2.6 billion people have been affected by natural disasters over the past ten years. Over 1.5 billion human beings are today living in countries affected by a violent armed conflict. There are 60 million refugees around the world. “Crises” are no longer an exception. From the tragedy in the Central African Republic to the Ebola epidemic or the recurrent security tensions in the Sahel region, the areas exposed to crisis are expanding. Helping the victims of these tragedies poses a constant challenge to the humanitarian community. This is also a cause for concern for development agencies, whose intervention methods need to adapt in order to address shocks related to the long-lasting human, economic, social and political consequences of crises.

Jeunes réfugiés syriens réunis au sein d'un groupe de soutien psychologique dans une des écoles gérées par les ONG ASMAE et Alpha, financées par l'AFD - Photo par : Benjamin Petit / AFD
Jeunes réfugiés syriens réunis au sein d'un groupe de soutien psychologique dans une des écoles gérées par les ONG ASMAE et Alpha, financées par l'AFD - Photo par : Benjamin Petit / AFD
 This Op-Ed originally appeared on

“Crises”: A result and structural cause of underdevelopment

Crises cause suffering, whether they are induced by man or a natural disaster. They are synonymous with lost opportunities or steps backward. The advent of a crisis can destroy the economic and social progress achieved during a generation. When it is uncontrolled, it spreads well beyond the borders of the countries where it emerges and can sustainably mark the trajectories of entire regions. This is currently the case in the Middle East with what the UN considers as “the most serious refugee crisis since the Second World War”. 4 million refugees and over 7 million displaced persons!

Crises are complex and do not follow any chronological or geographical linearity. The situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) demonstrates this: very different contexts coexist, calling at the same time for security, humanitarian and development responses. Certain regions in the extreme North and East of the country remain marked by heavy fighting, which hampers access for humanitarian assistance, while in Bangui or secondary cities such as Berberati and Bambari, it is not only possible but necessary to immediately trigger development dynamics so that the country can retake control of its future. This involves reviving agricultural production in some areas, reviving access to healthcare in others in order to ensure economic recovery and strengthen essential public services provided to stricken populations.

Meeting the multiple challenges of crises is not easy for development donors who, by definition, finance projects over the long term. It is however, and increasingly so, a requirement of their mandate. What can they do?


Five principles for action

The action required involves:

  1. Coordinating more effectively humanitarian and development projects. For example, France’s action to combat Ebola in Guinea started by financing and installing treatment centers, one of which was run by the Red Cross in Macenta at the heart of the region the most severely hit by the virus. But this emergency response was also combined with financing for an Institut Pasteur in Conakry, intended to develop national and regional diagnostic and epidemic control capacities over the long term. In other words, meeting vital needs while immediately strengthening local capacities to prepare for the future.
  1. Targeting operations with a “double dividend”, which have an impact on both local development and weaknesses that fuel the crisis. For example, in Bangui, AFD is financing a “high labor-intensive” stormwater drainage program, in other words, a project that provides a large number of jobs. The objective is not only to provide the capital with a cleaner environment and avoid flooding, but also to occupy and train an urban youth that has become the main recruitment pool for entrepreneurs of violence. AFD also invests in Mali’s education system in order to scale up access to youth training. In the Sahel region, it supports rural water projects in order to reduce tensions between farmers and herders. In Gaza and Lebanon, it works with NGOs to manage the traumas endured by populations, with the objective of promoting resilience and limiting the reproduction of violence. All these actions contribute, at their level, to dealing with some of the structural causes of crises.
  1. Working more together in these extremely volatile and complex contexts. In CAR, the European Commission and German, Dutch and French cooperation have set up the Bêkou Fund (“hope” in Sango) to pool their financing (emergency and development funds) for the country’s reconstruction, but also to more effectively coordinate their initiatives. Several projects have been launched: one to strengthen the health system, the second to rehabilitate public infrastructure in Bangui, a third for the economic and social empowerment of women. While the test needs to be developed further, this approach is an important step on the road towards collective action combining short and long-term financing: an imperative of coordination to enhance effectiveness.
  1. Always working with local actors – public authorities, but also NGOs, entrepreneurs and civil society associations. They alone can ensure the continuity and sustainability of development operations. It is therefore vital to involve them as early as possible. This is the objective of the new call for projects that AFD has just launched to support Syrian refugees and communities who host them in the Middle East. This financing, which uses one of AFD’s new financial tools for crisis and post-crisis situations, aims to support the capacities of local actors (NGOs, municipalities…) and the strengthening of social services in order to promote peaceful coexistence. A quarter of Lebanon’s population is made up of Syrian refugees (1.4 million people).
  1. Learning from past experiences together. The different donors and beneficiaries need to take time to enhance the feedback loop to take their innovative practices forward, draw conclusions from the difficulties and failures encountered, and create knock-on or leverage effects with other donors. The Centre for Mediterranean Integration (CMI) is an example of the type of platforms for learning and exchange between practitioners North and South of the Mediterranean. This capitalization work conducted during meetings gathering technical ministries, local government representatives, multilateral organizations such as the World Bank and the United Nations, civil society organizations and bilateral donors needs to be continued and stepped up.


Plan for Security and Development jointly in order to avoid risks of mismatch

The financing mobilized by AFD for crisis and post-crisis situations may seem marginal compared to the scale of needs. It goes without saying that it will never single-handedly provide a response to the impacts of crises. But when it is complementary to humanitarian actions and the financing of other donors (European Union, World Bank, US, UK, large philanthropic foundations), it provides essential support for the affected populations and France’s partners. Prior to and after periods of crisis, the objective is to reduce the risk factors and invest in all the drivers for development, which is the only sustainable way out of the crisis.

In the Sahel region, faced with the extremist threat, the international security response alone will be insufficient if it is not backed by an extensive development action plan, capable of supporting progress and peace. There can be no sustainable development without security. But, at the same time, there can be no sustainable security without development.

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