The UN is best known for its work responding to crises, from conflict to natural disasters. Yet prevention is always better, and less costly, than a cure. Secretary-General António Guterres has very deliberately made prevention a cornerstone of his agenda, reorienting the UN peace and security and development systems to better support Governments in building resilient and equitable social systems that can withstand shocks. This focus on prevention continues to gain ground, as evidenced by the burgeoning partnership between the UN and the World Bank to address “crisis-affected” situations. Today in Politically Speaking we look at that partnership, which has become even more important in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On 30 July, in remarks to the World Bank Board, the Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed spoke about the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the need for the UN and the World Bank to work ever more closely together in support of those hardest-hit –
highlighting the particular challenges faced by what the Bank characterizes as “fragile and conflict-affected situations”. “Prevention”, Ms. Mohamed stressed, “is the foundation of building back better”.
For the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs’ (DPPA) Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO), which serves as focal point for the UN system’s partnership with the World Bank in crisis-affected situations, prevention has been a growing area of focus for some years. A joint UN-World Bank study, Pathways for Peace in 2018, laid out the case for increased investment in prevention, referencing research that in some cases over the last two decades, a dollar spent on preventing crisis could save $16 in later costs. With the launch of its first-ever Fragility, Conflict and Violence Strategy in March, the Bank confirmed prevention as a key priority, including to support countries at high risk of conflict and to address “pockets of fragility” in countries that are otherwise stable. That creates new opportunities for UN partnership.
“It’s about supporting Governments to address the structural inequalities and grievances that can drive conflict, for example around access to basic services in marginalized regions, or access to natural resources”, notes Gillian Sheehan, PBSO’s Senior Partnership Advisor. “National stakeholders need not only political will to do this, but also accurate data, technical capacity, and financing over a sustained period. The UN’s normative mandates and field network, the World Bank’s financial clout and our respective technical strengths are complementary. By coming together, we can better work across the silos of peace and security, development, and humanitarian interventions.”
In several countries, the UN is supporting the Bank’s preparations to roll out a “Prevention and Resilience Allocation” (PRA) instrument. The PRA offers eligible Governments up to USD $700 million in additional concessional financing over three years, in return for progress against a national strategy and agreed milestones. First-movers are likely to include the Government of Burkina Faso, which led a joint assessment of prevention and peacebuilding needs last year with the UN, World Bank, African Development Bank and the EU. Others preparing early eligibility requests include Mozambique and Niger, where the UN will support tracking of milestones in its areas of expertise.
“Prevention starts by understanding drivers of fragility, emerging risks, and their interaction with decades of marginalization especially in borderlands and peripheral areas,” says Ecoma Alaga, Officer-in-Charge, Regional Section, DPPA-DPO West Africa Division. “Strategic partnerships, such as the one with the World Bank in Burkina Faso or Niger, enable us to come together more effectively to harness our capabilities and resources, and build a coalition of support towards preventative action.”
This is a step in the right direction, but much more support is still needed to shore up funding for prevention and peacebuilding efforts. Sheehan points out that this is even more critical in the context of COVID-19. “Pandemics tend to exacerbate inequalities in access to services, as well as mistrust in institutions. That is of concern everywhere, but most of all for countries seeking to prevent the escalation or recurrence of conflict. It’s important that financing is allocated in ways that are conflict-sensitive and don’t exacerbate existing grievances.”
This is why PBSO’s Humanitarian-Development-Peacebuilding and Partnership Facility (HDPP), part of the Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund, recently established a “COVID fast-track” to support timely joint risk analysis with the World Bank. The Facility normally provides grants to Resident Coordinators and UN field presences towards joint data, analysis and operational collaboration with the World Bank. The “fast track” option, which can be approved within 24 hours, deploys short-term consultants to work on risk analysis and conflict-sensitive recovery planning.
“We’ve seen a lot of interest in developing joint data platforms that can really disaggregate the differentiated impact of COVID within society and help improve the targeting of recovery efforts”, says program manager Farah Abdessamad. “The UN has the data, and by working with the Bank and Governments, we can build systems that allow a much more conflict-sensitive response”.
Recent approvals include support to the creation of a nationally-owned data platform aimed at coordinating data collection and access for socio-economic COVID-19 impact assessments in Afghanistan, to map conflict risks in Niger’s Tillabery and Diffa regions, and to explore universal basic income as a potential solution for marginalized women in Nepal. With additional requests in the pipeline from Latin America and other regions hard hit by COVID-19, and with renewed donor support, the Facility’s fast-track will be extended until the end of 2021.
“There was a rush of assessments regarding COVID, and HDPP support allows the UN to help the Government’s National Statistics and Information Authority oversee a better coordinated process, ensuring not only that support and assistance is better targeted, but greater coherence and cost efficiencies amongst those undertaking the services, by avoiding duplications and addressing gaps,” says Pamela F. Husain, Head of the UN Resident Coordinator Office in Afghanistan. “That not only strengthens coordination between the UN, the Bank and the Government, but also national capacities to lead evidence-based responses during future crisis”.
Title photo: This soap factory in Jalalabad city produces more than 30 metric tons of soap from crude oil per day. The factory which was established in 2014, also produces packing cartons. Jalalabad, March 2020. UNAMA Photo/Shafiqullah Waak.