Thematic Areas: Humanitarian Development Peace Nexus

There is a new urgency to the long-standing discussion around better connectivity between humanitarian and development work. This is due to an increase in the volume, cost and length of humanitarian assistance provision over the past 10 years, which is mainly the result of protracted crises.

Inter-agency humanitarian appeals now last an average of seven years [1] and have increased nearly 500 per cent in the last decade. [2]   At the same time, the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out not only to meet needs but to reduce risk, vulnerability and overall levels of need, providing a reference frame for humanitarian and development actors. For example, Goal 2—ending hunger and achieving food security—is not only an SDG; it is also an operational priority for humanitarian organizations in crisis-affected communities.

Strengthening the humanitarian-development nexus was identified by the majority of stakeholders as a top priority for the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS). The Summit reinforced the commitment to establish a ‘New Way of Working’ that can transcend humanitarian and development divides by working over multiple years towards collective outcomes, based on the comparative advantages of a diverse range of actors.

This notion of collective outcomes has been placed at the centre of the commitment to the New Way of Working. This was summarized in the Commitment to Action signed by the former UN Secretary-General and nine UN Principals at the WHS, and endorsed by the World Bank and others. Transcending the humanitarian-development divide by working to collective outcomes was also widely supported by donors, NGOs, crisis-affected States and others, and it received more commitments at the WHS than any other area. The need to ensure that all parts of the UN system work towards collective outcomes based on their comparative advantage was also identified by a number of cross-regional Member States as one of five key recommendations for the incoming Secretary-General.

Ending needs by reducing risks and vulnerability is now a shared vision under the SDG umbrella, and it transcends this decades-old divide. The New Way of Working offers a concrete, do-able and measurable path forward. Even with this shared vision, the UN system is not designed to easily work across sectors. The changes required to make this approach work are institutionally and financially complex and will need sustained leadership for many years. However, the results will not only improve the lives of the most vulnerable people, but they will also make reductions in risk and vulnerability that are essential to achieving the SDGs.

The New Way of Working can be described as working over multiple years towards collective outcomes, based on the comparative advantage of a diverse range of actors, including those outside the UN system. Wherever possible, those efforts should reinforce and strengthen the capacities that already exist at national and local levels. A collective outcome can be described as the result that development and humanitarian actors (and other relevant actors) want to have achieved at the end of three to five years, e.g., reducing cholera infections in Haiti from 50,000 in 2017 to zero in 2021.

The approach is not a handover or linear transition from humanitarian to development actors, as this has proven not to work. Rather, it acknowledges that in order to effectively reduce humanitarian needs, risks and vulnerability and build people’s resilience, humanitarian and development actors need to work side by side to implement a range of well-aligned short-, medium- and longer-term approaches. This requires a boost in development action in fragile and conflict-affected States, as well as development instruments that are more flexible and adaptable.

This approach will always be tailored to context. Humanitarian principles will always guide humanitarian action, and nothing should undermine this. However, respect for humanitarian principles and better coordination with a variety of actors are not mutually exclusive. Determining whether humanitarian principles are at risk will require highly context-specific, pragmatic decisions to inform the best approach to increase coherence between development and humanitarian efforts.

OCHA is helping to advance policy and operational discussions on humanitarian-development-peace nexus issues, including in relevant global-level working groups and in the field.


Eighty per cent of humanitarian action is conducted in conflict zones. For many years, the international community has been in a state of crisis management, reacting to events rather than proactively engaging in prevention and addressing root causes. Prevention and peacebuilding are generally initiated too late and not prioritized or insufficiently sustained. This often results in human suffering and prolonged humanitarian need.

UN integration is the framework that brings the UN system together to support peace consolidation in conflict and post-conflict situations with a UN peacekeeping or special political mission and a UN Country Team. At its essence, UN integration calls for UN political, security, development, human rights and humanitarian actors to work together and integrate their efforts in a way that is appropriate and tailored to the context. Critically for humanitarians, specific safeguards for principled humanitarian action are built into UN integration policy.

For more than 10 years, Member States have stressed the importance of conflict prevention and mediation. A number of changes have been made, but a culture of prevention has not been embraced by the UN and its Member States. Member States have not sufficiently invested in addressing the root causes of conflict, nor has the UN generally been able to engage in conflict prevention early enough in emerging crises, as documented in the 2015 Report of the High-Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations (HIPPO).

The latest iteration of the peace-development-humanitarian nexus was elaborated through commitments under The Peace Promise at the WHS. Twelve UN entities, the World Bank and 15 NGOs signed commitments to more effective synergies among peace, humanitarian and development actions in complex humanitarian situations, citing the responsibility to work together across silos to address the drivers of violent conflict, delivering humanitarian assistance and developing institutions, resilience and capacities simultaneously in a complementary and synergetic way in order to end humanitarian needs in a context-specific manner that safeguards humanitarian principles . Specific commitments included a focus on the alignment and coherence of collective short-, medium- and long-term objectives, regular context/risk analysis, and sustained, risk-tolerant financing.

OCHA’s engagement in the peacebuilding agenda focuses on ensuring that humanitarian issues are well articulated, where relevant, in that agenda. OCHA also supports drafting and implementing a number of Secretary-General’s reports (see below). In this regard, OCHA is supporting the process of clarifying roles and responsibilities in priority areas, which is a key step in strengthening global capacity, greater predictability of response and accountability.


[1] The top 10 operations of the International Committee of the Red Cross have lasted an average of 36 years.
[2] The gap between what is requested and what is received has also continued to grow, with a 51.5per cent funding gap ($10.2 billion) as of 16 November 2016, the largest ever in absolute terms. Forthcoming World Humanitarian Data and Trends 2016, OCHA; Humanitarian Funding Update (October 2016); Financial Tracking Service.
[3] The UN70 initiative, launched at the UN General Assembly in 2016, was created by Colombia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan, Mexico and Norway. Among its five recommendations to the next Secretary-General was the need to “Ensure that all parts of the UN system, based on their comparative advantage, work together towards collective outcomes to reduce need, vulnerability and risk, and support national and local efforts, while ensuring respect for humanitarian principles.” 


Report of the Secretary-General on peacebuilding in the immediate aftermath of conflict, A/64/866-S/2010/386
Peacebuilding and Linkages with Humanitarian Action: Key Emerging Trends and Challenges, August 2011 - OCHA