Last week the long-awaited 2011 World Development Report: Conflict, Security and Development (WDR) was launched by the World Bank in London – an important stop on the global tour of the report. A poorly attended event took place in parliament swiftly followed by an over-crowded event for NGOs and think tanks.
The report has been widely welcomed as a ‘game-changer’, not so much because what it says is so new to the peacebuilding community, but because finally a major multilateral is saying it. This was one of International Alert’s Secretary General Dan Smith’s first points as he addressed the crowded room of INGOs, academics, policy analysts and officials.
The strength of the report is the well-articulated and solidly evidenced agenda for institutional change that it puts forward. It not only identifies the causes of violence and conflict, but also draws out lessons from societies that have successfully made progress in transitioning away from violence. The report highlights how the international community needs to adjust the way it approaches fragile and conflict-affected environments and draws out useful recommendations that can help the international community do better when it comes to supporting lasting peace and security.
However, there is a risk that following the momentum of the launches and the recent flurry of thought-provoking discussions, the enthusiasm of the international community will wain and multilaterals and bi-laterals operating in fragile and conflict-affected environments will return un-changed and un-checked to business as usual.
Fortunately, sections of the UK Government, particularly DFID, have long been advocating for the type of institutional shifts in behaviour that the report highlights. They are among the small pocket of donor countries that actively demand and support institutional change. Currently too few governments are using their influence as member-states of organisations like the World Bank and the UN to press for more specialised approaches to working in fragile and conflict-affected environments.
The low turn-out of politicians at the UK parliamentary launch of the WDR is disappointing precisely because the WDR needs high level political advocates to move its recommendations forward. Politicians need to draw from the WDR and lobby the government to maintain support for institutional reforms in line with the WDR, both to keep the pressure up from the UK Government and to encourage other governments to use their leverage as member-states of multilateral organisations. Without a political mandate from their member-states, multilaterals struggle to make the substantial changes required to meaningfully support the transformation of fragile and conflict-affected environments.
International Alert’s International Institutions Programme is working with partners in the field, and with donors and multilaterals directly to strengthen how international aid supports peacebuilding and development. The programme will be launching a documentary and a report later this year in New York and Washington DC to maintain and continue the dialogue on the institutional shifts required for better peacebuilding and development. For Alert, and the millions living in conflict, ‘business as usual’ is not an option.