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No Peace without Development: EU-UN Cooperation in Fragile Countries

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5 June 2015

“One of the most important messages that I have today is that we need to understand that the life of a conflict is much longer than it seems on the surface. That’s why we have to listen to the first signs. Whether it is a conflict, a disease, or a humanitarian crisis. We pay such a huge price of waiting so long [to act],” said Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Today a third of the world’s poor live in fragile or conflict-affected countries. “If we fail to act, and act decisively, by 2018 that figure will be one in two,” according to the EU Staff Handbook for Operating in Situations of Conflict and Fragility. Yet too often crises come to the public’s attention when they are at their peak. They hit TV screens when people are already suffering or dying, and when the humanitarian workers are arriving on the ground. 

Mr Eliasson believes that more needs to be done during the whole life of a conflict from prevention to post-conflict work. Speaking at a press conference earlier this year, he recalled why it is important to keep working in these situations once the peak of the crisis is over and the news crews have left:

“It’s like a patient coming out after triple bypass in many cases. You expect them to go to work at 8 o’clock in the morning? No. There has to be post-conflict work. Peacebuilding. Setting up institutions, reconciliation processes, truth commissions, whatever to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”



As both a Swedish diplomat and UN official, Mr Eliasson has extensive experience of fragile and conflict situations; mediating difficult situations and working on operations in Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans. He illustrated his point with an example from his time as Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Darfur.

“When I was in Darfur, what they really wanted when the [peace] negotiations started was for someone to fix the well in the village, because the militia had thrown a dead dog in the well. They wanted jobs for the young people who came back [home]. Build a road between [villages] or having a health clinic with a nurse or a midwife. That’s what they wanted.

“So there is a direct relationship with the work for peace, and development and human rights. That’s a very important lesson. […] There is no peace without development. There is no development without peace, and none of the above without respect of human rights and rule of law.”

Mr Eliasson noted that the European Union is well placed for achieving this “with its reach into all other aspects of a government’s work and the other areas also.” However, speaking about how the EU and the UN could improve their collaboration in fragile situations, he noted that he would like to see a more regional approach. For example, if we look at the Syrian crisis in the Middle East, it has impacted the whole region as almost four million Syrian refugees have been registered across Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and other parts of North Africa.

Klaus Rudischhauser, Deputy Director General for International Cooperation and Develoment (DEVCO) at the European Commission also supports a regional approach. He believes that “this is a good strategy as neighbouring countries often play a key role in addressing conflict situations”.   He elaborates further on the EC’s regional approach in the video below. 



Mr Rudischhauser explains why it is important for the EU to work together with the UN “there are many specialised UN agencies that have a very clear comparative advantage or added value; [they] can do things other players cannot.”

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) currently provides assistance for 5 million Palestinian refugees in the Middle East. They have been collaborating with the EU since the 1970s forming what Pierre Krähenbühl, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, called a “dynamic and reliable partnership.” Together contributions from the EU and its member states form UNRWA’s largest donor.

“I think what we see in both Syria and Gaza is something that almost no other actor can offer in this context. [Our added value is] our long-term investment in education, health and our presence both in Syria and in Gaza historically,” said Mr Krähenbühl.



Running since 1950, UNRWA has over 30,000 staff members working in several countries, including Syria. Some of the emergency providers have a normal day job working in schools and hospitals. But in times of emergency that changes and they switch from teachers or doctors to emergency providers. For example, during the Gaza conflict in the summer of 2014, UNRWA sheltered 300,000 people in 90 school buildings.

“That’s twice the population of my home town of Geneva, in 90 school buildings. That’s an unbelievable achievement and that’s only possible because we have pre-existing staff who can transform and adapt” noted Mr Krähenbühl.

UNRWA has also had to be creative and flexible in its support. When the Syrian crisis began, they had to improvise schools in order to ensure the provision of education despite the fact that many people had been displaced. This included setting up a distance learning programme.



“If I were a refugee I wouldn’t want to be dependent on food aid as is tragically the case right now in Gaza for 860,000 people. I would like to be able to be in charge of my own situation. I would like to have a job and be able to take care of my family’s needs myself,” added Mr Krähenbühl. He believes that the EU’s support to UNRWA for job creation opportunities and education, are fundamental issues. “People have to understand if we don’t invest in this, the situation in the Middle East will only become more dramatic,” he concluded.


For more information on the EU Staff Handbook for Operating in Situations of Conflict and Fragility you can read the Voices & Views on this topic or visit the Public Group on Fragility and Crisis Situations.

This collaborative piece was drafted with input from Aurélie Godefroy and Fanny Dabertrand with support from the Coordination Team. Images copyright of the European Commission and European Council.

DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.

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