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February 5, 2014

A New Opportunity to Reduce Violence and Prevent Conflict

In New York this week, member states of the United Nations, along with observers from civil society and other institutions, will be discussing the framework for development after the current set of Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) expire in December 2015. The current MDG’s, established in 2002, formed a blueprint that sought to galvanize resources and political will to meet the needs of the world’s poorest.  These needs include health, education and poverty reduction. While several important targets of the MDGs have or will be met by 2015 in some regions and sub-regions, attaining progress in conflict-affected countries has been significantly more challenging. As the MDGs near their expiration and their replacement takes shape, in the form of a post-2015 development framework, major efforts are underway to ensure that in the new plan, conflict and stability are included alongside the more traditional canon of development efforts.

1.5 billion people live in countries affected by fragility, conflict, or violence. A succession of major reports – including by the UN Secretary General and the World Bank, as well as a rapidly increasing body of work from international NGOs[i] – have affirmed the direct relationship between peace, stability, and development. Given the strong correlations between conflict and failure to achieve development goals, it is readily apparent that conflict negatively impacts economic and human development. Conflict disrupts markets, displaces populations, destroys schools, clinics, roads and other infrastructure, and scars families, communities, and societies. Further, conflict itself is expensive; the World Bank estimates the cost of armed conflict to be between $62-250 billion per year.

Since the spring of 2013, the UN and its member states have embarked on a series of consultations through an Open Working Group process to determine what a post-2015 framework should look like and whether new goals should be added.

This week, the Open Working Group is scheduled to discuss a number of topics, including whether to create goals on conflict prevention, post-conflict peacebuilding and the promotion of durable peace, rule of law and governance. It is encouraging that the Open Working Group is looking at these issues. For some time, and particularly since the World Bank put a new focus on conflict and development in 2011, discussions on how peace, personal safety and stability can help further progress on the goal of ending poverty have gained traction. After all, violence and conflict cause “development in reverse” by wrecking communities, destroying schools, undermining economic development, and can also impact the region by decreasing trade with neighboring countries.

Since this topic was established, there has been significant progress in furthering this discussion, as well as defining goals and targets. The UN Secretary General and High Level Panel of Eminent Persons have both endorsed goals and targets on both peaceful and stable societies and ensuring good governance and effective institutions.

There seems to be increasing interest in including goals and integrating these issues throughout the agenda, such as addressing violence against women and girls, ensuring birth registration for all nationals, and promoting land rights for all. These issues can make a critical contribution but are not a substitute for goals and targets on peace, personal safety and stability. Moreover, member states interested in these issues need to reassure countries that have expressed concern about the impact of such goals and targets on the role of the UN Security Council, which is of course responsible for international peace and security. New goals in this area can and should be oriented towards cooperative partnerships to prevent and reduce violence over the medium and long-term, as opposed to the UN Security Council’s mandate relating to crises and use of force. In addition, interested countries and organizations need to address arguments that these goals and targets are not measurable, which has been dispelled by a number of reports, including the report of the eminent persons.

There is a long road between now and when heads of state meet to agree to a new Post-2015 Development Framework. Work will be tough, and efforts to learn what is going on behind closed doors in New York and in capitals around the world will be difficult. There is substantial promise, however, in focusing donor and recipient countries on the need to achieve peace, personal safety, rule of law, and good governance as a way of promoting progress towards our shared goal of ending poverty.

[i] Documents include June 2012 UN Task Team report, May 2013 High Level Panel report, June 2013 UN Global Compact report, Sustainable Development Solutions Network report, September 2013 report of the UN Secretary-General presented to UNGA, 2013 survey of by the UN Development Group included hundreds of thousands of respondents from around the world and found ‘protection against crime and violence’ to be among the top priorities across different contexts.

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