Can local stabilisation lead to national recovery?


Millions of people are forced to survive during war: hiding from snipers, searching for medicine, relying on food aid. Emergency humanitarian assistance provides urgent, important relief. But this is not sustainable. Somalia’s civil war relentlessly pursued for over 20 years. No one anticipated such a long, complex conflict; likewise in Syria. Large scale foreign humanitarian assistance over a prolonged period is costly, blocks development and creates dependency. For decades, there has been a clear distinction between humanitarian aid and longer-term development. The former surged into the public consciousness through the famines in Biafra in the 60s, Ethiopia in the 80s and Bosnia in the 90s.  In contrast, longer-term development was reserved for stable environments which sought to increase socio-economic welfare.

However, this dichotomy is fading.

Reponses to recent crises in Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Mali, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan have substantially transformed development’s modus operandi.  As States collapsed and civil unrest spread, innovative solutions to reinforce social cohesion and welfare have appeared. Stabilisation programmes are now jump starting development in the midst of conflict by facilitating grants for communities and local governments to manage, implement and monitor their own public services – and fast. Of course, there are challenges; such programmes are highly political and gatekeepers are common. In fragile states, illegitimate local governors or councils can sometimes prevent access or be nepotistic, which only inflames tension. Extensive conflict analyses and finding the right people to work with is difficult, but crucial.

However, the benefits outweigh the challenges: democracy doesn’t have to wait for a central government to be formed and agile teams move quickly to meet immediate needs. Most aid organisations only provide a few, limited services (food, health or water), but stabilisation programmes work across sectors. Democratic community representatives and governments work together – fostering social cohesion - to provide for their own people. This ensures real local ownership and sustainability. Most stabilisation projects also employ the majority of its staff from conflict-affected areas which simulates the local economy.

In Central African Republic, local and traditional institutions stepped into the void left in the absence of a functioning central government. The outbreak of ethnic violence and the surge of militia across the country led to the collapse of traditional hierarchical and societal structures. Stabilisation programmes are revitalising decentralised administrations to achieve local stabilisation and national recovery. This includes developing local legal service advisory councils to solve grievances and supporting community radios to develop public discussion and debate between communities and local governments.
In Somalia, communities are rebuilding roads together with their local government, and in Syria local councils are building bakeries to ensure their community has continual access to food. Stabilisation programmes are still relatively nascent, so time will tell, but evidence suggests that local stabilisation can - and should - assist national recovery.

When should stabilisation initiatives start? How can such programmes work with humanitarian aid agencies? How can stabilisation programmes mitigate high risk? Join us at the European Union’s Development Days this week: