The triple nexus: Humanitarian, Development and Peace actions. An opportunity with challenges to face


In recent years, humanitarian needs brought about by the complexity of protracted crises, forced displacements, and conflicts have been decisive in the international community’s advance towards a new, more global and inclusive response framework that includes not only humanitarian action and development, but also the dimension of peace.  

Therefore, the triple nexus approach is: humanitarian, development and peace actions, setting out from the acknowledgement that humanitarian crises may be caused, or affected, by political actions feeding inequality and increasing vulnerability and conflict. As a result, a comprehensive approach which considers the nexus between humanitarian aspects, development and peace can constitute an opportunity to address these deeper causes, thereby reducing vulnerability and working for peace, turning them into key components for sustainable development.    

Although the triple nexus approach is relatively new, concerns over dealing with people’s and communities’ vulnerability in facing an emergency is not. Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development (LRRD) represented the first efforts to link the humanitarian response to development by reducing different forms of vulnerability, improving resilience and reducing future risks.

The first World Humanitarian Summit, in 2016, and the Agenda for Humanity that came out of it, paved the way for progression in the link between humanitarian action, development and peace. During the Summit, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General called for us to overcome the division among different actors involved in peacebuilding, humanitarian action and development to effectively respond to the major humanitarian challenges we face. This involves not only responding to pressing humanitarian needs, but also reducing the need for aid in the long term.  

Since then, both the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) have taken important steps towards implementing the triple nexus. The UN’s “A New Way of Working” approach, led by its Secretary-General, together with the World Bank (WB) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), looks to “transcend the divide between the humanitarian and development actors” and galvanise partnerships between humanitarian, development and peace actors to achieve so-called “collective outcomes”, without forgetting the importance of multiple-year joint funding.

The EU has spent years, with differing degrees of success, incorporating the nexus between humanitarian action and development in approaching complex crises, involving not only the search for better coordination between actors, but also more effective assistance, better responding to the needs of populations affected. After the first World Humanitarian Summit, peace was incorporated as the third component of this nexus, and since then it has been endowed with a political framework for implementation, in which three Conclusions from the EU Council are noteworthy:  

  • “Council conclusions: implement the humanitarian-development nexus,” adopted from May 2017, in which there is acknowledgement of the interlinkage between poverty, conflict, fragility and forced displacement and, therefore, the need to address them in a way that is comprehensive and coherent.
  • The “Council conclusions on a strategic approach to resilience in the EU’s external action” adopted in November 2017, stressing the importance of anticipating, preparing for and preventing, and on the integration of resilience in the programmes and budgets of the EU’s external action.  
  • And the “Council’s conclusions on the integrated approach to external conflicts and crises”, adopted in January 2018, in which the links between sustainable development, humanitarian action, conflict prevention and peace consolidation are reiterated.

Finally, in February 2019 the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) approved the “Recommendation on the Humanitarian, Development and Peace Nexus”, in which it advocates prioritising prevention, investing in development and responding to humanitarian needs, putting people at the centre of the response, developing local and national capacities, and ensuring foreseeable, flexible and multi-year financing.   

For civil society organisations, the triple nexus could be a chance to better respond to humanitarian needs and development for people, particularly in protracted and complex crises. Doubts also arise, however, around the concept of peace. How exactly do civil society organisations define peace and which elements comprising it differ in how it is understood and approached by governments?

For NGOs, work on peace-related issues means working with communities on resolving conflicts, reconciliation, building social cohesion, and peace on a community level, whereas for many States peace is linked more to a political process to ensure it is maintained or built, or is linked to the dimension of human security. Moreover, peace is increasingly linked to security and anti-terrorist measures, a source of concern for NGOs given that in such an environment humanitarian principles disappear.  

Although, in theory at least, donors and aid recipients speak of respect for humanitarian principles, in truth aid is often instrumentalised, whereby there is an attempt to focus on political objectives or security. 

There is also concern over the concept of “collective outcomes" from the UN’s “New Way of Working” approach due to the implications regarding the independence of organisations, while some might interpret the concept as the search for complementarity between different mandates and actors, and others as an opportunity to incorporate humanitarian responses into broader political and security agendas.  

Therefore, for the platform of humanitarian organisations VOICE (Voluntary Organisations in Cooperation in Emergencies), triple nexus implementation requires:

  • People’s needs to be put at the centre of any response.
  • The active and meaningful participation of local and national actors from the outset, including NGOs.
  • An increase in planning and multi-year funding of humanitarian activities and the introduction of a system of crisis-based modifiers in development cooperation activities.
  • An improved community-based resilience approach.
  • Respecting and fostering International Humanitarian Law and humanitarian principles.
  • Promoting learning processes to progress in the implementation of the triple nexus and in a greater long-term commitment.

For civil society, the triple nexus approach cannot be top-down and directed by governments and international institutions. It should be more measured and bottom-up and should include from the very beginning the effective participation of people and communities directly affected and those organisations and institutions on the frontline. Furthermore, it should not impose one sole model of action, but should adapt to the reality of each context, including all necessary actors and resources. Only then can it work effectively.