As the nature of conflict has changed in the post-Cold War era, so too has the UK government’s policy discourse on development aid. Since DfID’s first White Paper in 1997, Eliminating World Poverty: a challenge for the 21st Century, we have witnessed a growing recognition that development and security are intrinsically linked. Over the last decade the UK has placed great emphasis on stabilising fragile and conflict-affected states, and the Coalition Government took Labour’s work on this a step further in 2011 with their Building Stability Overseas Strategy (BSOS), an integrated approach to defence, development and diplomacy to ensure a durable and positive peace in fragile states.
Some may use the increased assistance offered to countries like Yemen as a rallying cry to denounce the ‘securitisation of aid’, but the facts suggest that this strategic shift is necessary – both morally and logically.
Over 1.5 billion people currently live in fragile and conflict-affected states and it’s no coincidence that not one of these has yet achieved a single Millennium Development Goal. People in fragile or conflict-affected states are more than twice as likely to be undernourished as those in other developing countries, more than three times as likely to be unable to send their children to school, twice as likely to see their children die before age five, and more than twice as likely to lack clean water. This is simply unacceptable.
Inequality and poverty are principal drivers of conflict – those who lack opportunity and a stake in their future are far more likely to turn to violence. Tackling these issues ‘upstream’ can go a long way to preventing future conflict. With the cost of insecurity generated by conflict totalling a global annual burden of $400 billion, being proactive makes fiscal sense. In terms of trade and investment, the incentives are also clear. The average cost of civil war is equivalent to more than 30 years of GDP growth for a medium-size developing country, and trade levels after major episodes of violence can take 20 years to recover.
The UK has championed the search for solutions internationally – from the key role of women in peacebuilding, to the need for greater urgency and coordination in post-conflict reconstruction. We have been consistent under both Labour and this Coalition government. With the publication of BSOS and the World Development Report on Conflict, Security and Development in 2011 we now have a road map, both nationally and internationally, to transform interventions and change millions of lives. Tonight, I will be asking the government about the progress they have made since the publication of BSOS. Is the Early Action Funding Facility working? Have they established the independent assessment of their conflict prevention work? How are they taking forward building capacity in regional institutions, like the African Union, and the ‘prevention partnerships’ with the emerging powers, like Brazil? Has the new internal Watchlist of fragile countries made a difference?
But this week is also a chance to influence policy in the next decade and beyond. The Prime Minister will co-chair and host the UN High-Level Panel established to report on the development framework required after the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals in 2015. Peacebuilding is the most important development challenge of our age, so his is a fantastic opportunity for the UK to put issues of conflict and development centre stage.
The MDGs were a product of their time. They focused on basic services and needs. But the world has moved on and today the poorest and most vulnerable people live in countries affected by violent conflict. I want us to use our leadership role in the High-Level Panel to insist that the new development framework reflects the importance of personal security and freedom from violence. New goals should specifically reference justice and the institutions that guarantee it. They should also provide for employment to underpin the social development that is the best method of conflict prevention. This week the Prime Minister must say clearly that we want to see these advances discussed, debated and agreed, and that we will use our unique position in the UN Security Council, the European Union, the World Bank and the Commonwealth to make this happen.
For the millions who suffer from conflict around the world, this is a matter of life and death. We should put them first.