Wednesday

21st Feb 2024

Opinion

Let's put peace at the heart of the development debate

As aid is increasingly spent less in the least developed countries, a new report by Concord has revealed the EU is diverting an increasing proportion of spending towards conflict and security - to the point it has in the last decade outpaced all aid growth.

The amount and allocation of overseas development assistance (ODA) have always been contentious issues, but the recent Oxfam sex abuse revelations propelled the sector into the spotlight like never before.

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Within a sobering climate of crisis and uncertainty, leaders from across the community gathered at the London-based international development conference to exchange ideas about how the sector must move forward.

UK secretary of state for international development, Penny Mordaunt, said it has been our "failure to put the beneficiaries of aid first", that has caused us to stray from delivering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

The solution she proposed, is for the department for international development (DfID) to cooperate more closely with the ministry of defence.

However, this is in direct contrast to a number of international NGO leaders who disagree with further merging development agendas with military expansion.

The current development model requires a radical change in approach that drives forward programmes with values of human rights, biodiversity and peace-building at their core.

Cultivate earth democracy

With an ecosystem that is already 80 percent destroyed and unprecedented widespread global displacement, it is necessary to shift towards a biodiversity paradigm that promotes what environmental activist Vandana Shiva refers to as "earth democracy", through co-empowering, co-creating and co-producing.

Citing Bhutan as exemplary, the biodiversity advocate urges a greater respect for culture, protecting forests and measuring wellbeing as opposed to GDP; the most powerful number that rules our life, but increases poverty and worsens life.

Shiva insists that "poverty, malnutrition and education is all achievable by respecting the earth", but if we continue to build structures by ruining the foundations, the entire system will collapse.

Centralise women's rights

Inevitably, international aid and development is a matter of transforming power relations and the distribution of power around the world, which is why the director of programmes at the African Women's Development Fund, Jessica Horn is resolute about women's rights being central to our vision in order for progress to occur.

Horn asserted the need to rethink discourses of security, considering a third of women experiencing physical or sexual violence in their lifetime as a proportionately bigger issue than terrorism.

It is imperative for money to be spent less on armies and more for humans, because "I can tell you as an African, we don't need any more guns", she stressed.

Prioritise peace-building

Conflicts drive 80 percent of all humanitarian needs and according to International Alert, the share of global poverty in fragile states is projected to increase to 80 percent by 2035.

The organisation's chief, Harriet Lamb consequently calls on governments to establish specific funds to aid politics and economics in affected areas - emphasising that "peace impact must run through everything we do."

In the alarming climate of more people dying in wars today than they have in the past 25 years, in conjunction with the ever-shrinking space for civil society particularly in fragile states, we must encourage more solidarity and less armed services delivery.

Using Mali as an example of where a hard security response and exclusion of the Tuareg people prevents development, Lamb outlined the illogical spending distribution of less than one percent on peace-building in comparison to the military.

Security vs civil society

There is a clear consensus within the sector that aid and development organisational frameworks must shift away from security to a model that promotes peace, human rights and biodiversity.

The UK government's pledge to strengthen military relations to improve global security demonstrates a lack of communication with the very people carrying out the work.

We cannot expect to achieve a single UN Sustainable Development Goal if policymakers continue to ignore the recommendations of experts, so why are they not listening?

As the Concord report outlines, aid spending is often determined by EU political leaders who implement reactive, crisis-response decisions that are results-driven – such as terror attacks or refugee movements.

Consequently, donor countries are focusing more and more on national security interests as opposed to the development of insecure countries. "Only by realising development goals driven by our partner countries can we create the preconditions for long lasting peaceful societies", the report states.

Moving forward, the clash in values been civil society and policymakers may present challenges for organisations who rely on government funding streams, while an increasingly military-heavy agenda is likely to further distort the public's perception of the purpose of aid.

Ultimately, true global progress requires politicians around the world to understand that prioritising empowering local civil society organisations and supporting partner governments to promote human rights, is critical to improving security in all countries and relations with fragile states.

After all, shifting focus away from the very people living in poverty is in direct contradiction to the purpose.

Anastasia Kyriacou works for AidEx

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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