The role of National Governments in delivering humanitarian-development-peace nexus approaches: a reflection on current challenges and the way forward

The concept of humanitarian, development, peace (HDP) — referred to also as the triple nexus — gained momentum during the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, and more recently with the wide adoption of the recommendations on the HDP nexus issues by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC) in 2019.

The HDP nexus pushes for strengthening the links between humanitarian, development, and peace actors and actions in contexts of protracted settings, where all three forms of assistance overlap within the same communities. The focus on strengthening these links, however, is not new. For example, the discourse on ‘linking relief, rehabilitation, and development’ (LRRD) from the 1980s, also attempted to better align humanitarian and development activities. It was, however,  critiqued because it saw aid as a linear process and lacked incentives for co-ordination, and focused primarily on the process of humanitarian agencies finishing their work, and development agencies taking over at some point. The triple nexus approach, on the contrary, pushes agencies and actors to improve co-ordination, collaboration, and coherence in order to increase aid effectiveness.

In this blog, I will explore the questions around engagement of national governments with triple nexus approaches. Specifically, I will look at (1) the importance of engaging with the national government; (2) existing challenges to this engagement; and (3) overcoming the challenges in engaging with the national government in relation to triple nexus approaches.

Wide acknowledgement for the need to engage with national governments

The overarching objective of the triple nexus approach is the prioritisation of better coordination and coherence between different actors and interventions in order to ‘end need’ and ‘leave no one behind’, thereby making the role of national governments a crucial element of this approach.

The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Results Group 4 in 2020 stated that “[National] Governments bear the primary responsibility to respond to disasters, protect their own populations, including displaced persons, abide by the refugee conventions, respect international humanitarian principles and law, and should drive the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] in their country.”[1] Additionally, the OECD-DAC Recommendation 2 advocates for the “appropriate resourcing to empower leadership for cost-effective coordination across the humanitarian, development, and peace architecture, by supporting local and national authorities, including legitimate non-state authorities wherever possible, and appropriate and in accordance with international law. Still further, the IASC Results Working Group 4 in May 2020, in regard to the triple nexus, states that actions must be “in consultation with government and leaders in all three pillars both within and outside the UN system.”

Therefore, while on one hand, national governments are critical for moving from emergency relief to long-term peace and stability, on the other, national governments can pose a threat to this progress when they are party to the conflict. This then becomes a difficult, and often a political dilemma, to determine how, and to what extent, should national governments be involved in planning aid strategies and interventions.

Challenges in involving national governments

One of the major concerns with engaging national governments in triple nexus approaches is that they will manipulate the strategies and interventions to their advantage — primarily by using the resources for their own gain — and fail to prioritise the interests of the majority of citizens. According to Berebi and Thelen (2011), aid, when given directly to affected population(s), rather than through unstable and potentially corrupt governments, can prove more effective. This is especially true for contexts dominated by conflict, where aid absorption is far less likely than in contexts that are safer and more secure.

This, however, raises an important dilemma— should a triple nexus approach sidestep government to focus on the need for more and better co-ordination in other areas? Purposely disengaging with the government in the spirit of more effective aid in the short and long-term, however, signals a lack of confidence in the national government, and thus, may cause more harm than good.

For example, according to a United Nations report from 2021 focused on South Sudan, since 2018, there has been more than an estimated $73 million, which has gone missing or  been syphoned off by various government officials and bodies. In fact, from the recent interviews, which I conducted in November 2021, there is evidence that there has been an increase in tensions between both international and national non-governmental organisations in South Sudan and the national government. This is reportedly because more and more international donors are side-stepping from working with and depending on the government, for ensuring distribution of funds to specific project interventions. Whenever possible, the funds, instead, go directly to the national NGOs and project implementers. In cases where the national and regional governments are involved, the money meant to reach the intended beneficiary is not only often delayed but is also deficient in the intended amount. This issue becomes even more complex when related to implementing a multi-component initiative, that may require several different government ministries to work together efficiently and effectively.

Moving forward

While this is only one issue of aid in the context of fragile and protracted settings when engaging with national governments, it is nonetheless, a very important one. For the triple nexus approach, I would argue that the national government, like all entities, is made up of different people with varying interests. Therefore, when engaging across actors and actions, a process of discernment, by international actors, should be a priori, in finding those individuals in government who are invested in meaningful change — focused on meeting the needs of the community and the country in a way that builds long-term peace and stability.

A triple nexus approach, therefore, must assess different levels of engagement, that balance information sharing with proactive engagement within government bodies to determine the best way of engagement. Those using a triple nexus approach, must recognise that in pulling together humanitarian, peace, and development actors and actions, it may mean that they are encouraging and promoting inter-governmental collaboration, co-ordination, and coherence, that might be weak or non-existent.

On a positive note, however, encouraging working relationships between different ministries can also become a conduit for them to see the benefits of more co-ordinated responses that are focused on immediate relief, as well as ensuring the long-term peace and development of the country. In essence, the triple nexus approach can provide an opportunity for supporting positive inter- and intra-government working relationships.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author

Summer Brown is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University, Rotterdam. Her research focuses on how Humanitarian and Peacebuilding interventions work together from the perspective of National non-governmental organisations in South Sudan. She takes on consulting work focused primarily on the HDP nexus and conflict sensitivity respectively. Some of her clients include the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Mott MacDonald’s Girls Education in South Sudan programme, International Alert, Islamic Relief, Christian Aid and Caritas Switzerland.

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