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Cracking the Code: Enhancing Emergency Response & Resilience in Complex Crises

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In 2015 and 2016 the international community will attempt to reshape how it helps the poorest people in the world and those most vulnerable to conflict and disaster. The new Sustainable Development Goals, launched in September, will be followed in May 2016 by the first ever World Humanitarian Summit. These are rare moments to change the way the world helps those most in need. This paper is a contribution from Mercy Corps to these debates. It is based on five case studies that outline Mercy Corps’ particular experience of working in conflict-affected and fragile states around the world.

International initiatives are not the only reason bold thinking is needed now. The world is facing a new normal of unprecedented challenges. More people are forcibly displaced now than at any time since 1945, with more than 59 million internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers and stateless people. Internally displaced persons are now displaced for an average of 17 years. Globally economic losses from natural disasters are US$300 billion a year and rising fast. The UN estimates that by 2050 up to a billion people will be displaced by climate change and 40 percent of the world’s population will be living in areas suffering from water shortages. Rapid urbanization and a “youth bulge” in developing countries add to the complexity.

Increasingly, poverty is concentrated in countries with violent conflict and state fragility. Currently, the 50 countries on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2015 fragile list account for 43 percent of people living on less than US$1.25 a day. By 2030 this concentration could rise to 62 percent. Addressing the problems of conflict-affected and fragile states is therefore no longer tangential to the broader development agenda. The proposed Sustainable Development Goals include especially ambitious aims for the next 15 years, including to “end poverty in all its forms, everywhere.” With people in poverty increasingly concentrated in fragile states, more effective and efficient ways must be found to resolve the underlying causes of those crises. Otherwise, wider ambitions for global development and poverty reduction will fail. In this paper it is argued that the existing aid architecture is not designed to tackle the underlying problems of 21st-century fragile states. Designed in the 20th century, the current system embeds a separation of short-term humanitarian approaches from long-term development; it is too centralized and top down; it is overly focused on the UN; it is too inflexible.