Five reflections on the UK's International Development White Paper

The FCDO’s International Development White Paper (launched this week) is a welcome step in the right direction and a world away from the previous development strategy. The refocus on reducing poverty, tackling climate and reaching the SDGs is promising, and importantly, it contains clear and compelling analysis that conflict and fragility has become the biggest obstacle to global progress. But there are missed opportunities too.

Here are our five reflections on the paper.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office
Photo: Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (CC BY 2.0)
1. There is more attention on peace and conflict than recent strategies, but the strategy falls short of fully integrating it with development.

The White Paper recognises that conflict and fragility are key issues holding back the SDGs – estimating 80% of humanitarian need is driven by conflict. It also commits to working to reduce conflict and violence in fragile and conflict affected states and address the drivers and causes of crises. The FCDO’s goal to bring the whole of government together under the “UKDev” brand to deliver the White Paper commitments is a welcome one – and we will be following with interest how they plan to do this.

However, we would have liked to see the strategy recognise how peacebuilding approaches and activities can be harnessed to achieve the goals in the paper, and prioritise these accordingly. For example, our work in Tajikistan and Rwanda combines mental health, peacebuilding and economic approaches to successfully reduce gender-based violence and increase economic security for people living with the effects of conflict. The UK is correct to acknowledge that we are seeing multiple intersecting crises that place significant obstacles to development. The UK needs to see the full picture and harness the power of peace-positive programming in all areas of development.

2. The increase in funds being channelled to fragile and conflict-affected states is welcome news, however their specific challenges mean that they also need not just more but tailored funding with strong risk management mechanisms.

The White Paper commits the UK to prioritise its grant resources to the lowest income countries and communities, as well as spend at least 50% of all bilateral ODA in the LDCs by 2030, which are also the most vulnerable to the effects of conflict and climate change. The UK wants to ensure low- and middle-income countries get their share of the benefits from the “largest flow of capital ever seen into clean technologies”. This is a great opportunity.

But this commitment could have gone further in a pledge to programme in more fragile and conflict affected places and to set up mechanisms to ensure these new flows of finance that actually meet the needs of the two thirds of the world’s extreme poor who will be living in conflict-affected states by 2030. Our Fuelling Conflict report shows that funding and projects that are not sensitive to local conflict dynamics can actually make conflicts worse and endanger the benefits the projects seek to gain. We need to see the UK set up tailored funding models and programmes that will effectively address the diverse needs of conflict-affected countries. For example, by setting up public-private partnership models to de-risk investments by providing partial funding, technical facilities and guarantees to projects in fragile settings. The UK also needs to increase the proportion of funding that goes towards peacebuilding.

3. It is positive that climate change is given such a high profile in UK international development, but the White Paper does not connect action on climate and action on conflict.

That the goal of the UK strategy is to end extreme poverty and tackle climate change and biodiversity loss is to be celebrated. But these challenges are interlinked with violence and conflict, hence they must be addressed in an integrated manner, in combination with preventing conflict and building peace. The paper recognises increased weather extremes will add to humanitarian need, but does it realise they will also drive conflict? Tensions over access to land, water or other natural resources are exacerbated by the impact of climate change. Ten of the 12 countries experiencing the highest ecological threats are suffering from violent conflict.

Climate security approaches (those that recognise and respond to the correlation between climate and conflict) are missing from the White Paper. Our work in Central Asia and Kenya on conflict sensitive locally led climate change action shows that adaptation programmes that are designed to address drivers of conflict can be transformative. You cannot have one without the other – the health of our climate, environment and our peace are inseparable and programmes must aim to bring about all three.

4. The White Paper talks about the importance of inclusion and the rights of women and girls, but it is not clear how this will be done in practice.

In conflict-affected countries, many groups of identities are likely to be marginalised or excluded in their government’s or local authorities’ decision-making structures. Women and girls are one of the largest of these groups, often due to patriarchal power dynamics. As a result, development policies and programmes are implemented without their and other’s input. In Nigeria, for example, women respondents to a survey undertaken by Alert called for more female judges in the court system to handle gender based violence cases, because they are currently dominated by patriarchal male judges who try to keep the family’s honour intact above the well-being of women and girls. The UK should include specific programming on civil society inclusion in their strategy.

We welcome the commitment to increase funding to and delivery through local women-led and women’s rights organisations. There is no time given on this commitment and in many of the contexts we work with the support is needed now more than ever. For this partnership to be meaningful, the UK needs to commit to long-term, flexible and sustainable funding for locally-led women’s rights organisations. The UK must trust them as partners and ensure it provides them with the core funding they need for longevity as part of their partnerships approach.

5. It is encouraging to see the UK thinking about its partnership approach, however true progress cannot be made until trust has been rebuilt and 0.7% as been restored.

We welcome the UK’s commitment to ensure its development offer responds to locally owned priorities and contexts and that grant aid is delivered as far as possible through local institutions. But policy reform is needed to remove the barriers for local organisations to do this. Lengthy and unnecessary reporting requirements, too-specific project criteria and short-term funding are all barriers to trusted partnership. The UK needs to trust those who are directly affected by conflict, climate change or other crises to know how to sustainable resolve them.

In our response to the White Paper call for evidence, we asked the FCDO ensure those most in need are heard directly at multiple levels – from in-country to HQ – and that there is transparency and accountability. We look forward to the upcoming strategy setting out how the UK will support local leadership on development, climate, nature and humanitarian action and ask that this will also include conflict and peace.