Balancing Humanitarian Aid and Sustainable DevelopmentJan 19th, 2012 | By Louise McLarnan
Jago Salmon and Eugenia Piza-Lopez
United Nations Development Programme Global Event Working Paper. 2010.
Development practitioners often face a delicate trade-off between delivering urgent humanitarian aid and fostering sustainable development, particularly in post-conflict nations. In their working paper, “Capacity Development in Post-Conflict Countries”, Jago Salmon and Eugenia Piza-Lopez evaluate the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) efforts to address short and long-term development challenges in post-conflict settings. They find that programs that balance and consistently evaluate humanitarian and developmental goals most effectively rebuild capacity in post-conflict nations.
Post-conflict turmoil is prevalent in the developing world: one hundred and twenty-eight armed conflicts took place worldwide between 1989 and 2008. The authors identify several common consequences of violent conflict, including collapsed social service systems, pervasive infrastructure damage, and widespread social distrust. While many developing countries struggle with weak education systems and poor infrastructure, post-conflict nations are “doubly fragile,” according to the authors.
Development practitioners operating in post-conflict settings face practical obstacles, as well. For instance, they often struggle to deliver services in unstable environments and to maintain funding sources given donors’ concerns about volatility. The authors note that in Sudan, for example, UNDP must deal with “local insecurity, natural disasters and political tensions” making “the transition from relief to development complex.”
Despite these challenges, Salmon and Piza-Lopez assert that post-conflict settings provide a “unique opportunity” to reform nations’ political and economic systems. They caution, however, that because post-conflict settings are “highly context-specific” development organizations and practitioners must “think and act differently” in order to address both humanitarian and development issues. To illustrate this point, the authors highlight UNDP’s collaboration with local leaders in Sierra Leone to promote disarmament, as well as UNDP programs in Somalia that are designed to build regional reconciliation and governance.
Salmon and Piza-Lopez conclude that in order to achieve development goals, organizations including UNDP must balance a post-conflict nation’s short-term needs for humanitarian aid, medium-term needs for macro-level reconstruction, and long-term needs for sustainable development. They find that flexibility, creative thinking, and strategic transition between humanitarian aid and development assistance is critical to creating sustainable development in a post-conflict nation.