Mourad Wahba
Assistant Secretary-General, Assistant Administrator, and Regional Director

 

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Dubai International Humanitarian and Aid Development Conference and Exhibition

Session: “The Humanitarian, Development & Peace Nexus”

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Check against Delivery

At the outset, allow me to acknowledge His Royal Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, for his leadership and patronage of this event. Since 2004 DIHAD has been a very important milestone for sharpening the international humanitarian and development agenda, providing an important opportunity for decision makers to increase our collective effectiveness. His Highness is to be commended for this, as one of his many contributions to humanitarian and development work across the region and the world.

I am very pleased to have been invited to speak with you today on a topic that is very dear to me as Director of the Regional Bureau for Arab States of the United Nations Development Programme, which is the humanitarian, development and peace nexus.

It is a timely topic, for a timely conference. Today, record numbers of people are affected by conflicts and disasters. Humanitarian crises are now more complex and longer lasting than ever before, especially those driven by increasing patterns of conflict. As an international community our task is to find ways to utilize finite resources to provide support that meets these growing humanitarian needs, while also paving a way to durable solutions that help reduce need in the medium and longer-term, allow progress towards Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals, and provide conditions supportive of peace.

This is an urgent task, indeed one whose necessity is growing rapidly.

As highlighted in the Pathways for Peace report launched by the UN and the World Bank a few days ago, and referred to at the Fragility Forum which began yesterday in Washington, DC, today there are more countries experiencing violent conflict than at any time in nearly 30 years. Since 2010, the number of major violent conflicts has tripled, and fighting in a growing number of lower intensity conflicts has escalated. At least 1.6 billion people worldwide today are living in situations of fragility, and by 2030 it is estimated that more than half of the world’s poor could be living in countries affected by high levels of violence. We are, in short, living in an age of conflict.

One of the key analytical implication of this age of conflict, is that the expectations of steady social, economic and political advance which prevailed around the turn of the millennium have been strongly challenges. The practical implication is that we must find ways to more sustainably and comprehensively, while also investing in prevention so as to reduce need in a foreseeable future.

Urgent action is needed if we are to put an end to the age of conflict, and resume a path to achieve the promise of Agenda 2030 and the SDGs. The impacts of conflict on development accumulate profoundly over time. Infrastructure and institutions can be quickly destroyed, but can take decades to rebuild. Exposure to violence can have lifelong impacts on well-being. When basic service delivery is halted or its quality compromised, generations left without carry the impacts for the rest of their lives. Drops in investment, together with budget redirection, put tremendous strain on state capacity. Countries at war lose an average of 8.5 percentage points in economic grown in the first year of civil war and 4.5 percent in subsequent years. These effects persist for several years following the end of hostilities.

Strengthening our response at the humanitarian-development-peace nexus thus has holds the potential save lives and avoid the immense losses in human and economic capital that accompany conflict – while safeguarding development gains and preserving a path to the SDGs. It is also cost effective - research cited in Pathways for Peace shows that targeting resources toward just four countries at high risk of conflict could prevent USD 34 billion in losses annually. In comparison, spending on peacekeeping and humanitarian operations in 2016 was USD 8.2 billion and USD 22.1 billion, respectively.

These facts are at the foundation of the points raised in the concept note for this session, which posits, and correctly, that it is simply not possible for the humanitarian community to continue to feed, provide shelter and care for the many millions who are in need of humanitarian assistance. We must do better with the resources at hand, in a way that not only addresses immediate needs but indeed reduces need in the medium and longer terms.

And while these trends are global in nature, since we are in the Arab States region today let me underscore that it is here where the needs are growing the fastest, and it is therefore in our region where we must continue to innovate.

Indeed, increased levels of violent conflict have most affected the Middle East and North Africa. As our UNDP Arab Human Development Report 2016 pointed out, Arab countries are home to only 5 percent of the world’s population, but in 2014 they accounted for 45 percent of the world’s terrorist incidents, 68 percent of its battle-related deaths, 47 percent of its internally displaced population, and 58 percent of its refugees. In that same volume, we predicted that by 2010 nearly three out of every four Arabs could be living in countries vulnerable to conflict.

These conflicts are not only subjecting our region to tremendous humanitarian need, but they are also erasing decades of development and forestalling progress towards the vital 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Take the case of Iraq since 2014. While major military operations concluded last year, and millions of displaced Iraqis have started to return to their communities, three years of continuous conflict and economic stagnation between 2014 and 2017 have impacted nearly every aspect of Iraqi society. Poverty rates in Kurdistan have doubled and unemployment has trebled in many communities. Payrolls for government employees have been cut or delayed. Agricultural production has declined by 40 per cent, undermining the country’s food sufficiency, and hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to migrate to urban areas for jobs and support. The number of health consultations performed in health clinics has increased eightfold and around 23 hospitals and more than 230 primary health facilities have been damaged or destroyed. Schools in the governorates impacted by ISIL are forced to convene three sequential sessions to cope with the increased number of students. Nearly 3.5 million school-aged Iraqi children attend schoolirregularly, or not at all, and more than 600,000 displaced children have missed an entire year of education.

All told, while indeed recent developments have been positive, this is a country facing one of the most acute humanitarian, security and development crises in the region. Partners estimate that 8.7 million Iraqis are in humanitarian need in 2018; more than 3 million Iraqis have been displaced since the start of 2014 and over 260,000 are refugees in other countries. The country is also now hosting over 230,000 registered refugees from Syria.

These factors have placed additional stress not only on displaced and refugees but also on host communities beset with several socio-economic difficulties, destroyed livelihoods, and led to increased poverty and rising tensions. They also come atop decades of displacement and decay driven by the conflict and violence predating the emergence of ISIL.

The net result has been seen not only in increasing tension and political fragmentation, but indeed in a long and powerful reversal of development which rendered a country once proud of many aspects of progress, now struggling to hold on to the fruits of advances of the past.

That’s why as the United Nations our support in Iraq squarely targets the center of the humanitarian, development, peace nexus. The fighting has now stopped, but there is an enormous task ahead. Iraqis are rebuilding their society. They are trying to bring an end to their long age of conflict.

As the Secretary-General affirmed at the Conference on Reconstruction, the UN system will do its part and stands with the people and the government of Iraq, every step of the way.

Millions of displaced people have already returned home to rebuild their lives.

But some 2.5 million people are still displaced.

Helping them to return home safely and voluntarily, and with dignity, is one of Iraq’s highest priorities.

The UN Development Programme’s Funding Facility for Stabilization is working in 25 cities and districts, supporting the return of displaced communities to their homes, laying the groundwork for reconstruction and recovery.

But we must and will do more, and that’s why together with the Government of Iraq, the UN, World Bank and partners are rolling out the United Nations Recovery and Resilience Programme for Iraq.

This two-year programme is designed to help the Government fast-track the social dimensions of reconstruction.

It aims to make immediate and tangible improvements to people’s daily lives.

It will revitalize areas that are at risk of violence, and support broad political participation and inclusive social development.

The Recovery and Resilience programme will help those who have suffered most, and will be implemented alongside our stabilization work and our broader support for education, culture and heritage; for a strategy to prevent the recurrence of violent extremism; with development programmes that prioritize youth employment; with specific support for women and girls who have suffered horrifically; and with support for national reconciliation and unity.

It is worth noting that this programme does not exist in a vacuum. It is rather part of a current wave of improved approaches that the UN is implementing across the region. Last month our UNDP Administrator and the head of OCHA launched a Resilience and Recovery Framework in Mogadishu, in partnership with the Government of Somalia. In Yemen and in Libya, we similarly work together to bridge humanitarian and development cooperation in ways that build resilience and promote stabilization. And in countries neighboring Syria, since 2014 a coalition of well over 100 partners led by UNDP and UNCHR are implementing the regional refugee and resilience programme, seeking to aid refugees while also supporting generous host communities and countries to remain on their development pathways.

Altogether this is what we refer to as the New Way of Working. This way of working also supports the Secretary-General’s prevention agenda, which in the medium and longer-run is the only way to reverse the trends of conflict we are seeing today around the region of the world, and keep communities, especially the poorest, and women, and young people who suffer disproportionately, on the path to the promise of the 2030 Agenda in a way that leaves no one behind.

So where do we go from here? Let me propose three avenues for further consideration:

-First, instruments. While we all agree on working across silos, we would still be conducting separate analysis – humanitarian, political or development trends. Partly, this reflects our agency structures, but also different budgetary structures among donors. As a first step, before even joint action is envisaged, would be joint analysis. Thus much of the innovation pioneered in the UAE, including data visualization, can help.

-Second, funding perspectives. A common trope in intergovernmental discussion is the disparity between expenditures on humanitarian crises compared to development funding. I think this may well hold true in the era of ODA. But I believe we need to widen our lens to take into account longer term data, as humanitarian crises tend to attract funding for a limited time and space. But beyond comparisons, can we envisage a broader analysis and consideration by funding entities not only for immediate needs, but also for the long-term.

-Third, Joint action. This last point would seem to be self-evident, yet joint action to a great extent eludes us as time of crisis in the region, where does one find the beginnings of joint action, for instance the Regional Refugee and Resilience Programme for Syrian refugees and host communities in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, and perhaps the Recovery and Resilience Framework in Somalia that seeks to tackle the root causes of drought, even as we deal with the consequences on the population.

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