The Better Governance Project

The better Governance Blog #3

Institutions in the Triple Nexus

– reinforce, don’t replace.

Shane Quinn, Board Member

Over the last several years, significant progress has been made on prioritising a more cohesive and interdependent approach to working in fragile settings, with humanitarian policy being more and more shaped by the old and new challenges of humanitarian emergencies, war and the impact of climate change. In step with these challenges, the Commitment to Action signed by global humanitarian policymakers in 2016 laid out the criteria for a ‘new way of working’. At the core of this commitment was a very clear emphasis on reinforcing and not replacing local systems and solutions. This approach has highlighted the importance of public service provision for ensuring that initial humanitarian interventions can make the transition to more sustainable development programming, and can play a critical role in anticipating crises before they occur. Relying on local capacity, however weak it might be in certain fragile settings, represents a new and innovative way of working in crises and allows communities to become more resilient in the event of a negotiated peace settlement (often considered the most challenging aspect of the Triple Nexus).

Moving on from technical and incremental changes achieved between 2016 and 2021, the Grand Bargain 2.0 focused on elevated political engagement to make progress on continuing challenges, not least with its emphasis on the prevention of conflict and anticipatory action. The engagement of the World Bank in fragile settings over a number of years and its growing engagement from governance into peace, security and now humanitarianism. The emphasis was no longer on furthering development goals only, but rather an effort to adapt more to each context and link more effectively with humanitarian and peacebuilding programmes, while also addressing the importance of local solutions. Institutions have become central to thinking around the Nexus, with an emphasis on building resilience from the ground up. This is the case in Yemen, where the World Bank has been supporting two local institutions,  the Social Fund for Development (SFD) and Public Works Project (PWP), and ensuring that they remain intact and can build resilience in the local communities, not only during the conflict but also if the peace settlement holds and the country can fall back on its most critical institutions.

Front and centre for this approach is the need to adopt legislation or policies aimed at integrating refugees into public systems. It is often sufficient that these institutions can be ’good enough’ in terms of absorption capacity, resources, knowledgeable personnel who can support public services and safety nets to become “shock resistant” during an unfolding crisis. In many cases in fragile settings, national safety nets already exist and direct links can be set up with humanitarian cash programming, making these “shocks” more manageable, at least in the short term.

The war in Ukraine has put the Nexus into sharp focus, accompanied by calls for more and better peacebuilding. Yet, peace cannot be built without robust local and regional institutions. A conventional interstate war with a breakdown in all institutional structures, significant refugee flows and the prevalence of widespread and indiscriminate violence against vulnerable groups demands not only a new way of working, but a new way of thinking. Local government reform over a number of years in Ukraine, pre- and post-Maidan shows that the state was able to fall back on high levels of cohesion and control the monopoly of violence, albeit with a setback in eastern Ukraine in 2014. The reform process points to an increased level of satisfaction amongst people in municipalities with their local institutions and has been posited with enabling the country to withstand and absorb some of the violent shocks of the war in terms of administrative service provision and allowing the coordination of the war effort locally and regionally. With this type of resilience, acute humanitarian assistance was able to be distributed widely, as the international emergency response starting scaling up.

For this to happen though, there is an onus on closer collaboration between Nexus actors than what has gone before. Here, identifying and understanding expectations and mutually reinforcing roles of these actors in terms of their mandates i.e. donors, NGOs and UN agencies is a key aspect for enhancing adaptiveness and more agile operations. Although the role of local institutions cannot be overstated enough in an emergency, humanitarians need to be willing to compromise more on humanitarian principles, particularly that of impartiality for a more cohesive and sustainable intervention to take place. But the risks are often perceived to be too great for principled humanitarian action. Taking sides is sometimes necessary though, especially if local institutions have a solid reform base, a high level of legitimacy with people claiming services and the process is fair and open and does not discriminate. Now that donors, state actors, humanitarian and development actors are working more closely together in emerging crises, there is more scope for working across silos. The challenges may seem too much perhaps at times, but at least we are talking about it.