How will development policy change in the “polycrisis”?

The “polycrisis” triggered by COVID-19 is a turning point. This polycrisis presents itself as a global health crisis, but it is overlaid with challenges that already existed before COVID-19. These include increasing global inequalities, migration issues, increasing social struggles, primacy of the economy, climate and environmental challenges, humanitarian crises, conflict and war situations or geopolitical power struggles.
The longer this polycrisis – literally – remains virulent, the less it is possible to return to the modus operandi before COVID-19. In many ways, this is also an opportunity for renewal. This also applies to development policy, which is currently facing an uncertain future. On the one hand, their importance is increasing in the face of the complex challenges in countries of the Global South, rendering development cooperation and humanitarian aid ever more important. Against the background of changing framework conditions on the other hand, development actors are struggling with cuts in their local engagement.

In this Inform & Debate series several authors answer the question what changes are to be expected for development policy as well as development and humanitarian aid in the polycrisis. Since the call for inputs was bilingual in character, the answers are both, in German and English language.

How will development policy change in the "polycrisis"? 1
Picture: The impacts of development in Marocco, Lukas Wank – Shabka

Geert Laporte

Deputy Director | European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) | Maastricht/Brussels

Director | European Think Tanks Group (ETTG) | Brussels

In the past few weeks there has been a lot of speculation on how COVID-19 might fundamentally change development policy. It is still too early to draw conclusions but a few trends are becoming visible.

The poorer and most vulnerable countries and regions in the world- particularly Africa- will be affected most. In addition to the collapse of the prices for oil and mineral resources and the decline of global trade, it is estimated that remittances in Africa will fall by almost 25%. At the same time we also see in the past weeks major capital outflows from Africa of an estimated 100 billion USD.

In the short term the international community should be generous in supporting these most vulnerable states. Debt relief and substantial aid will be essential to cope with this huge crisis. However, instead of just talking quantity and volumes of aid in pledging conferences it is essential that we also seize this momentum to engage in discussions on the quality of development support: How can development cooperation resources reach out to those who will be most in need and to those who finally will have to become the drivers of a sustainable economic recovery. Foreign aid can temporarily contribute to keeping up and restoring essential areas of human development such as health care and education. It could also provide support to the many start-ups, small and medium sized private sector initiatives in Africa of a dynamic generation of  young entrepreneurs.

This COVID-19 crisis might also give a push to rationalizing the international cooperation business. It might hit mainly Northern aid agencies and NGOs and the technical assistance business. But this could also be healthy. In an increasingly competitive context with less resources, development organisations will have to demonstrate their relevance and value added.

In the medium to longer term, beyond the initial aid support, there will be a major need to engage in fundamental and structural reforms of states, economies and institutions that should make it possible, amongst others, for Africa to mobilise its own resources. In a continent where the average tax rate is less than 15% there is an urgent need to invest more in domestic resource mobilisation. Fiscal reforms, taxation of high assets and incomes and tackling illicit financial flows (in cooperation with those Northern countries that are co-responsible for this) are essential to break with the traditional North-South dependency relationship. More than ever the governance agenda is back on track. Effective and accountable states, strong regional organisations and local governments that care about their populations are more needed than ever. In close cooperation with the diversity of civil society and socio economic actors they should be able to manage the transition out of this crisis.

A real “partnership among equals” will only be possible if both Africa and Europe will become co-responsible for generating the resources needed to jointly address  some of the major global challenges.

Michael Obrovsky

Stellvertretender Leiter | Österreichische Forschungsstiftung für Internationale Entwicklung | Wien

Lektor | Institut für Internationale Entwicklung, Universität Wien

Die „Polykrise“ und im Besonderen die Pandemie Covid-19 wird zu einem komplexeren Verständnis von globaler Entwicklung führen. Während bisher die globale Entwicklung vor allem als Problem der Quantität der bereitgestellten Mittel der Entwicklungshilfe oder als Problem der Effektivität der Entwicklungszusammenarbeit oder als Problem fehlenden Investitionen definiert wurde machen die Krisen deutlich, dass wir die Zusammenhänge neu denken müssen. Entwicklungspolitik war bisher der Sammelbegriff für alle möglichen Politiken, Strategien und Ratschläge der industrialisierten Länder – vorwiegend des Nordens –  für die „unterentwickelten Länder“ im globalen Süden, mit denen diese in den globalisierten Weltmarkt integriert hätten werden sollen. Die COVID-19 Pandemie hat deutlich vor Augen geführt, dass etwa die Auslagerung der Produktion von pharmazeutischen und medizinischen Produkten nach China und Indien sehr schnell zu Abhängigkeiten und zu Versorgungsengpässen führen kann. Selbst Anhänger neoliberaler Wirtschaftstheorien sehen zunehmend, dass der Markt in Krisensituationen eben nicht in der Lage ist, globale Probleme zu lösen und fordern staatliche Regulierungen und Interventionen. Entwicklungspolitik wird in Zukunft viel stärker eine globale Herausforderung für alle Regierungen, für die Wirtschaft, für die Forschung und für die Zivilgesellschaft.

Die Klimakrise hatte bereits ein Umdenken eingeleitet, das nachhaltiges Wirtschaften und Konsumieren als globale Herausforderung ansieht und globale politische Lösungen für die Verantwortung über die globalen öffentlichen Güter (z.B: Klima, Ozeane, Umwelt, Wasser, Sicherheit, Frieden, stabile Finanzmärkte, Pandemien usw) einfordert. Die SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) als neuer Referenzrahmen für die globale Entwicklung haben mit dem Anspruch des gemeinsamen Denkens der drei Dimensionen Ökonomie, Ökologie und globale soziale Entwicklung ein Modell für globales Denken vorgelegt. Dieses neue Denken umfasst weit mehr als die „alte Entwicklungspolitik“.

Michel Maietta

Director | Inter-Agency Research and Analysis Network (IARAN) | London

The intersection of the changing dynamics that shape the location, severity and intensity of human vulnerability, including climate change, population growth and urbanisation, demonstrate the necessity to move beyond debates of the humanitarian/development/peace divide and recognise the complexity of the environments we operate in.

Policrisis/Ecosystemic crises result from the intersection of environmental, political, and economic instability. They create long-term and worsening vulnerability for people affected by crisis, which can result in system collapse.

People affected by crisis make decisions every day about how to best use their capacities and the resources available to them to meet their needs. Aid actors know this, and they know that local knowledge is essential for making good aid decisions. However, despite decades of commitments, crisis-affected people continue to have very limited ability to influence development policies and aid decisions or hold aid actors and policy makers accountable.

Powerful inertia within the sector have hindered efforts to put people at the center of development policies and aid decisions over the past two decades.

In order to affect sustainable change, policy makers and aid actors must engage in serious reflection on how they can challenge themselves to act more systematically – to transcend the humanitarian/development/peace divide, challenge their governance and power structures, and put back people affected by crisis at the centre of their system.

Growing interconnectivity between people and communities globally, supported by the spread of technology, transnational communities, urbanization and the coming of age of today’s youth, will provide more choices for people to organize their own policy and responses, expand avenues for people to connect with formal and non-formal policy makers and aid providers who are willing to meet their priorities (rather than relying on “who shows up”), and enable people with the tools and information to demand more from formal sector actors.

There are many benefits to creating new ways of working – more collaboratively and strategically.

New ways of working require a new approach to partnerships, it necessitates that formal sector actors move beyond transactional engagements and superficial coordination and endeavour to build more strategic partnerships, underpinned by justice and equality, which focus on leveraging the different skills of each organisation, particularly the ones led by people affected by crises.

Policy makers and aid actors should revise the reasons why they exists (the purpose), and make sure that their purpose isn’t defined by the mission (what they actually do and for whom) or they value chain (how they do it), but by a people centred vision.

All actors must consider where their value-added is, whether to strategize to optimise? What their role in the implementation and delivery of programming should be? How they should engage with new actors? And how they can most effectively engage across the humanitarian/development/peace nexus? In order to do this, they must learn to adapt to their changing environment and be strategic in where they invest their resources.

Goda Milasiute

Research Assistant | Centre for Humanitarian Action (CHA) | Berlin

Covid-19 in humanitarian settings: a multiple challenge
As Covid-19 is spreading over the globe, humanitarian organizations are struggling to efficiently provide aid. In multiple-crisis contexts, where Covid-19 is one of the many pressing issues, humanitarians have to engage into “moral multitasking”, as Hugo Slim named it. This means that organizations need to simultaneously consider a variety of challenges, including meeting the immediate healthcare needs and the long-term socio-economic needs. In effect, they need to prioritize some countries, districts, cities, and even people at the expense of others. They need to align their short-term and long-term strategies regarding upholding humanitarian principles and getting access. They need to secure and maintain trust even and especially if they are no longer operational on the ground because of the movement restrictions. While some communities perceive Covid-19 as “the illness of the white and rich” brought by the foreigners, international NGOs also face the challenge of countering these anti-foreigner and anti-aid worker sentiments in order to be able to keep working. Dealing with misinformation regarding the virus and the NGO work itself is yet another issue that needs to be addressed.

On top of these difficulties, NGOs are losing a significant part of their funding as a result of forced closures of charity shops, event cancellations, and no face-to-face fundraising. Private donations could decrease as Global Northerners might be willing to donate more for domestic purposes. Crises “at home” also lead to changes in donor behaviour. For instance, the largest international donor for health, the United States, is banning NGOs from using its funds to buy key items of personal protective equipment (PPE) or ventilators, including the more likely purchases outside of the US. While all NGOs are lacking funding, it is especially important to support local organizations, since they are the ones who have frontline access, expertise, and the agility to act, as argued by Christina Bennett.

The current context makes it even clearer that some things in the humanitarian system – starting with funding and recognition of local NGOs – need to change. The Covid-19 crisis has shown how fragile the operational capacities on the ground by the international actors can be. The current situation is therefore the right time to rethink power relations in the humanitarian world. These include rejecting colonial, missionary, and unethical humanitarian lenses and building trust, as Covid-19 has debunked the essentialist myths of only the Global South being the place where a devastating crisis can start, and Europe not being a place where humanitarian aid is required.

While recognising and dealing with the multiple vulnerabilities and exacerbated inequalities that some countries are exposed to, maybe at least one inequality can be reduced – the one concerning power relations. Adopting a humble stance and addressing power disbalances between international organizations and local civil society organizations would be a good place to start. While organizations from the Global North are struggling to efficiently provide aid, it can no longer simply be said that localization agenda is too difficult or too risky to implement. If after all Covid-19 could lead to a less hierarchical and more localized humanitarian system, it would have at least one positive outcome in the long run.

This is a shortend version. The original text can be read here.

Carlos García Paret

Advocacy Responsible | Coordinadora de ONG para el Desarrollo – España | Madrid

What cooperation system should do beyond delivering masks?
Don’t misunderstand me. Masks are very relevant – especially when locally produced and with recycled or reutilized materials. Humanitarian aid – in line with fulfilling the Grand Bargain principles – to give capacity to local actors and put them in the driver seat of the solution in the post-pandemic phase is key too. Humanitarian aid, however, needs to be additional and not detract resources from other crises, conflicts and pandemics that kill 3 million people every year. Beyond that, all the efforts to declare the vaccine a global good, accessible to all, will be very welcome, as the risk of not having a proper governance to manage a very profitable oligopolistic market is very high. Covid has disproportionately impacted people and populations in greater vulnerability, both in Europe and in the rest of the planet. As Oxfam recently noted, “If no action is taken, 40 million people could die and 500 million people would be dragged into poverty in the Global South”. And in this context, as we saw in last DAC statistics, the aid system is stagnating and far from fulfilling the UN call for 2,5 billions of dollars to tackle the pandemic. 

In the meanwhile, European public opinion is focused on domestic concerns and the extreme-right movements build up walls between societies in a “we first” or “only us” movement. This is not the best scenario for NGOs concerned about the problems of women in slums, children in refugee camps or indigenous groups in the Amazon. We will struggle to explain to exhausted and overstressed citizens that the global dimension matters and international solidarity is still key for our survival as a global community. I remember that this was the scenario that spanish NGOs used to face in the last decade while conservative forces used to dismantle two thirds of the cooperation system to pay the cost of the EU’s bailout for Spanish banks. However, after the 2012 crisis, main stock companies recovered their profits quickly while social markers plummeted and risked deep social fragmentation: This risk is still very real as in 2019 almost one third of Spanish children live at risk of poverty. Naomi’s Klein shows in The Shock Doctrine how the crisis, and the narrative of austerity associated, triggers an enormous rebalance of power against people. 

So at the end of the day, the question that many will underline is: what is more relevant, refugee camps or unemployment in Europe? Us, as NGOs, will need to find the answer to this question properly if we don’t want to lose another crucial decade, as it happened in 2008, while tax heavens remain opaque, bailouts go to stranded assets or speculators profit. Several civil society organisations and institutions claim to not repeat mistakes that have been made in the past. Social and human rights as well as ecological transition should be the new agenda for all, and this time NGOs, social movements and citizens need to stand and work together in stronger alliances to overcome the status-quo. And development and humanitarian NGOs need to be focused on the system change within this movement. Jeremy Rifkin, in a talk in Germany, said that he realized that the change was coming because of a young generation mobilising for the climate in an international, multicultural and intergenerational movement and thereby forming a truly global community. Just as the climate issue, Covid pandemic showed as well that we have an opportunity to reframe solidarity. 

Lukas Wank

Gründer und Co-Direktor | Shabka | Wien

Wir befinden uns inmitten einer großen Zäsur, die sich darauf auswirkt, wie wir die Welt sehen und unsere Rolle darin verstehen. So gesehen ist die COVID-19 Pandemie der Anstoß zu einem globalen Transformationsprozess, in dem sich vieles neu ordnet und zusammensetzt. Vor der Entwicklungspolitik werden diese Änderungen auch nicht halt machen und am Horizont zeichnen sich schon jetzt in mehreren Bereichen ein Reboot ab.

Eines schon jetzt fast unausweichlich: Der modus operandi auf Basis der Arbeitsteilung zwischen Entwicklungszusammenarbeit (langfristig) und humanitärer Hilfe (als Nothilfe oder Sofortmaßnahmen im Katastrophenfall kurzfristiger und oft multilateraler gelagert) gilt nicht mehr so, wie wir ihn kannten. Es ist daher wahrscheinlich, dass beide Bereiche zukünftig immer mehr miteinander verheiratet werden und sich in einer Art “internationaler Kooperationspolitik” bündeln. Das ist ein Bruch, der die Entwicklungspolitik verschmälern könnte. Es ist demnach nicht auszuschließen, dass in der Entwicklungszusammenarbeit ein noch engerer Fokus gesetzt wird, was sich auf die Anzahl von Schwerpunktregionen – und Sektoren auswirken dürfte. 

Lücken dürfte der Privatsektor in Form von Partnerschaften (PPP, Wirtschaftspartnerschaften und Kooperationen mit Nichtregierungsorganisationen) füllen und damit eine immer prominentere Rolle in der Entwicklungspolitik einnehmen. In den letzten Jahren ging es ohnehin mit immer größeren Schritten in diese Richtung. Das würde unter anderem bedeuten, dass das Wachstumsparadigma tief verwurzelt bleibt (was das Thema Inequalities auf lange Sicht immer relevanter macht). Das Bonner BMZ hat dieses Paradigma etwain ihren Reformpartnerschaften schon vor einigen Jahren als Ansatz in der deutschen Entwicklungspolitik verankert.

Damit einher gehen könnte durchaus auch eine Dynamisierung einer nachhaltigen globalen Investitionspolitik, die derzeit unter der Von der Leyen Kommission in Europa konkrete Formen annimmt – und damit ein vermehrter Einsatz von Finanzkapital als weiterer Lückenfüller. Im Rahmen einer solchen Politik könnte Entwicklung als Konzept von Begriffen wie Technologietransfer, Risikokapital oder Beteiligungen usurpiert werden. Vor diesem Hintergrund läuft die post-COVID-19 Entwicklungspolitik Gefahr eine immer prominentere Wirtschaftsdimension zu bekommen. Die gesteigerte Bedeutung des Privatsektors und des Finanzkapitals müsste in diesem Fall jedoch mit einer weit größeren Verantwortung (zB durch verbindliche menschenrechtliche Regeln, gesichert durch multilaterale Organisationen) einhergehen. 

Vor allem kleine Staaten haben bezeichnenderweise ihre Entwicklungsagenden seit dem Ausbruch der COVID-19 Pandemie vermehrt an multilaterale Organisationen ausgelagert. Das gängige Verständnis von Entwicklungszusammenarbeit als Bekämpfung von Armut, Einsatz für Frieden, Demokratie, Geschlechtergerechtigkeit und Menschenrechte, als Verteidigerin und Ermöglicherin einer gerechten Globalisierung und Umwelt könnte somit in Zukunft ebenfalls zunehmend auf multilateraler Ebene verwirklicht werden.  Auf dieser Ebene würde demnach auch der Schlüssel liegen, um die Verbesserung der Lebensbedingungen von Menschen weltweit zu sichern. Die Rechte von Menschen würden somit immer weniger vor Ort, sondern in supranationalen und lokalen Gremien gewahrt werden.

Dieser Abriss wirft viele Fragen auf, viele davon sind durchaus problematisch, andere wiederum eröffnen Raum für neue Ansätze, um sich dort zu engagieren, wo es am meisten benötigt wird. Die Stärken der Entwicklungspoltik konsequent zu nutzen legt dafür jedenfalls den Grundstein.

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