensure our engagement helps build trust among local actors, and between local and international actors in these highly polarized contexts.


It seems that how the assistance is delivered, through what mechanisms, can contribute to the building of social cohesion. Perhaps it is important to focus on the ultimate goal rather than the semantics and terminologies that often cause concern?
 - Consultant, Somalia

 Anna Chernova

Completely agree. We look at conflict sensitivity as an approach (a ‘how’) – complementing how we do advocacy, campaigns as well as ensure program quality and aid effectiveness. In highly polarized, conflict contexts – we find a common, ultimate goal can also be hard to agree (especially if States themselves, or key bilateral donors, are party to the conflict). Conflict sensitivity and other peacebuilding tools and approaches help us frame these complex conversations with our interlocutors.


If trust is a major factor in peacebuilding, what is the role of hum and dev actors in facilitating a better relationship between citizen and state?
 - Consultant, Somalia

 Anna Chernova

Humanitarian and development actors often have different opinions on the relationship between the citizen and the State (depending on their mandates and operations). As international actors, we are particularly cautious of building a healthy social contract around accountability. Oxfam holds the State as the primary duty-bearer for essential services – and therefore civic space, humanitarian space and localization, are key components of us being able to work with others to fight poverty and injustice.

 Rabia Nusrat

This again requires a better understanding of the conflict dynamics within which the humanitarian intervention is needed and application of conflict-sensitivity at all stages . State citizen relations are a contextual, complex phenomenon and humanitarian interventions can either facilitate or damage these relations. When planning a humanitarian intervention, it is vital to consider the context, stakeholders involved, the relation between the formal and informal and factors which could really increase trust between the state and citizens. In such contexts, due consideration should be given to rights as well as responsibilities of citizens and strengthens of existing non-state structures and actors should not be undermined for short-term gains, sometimes at the expense of further damaging state-citizen relations.


How do humanitarian organizations concretely contribute to building peace with short intervention timeframes and often with even shorter funding timeframes?
 - Regional Programme Officer, Egypt

 Anna Chernova

Depending on the context, humanitarians can contribute to raising local voices and building social cohesion. In Yemen, for example, Oxfam has worked to engage women’s voices throughout the humanitarian emergency – including on political solutions to the conflict. In a number of contexts, we have been advocating the UN/donors that now is the time to engage on women’s rights issues – rather than waiting for conflicts to end before starting to build peace. Some states like to use humanitarian crises as a distraction from underlying governance issues. And there are far too many examples where humanitarian assistance has been used to further military actors’ (State and non-state) political agendas.


How would we be able to support informal networks when we already face such massive challenges in getting funds transferred to conflict settings (de-risking etc.)?
 - Institutional Partnership Intern, Switzerland

 Anna Chernova

Advocating big donors to take this pressure off the NGOs/CSOs and help us in capacitating bank de-risking is needed. It is much too great a challenge for smaller organizations, and even big NGOs struggle to absorb the costs of vetting and related procedures into heavily scrutinized support and administrative costs. Smaller movements, especially women’s rights movements in militarized contexts, i.e. those in MENA, really struggle with this. Solutions tend to be context-specific, with UN (big bilateral donors) needed to step up in financing systematic solutions. You can find more here.


Regarding the footprint left by humanitarian action on dynamics of trust and resilience, are there already existing dedicated tools / methods / initiatives to trace, analyse and learn from such footprints from a HDPN perspective - holistically, integrated, across organisations and long-term, or does it currently remain an individual, rather fragmented and sporadic effort?
 - Systems Designer, United Kingdom

 Anna Chernova

There are a number of learning networks, facilitated inter alia by ODI, ALNAP, PHAP, and others that bring together very useful learning. Although there has been some progress, these two sectors are not sufficiently joined up. Of course, as with all analysis, there are challenges in terms of timeframes and financing. But there is increased emphasis, including by many donors and UN agencies on learning and adaptive management. And we need to work together to build and maintain this momentum. NGOs and donors often acknowledge that conflict sensitivity is still not integrated across organizations and programs. You can read more here.


While we speak of the triple nexus, I assume it is not expected from all the actors to get actively involved in peace negotiations- particularly humanitarian actors. This triggers the need for a clear framework that segregates the roles of involved actors. Has there been a particular framework that outlines contributory indicators so that the actors involved get engaged in a certain area?
 - Programme Policy Officer, Afghanistan

 Anna Chernova

This is often context-specific. I don’t think there is one specific framework. Some organizations have a clear mandate from the start, while others shift it as the context shifts. In some crises the humanitarian country team, clusters, and other coordination mechanisms include a wide enough range of actors and a good UN dialogue – allowing for the space to identify these triggers and define clear roles and responsibilities. In other responses, this is not the case. In some protracted crises, conflict sensitivity and durable solutions platforms have provided some of that space and frameworks. In some cases, development actors take a more humanitarian role (i.e. WB, UNDP) and work to provide that role. This area is still very much evolving, as big donors have frameworks – but national interest (including security, trade and private sector) are increasing in influence, and aid frameworks will need to be adapted to reflect this reality (whether we – as NGOs - like it or not). It is very important to remember that this impacts national organizations and movements differently from big international NGOs, agencies.


Though the humanitarian-development nexus is a key issue in the roll-out of the CRRF and the draft Global Compact on Refugees, the need for and link to peace-building within refugee communities seems to have received little attention. Thoughts on this and how to change it?
 - South Sudan Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, Uganda

 Anna Chernova

Excellent point. With IHL, human rights and refugee legal frameworks eroding, there are so many critical asks to protect the displaced in the Global Compact that peace (like in many emergencies) tends to slide to the bottom of the agenda. The spike in far-right movements in many donor countries has influenced the refugee agenda, and we are cautious of not supporting efforts that bring about negative peace (i.e. enough stability in host countries to return refugees – sometimes forcibly). Humanitarian imperative enjoys public attention, and engaging humanitarians in the Nexus offers an opportunity to raise conflict resolution in the displacement agenda. We need to have a stronger link to root causes and drivers of migration in order to bring those stories to the forefront. We recognize that migration has and will always be our reality, and most often contributes very positively to many economies. When speaking specifically of refugees, we have to take a conflict lens to durable solutions language – ensuring we uphold and reinforce exciting rights frameworks. Broadly speaking: the agency and rights are with the individual – and obligations are with the State. This is hotly contested depending on context: from the right to return, to non-refoulement and other issues. Building on the (recognized) need to work with displaced and host communities in order to reduce tensions, support social cohesion and share common responsibility in crises - is one entry point.


Is there a clear guideline on system-wide engagement with civil society for sustaining peace including initiatives that allow civil society organizations to be direct recipients of UN funding for peace building activities with an agreed percentage of funding to be allocated?
 - Education Program Officer, Somalia

 Anna Chernova

From the humanitarian-development perspective, the Grand Bargain and the local humanitarian leadership agenda offers us some steer, and ways to influence our donors. Our Iraq office shared their experience here. Following the World Humanitarian Summit – few organizations, donors are really making good on that promise – but we are continuing to work toward those commitments.


How do you reflect the experiences of national actors who are covering the Humanitarian, Development and Peace work in their response to crises?
 - National Director, Myanmar

 Anna Chernova

In line with our local humanitarian leadership commitments, we pay particular attention to this aspect of our responses. In some countries we have been able to engage a wide range of national actors (Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen), while in others – space is more restricted. Women’s rights and women-lead organizations in particular need this attention – in high profile responses. Embedding local partnerships (whether engaging local municipalities/local authorities or movements) in humanitarian responses help ensure we capture and reflect their experiences in our work.

Oxfam has a case study on working in partnership in conflict contexts (Myanmar) - showing how international actors need to improve their partnership approaches. In Bangladesh and Uganda, we work to empower local and national humanitarian actors – aiming to shift power and resources in the humanitarian sector from international humanitarian actors to local and national ones. The underlying assumption is that having local and national actors in the driving seat for emergency preparedness and response shall allow vulnerable people in disaster prone areas to benefit from better humanitarian response.


I would like to know in which country does successful work in the humanitarian-development-peace nexus exist?
 - Project Director, Bangladesh

 Anna Chernova

It is difficult to say where this works best. From my personal experience, middle-income countries in protracted crisis – like Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan have a lot of learning to share on learning to address development challenges holistically. I have a sense that the dynamics will be the same in other regions. But I suspect that context where limited civic space and humanitarian space prevail due to State restrictions (and that list of countries is unfortunately growing) the Nexus approach will be much harder to achieve. I have found Track II approaches are most sensitive in such contexts.


What is the interface between human rights advocacy and peace-building in a humanitarian context?
 - Technical Advisor Human Rights and Advocacy, Kenya

 Anna Chernova

As a rights-based multi-mandate organization, we work to systematically link rights to humanitarian advocacy, always with the longer-term perspective in mind (to save lives now – and in the future). Most often, we work closely with others – local and international – to capture niche expertise (like psychosocial and peacebuilding) and build a shared agenda.


How does this relate to activities like mediation in the electoral processes in Africa?
 - Responsable Programme, Guinea

 Anna Chernova

Accountability and the relationship between the citizen and the State (with democratic processes as one of the key elements in building representative constituencies), must be reflected in strategic thinking – in humanitarian and development responses alike. Depending on the context, mandates and value add, aid actors can find themselves engaging on these issues. In our case, we have the recent example of Uganda among others. Will be very interested in discussing this further.


Is the Humanitarian-Development-Peace a real concern and an achievable goal? What does it mean for people displaced from their homes?
 - Humanitarian Affairs Officer, South Sudan

 Anna Chernova

If we look at aid from the perspective of those affected by conflict and fragility – we need to deliver on the Nexus approach. The shape of that approach can be negotiated, but we cannot say – we will leave after the acute humanitarian crisis is over, and assume things will somehow improve on their own. Conflict and fragility discourse indicates how often conflict recurs, and how often it is violent – when underlying drivers of conflict are unaddressed. Recurring conflict means lives are lost - communities suffer, social fabric is fractured, donors pay for rebuilding communities over and over again. I see the Nexus approach to join up different approaches through a more constructive contribution aid can make to sustainable peace.


Media reports to some of the issues, challenges and setbacks suffered by humanitarian and development actors place a wedge in measuring the impact of interventions. How can this divide be addressed? Because these reports cannot only sabotage efforts of humanitarian workers, but it remains a threat to delivery and even lives of actors. At what point can humanitarian and development actors share the right narratives even to the local actors that will bring synergy?
 -  Staff , Norway

 Anna Chernova

Media reports are a form of public engagement. While critical (especially when inaccurate or incomplete) reports can hurt delivery of assistance and that risk must be carefully mitigated, learning from our mistakes is critical to ensure we deliver on our mandate in an effective way. Getting local voices heard, and an active engagement from the Global South will be central to our common success.


You can access the rest of the Q&A as well as further resources on the event page.

Upcoming courses:

24-28 June:

8-12 July:

16-20 September: