Crisis management: moving from silos to networks

#CriticalThinking

Digital & Data Governance

Picture of Olivier Ray
Olivier Ray

Head of Sector, Crisis Prevention and Post-conflict Recovery at the Agence Française de Développement (AFD)

Picture of Ariane Joab-Cornu
Ariane Joab-Cornu

Agence Française de Développement (AFD)

Over the past decade, international crises have experienced more violent complications than peaceful resolutions. Confronted with a profound change in the nature of crises, the various stakeholders intervening in fragile societies – diplomats, humanitarians, security actors, development organisations and researchers – must change their methods to create a comprehensive and collective strategy to crisis prevention and conflict resolution.

Armed confrontations have taken on new forms: despite a disturbing revival of power strategies in recent years, direct war between states has become less frequent. Fuelled by poor development and the subsequent disintegration of social bonds, the crises of recent decades have been marked by a resurgence of civil wars. This mutation is also characterised by three-way crisis dissemination. First, crises pass quickly from local to global. Secondly, ‘conflict systems’ ignore borders and trap whole regions in cycles of crises. Thirdly, due to the links between political, economic, social and environmental crises, there is a diffusion of one type of crisis to another, leading to prolonged or chronic crisis situations. One example is Somalia, a country stuck in a fragility trap where crises have been superimposed upon each other for several decades.

The solutions formulated in recent decades are no longer able to solve or stem these crises. If coordinating bodies have multiplied to create synergy between various parallel interventions, operating in different independent pipelines remains the norm. This fragmentation too often results in a multiplication of specific actions which, despite their relevance, do not create the transformational effects required for exit from the crisis. Only a comprehensive approach will make it possible to go beyond simply treating the symptoms towards tackling the root cause of a crisis.

Only a comprehensive approach will make it possible to go beyond simply treating the symptoms towards tackling the root cause of a crisis

In Latin, the term ‘krisis’ describes the pivotal stage of a disease that can evolve towards healing or death. The approach to a crisis must begin with a diagnosis to identify its structural causes, factors of vulnerability to be reduced and elements of resilience to be reinforced. Like the collegiate body responsible for deciding on the most appropriate treatment for eradicating a disease, various stakeholders need to contribute to a joint analysis. Indeed, it is because we observe the world through different prisms that our analyses complement and enrich each other. Our different points of observation make it possible to highlight dimensions that are invisible to other actors.

The same holds true regarding crisis response, where joint analysis between diplomats, humanitarians, security actors, development organisations and researchers is still too rare. Humanitarian and development communities have adopted an approach that is now a quality standard in particularly fragile areas: the principle of ‘do no harm’ (primum non nocere), inspired by the Hippocratic oath. It consists of ensuring that external intervention does not risk unwittingly reinforcing the fragility factors at the origin of the crisis. Applied within the framework of a global approach, this principle allows us to avoid the risk of the action of one professional community jeopardising the achievements of another. In this regard, armies are already integrating rehabilitation requirements when targeting strikes, to avoid damaging infrastructure linked to essential services.

Diplomats realise that major announcements at international conferences can lead to unrealistic expectations, thereby increasing populations’ frustration and unintentionally contributing to renewed insecurity. Humanitarian and development actors are aware that poorly-targeted distribution programmes can be captured by armed groups and contribute to their rearmament. This realisation is probably a good start, but analysing the side-effects of remedies must go beyond the principle of ‘no harm’: the new dynamics of crises mean that short-, medium- and long-term actions must be deployed concomitantly and that effects on the political, security, humanitarian and developmental terrains are combined. If we are relatively familiar with the effects of one or another remedy, we can progress with the study of combined effects.

We have an obligation to take collective action on the conditions on which conflicts feed: feelings of exclusion, humiliation and marginalisation

This challenge goes beyond mere crisis management and it must be translated into the field of prevention. Indeed, the cost of inaction in conflict prevention is now known: the cost of a region falling into a chronic crisis where poverty, crime and armed conflict feed each other is exorbitant. There is the cost endured by the populations of the regions concerned, who are the first to suffer violence and the various forms of food, economic and legal insecurity. The cost for the countries concerned, which see their development prospects questioned and their political systems threatened. The cost to the international community, which will suffer the contagion effects and will, sooner or later, be called to the rescue. We therefore have an obligation to take collective action on the conditions on which conflicts feed: feelings of exclusion, humiliation and marginalisation.

Different groups of actors are already looking into implementing a continuum of actions to achieve common results. But diplomats, humanitarians, security actors, development organisations and researchers  too often operate according to their own references.  Joint analyses, seminars on the sharing and mapping of interventions and a common vision of ‘no harm’ are all elements that would allow these different communities to help vulnerable populations benefit from the lasting effects of their actions.


This article is from Friends of Europe’s discussion paper ‘Investing in People, Peace and Prosperity’, in which international experts in these fields consider how policymakers can address the security-development nexus to build peaceful and inclusive societies. This discussion paper complements the Friends of Europe Policy Insight debate ‘To achieve Agenda 2030, give peace a chance’, held as part of the 2017 European Development Days.

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