We are delighted to see the British government this week refocusing its overseas aid towards stopping conflicts around the world. Launching its new aid policy, the government committed 50% of its international development budget to ‘fragile countries and regions’ – many of which are conflict-affected – and recognised ‘the crucial role peace and security play in development’.
Key points of its new policy aim to deliver this. In practical terms, a new £500m Crisis Reserve fund has been created to respond quickly to emerging crises, and £300m has been added to the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF), which supports crisis response, stability and security in priority countries.
In policy terms, two of the UK’s four objectives for its aid now relate to stopping conflicts. They are described as ‘Strengthening global peace, security and governance’ and ‘Strengthening resilience and response to crises’. To achieve these, departments across government will be mobilised and three cross- departmental funds will pool resources and expertise to produce joined-up action.
Crucially, overseas aid is seen as helping Britain’s national interests, as the country confronts global challenges including terrorism, migration, trade and disease – all of which are influenced by events in fragile and conflict-affected countries.
All of this is welcome news. As the new policy paper unequivocally states: ‘Conflict and instability are among the greatest threats to the elimination of poverty; this is now recognised internationally with a new Global Goal on peace, justice and strong institutions.’ It is good to see the signatures of both International Development Secretary Justine Greening and Chancellor George Osborne on such a statement.
Less welcome is the lack of detail on whether the government has yet recognised the vital role that can be played in conflict prevention and resolution by local peacebuilders. The policy paper makes almost no mention of civil society groups. Yet its stated desire to improve value for money ought to push it towards the low-cost, high-impact route of strengthening grassroots organisations wherever possible.
There is one exception in the paper. It cites an example from Somalia, where the CSSF is commended for ‘building partnerships with a range of Somali companies, NGOs, and universities to support Somali-designed grassroots projects in parts of Somalia recently recovered from Al Shabaab’. We would commend that approach too – and recommend to the government that it invests much more in such locally-designed grassroots projects. They are a key to building peace that is self-sustaining – so that one day, perhaps, outside assistance from the UK may not be needed at all.