Prevention – Too Important to Fail

by Thammy Evans · March 9th, 2018.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Yet, despite prevention being one of the two foci of this week’s World-Bank and Norwegian Refugee Council sponsored event “Beyond the Grand Bargain, two years on – taking stock of the recommendations of the UN High Level Panel’s Report on Humanitarian Financing”, the cry for the focus on prevention measures again got overlooked. How did this happen?

The event itself was meant to focus on the first two recommendations of the UN HLP report ‘Too important to fail – addressing the humanitarian financing gap’. In total the report’s three basic recommendations are:

  • Shrink the needs – a shared responsibility
  • Deepen and broaden the resource base for humanitarian financing
  • Improve delivery – a Grand Bargain on efficiency

While the panel did indeed mention prevention efforts, and innovation in financing, the majority of the responses to the panel focussed nonetheless on the third recommendation. Not one response aired during the event focused on the suggestions voiced by the only panelist from the global south, Her Excellency Dr Suraya Dalil, the Permanent Representative of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, who called for much greater assistance with prevention measures, notably:

  1. building government institutions
  2. resourcing and patience for security system requirements
  3. improving rule of law and justice reform

Why the continued tendency for supply driven answers rather than demand oriented support? As the report itself says ‘Unfortunately it is easier to deliver humanitarian assistance than it is to invest in political solutions.’ Security sector governance and reform is an inherently political endeavour, both in donor countries as in beneficiary countries. It produces winners who stand to gain and losers who will do everything to spoil reform efforts. SSG/R carries reputational risk and it requires close collaboration with the host country. Improving efficiency does not require talking to recipients.

Panellists remarked upon the need for more advocacy of solutions that are evidence based (NRC). This requires more evidence in the first instance, and more time and effort focussed on recording evidence and evidencing what works. The UN-WB Pathways for Peace report sets out the evidence available so far for prevention. We need more evidence. Good ideas, like the future, are already here, but they are not unevenly distributed [1] and very rarely recorded or covered in the media.

Responses from the floor affirmed the need to focus media attention on the little known or forgotten humanitarian disasters. But there at least, there is something to write about. How does the media write about a counter-factual, about something that didn’t happen because it was prevented? The media has a huge role to play in informing the public, taxpayers and politicians, about the measures that can and are being taken to prevent violent conflict, and their stories are tangible and compelling. Take the story of Latifa Ibn Ziaten, the Moroccan French mother of Iman Ziaten, killed by an Islamic extremist in Toulouse in 2012. Rather than vengeance, she chose to work with the disenfranchised youth of France and has set up an organisation to do so,

Prevention work has barely touched the surface of the need to address the psychosocial drivers of the drivers of conflict. Yet so little attention is focussed on the difficult and fundamental nature of the psychological underpinnings of conflict that it would need a paradigm shift in mainstream thinking. It would take innovation not only in financing, but also in media reporting, and political attention.

Examples of innovation in financing humanitarian relief, both in the public and private sector, were put forward, such as Forecast Based Financing, a humanitarian waqf, and Humanitarian Impact Bonds. However, again, these new financing measures are aimed at relief after disaster. Where is the effort to increase financing from the private sector and predictable individual giving toward funding preventative measures? The private sector panellist mentioned that business likes peace. Unfortunately, a lot of big business, especially the small arms industry, thrives on a certain level of insecurity. We still need to seriously alter the feedback loops and reward mechanisms incentivising insecurity. To stack the deck in favour of peace, more focus on accountability, transparency, and anti-corruption measures will help. More focus on evidencing what works will help.

And following on from International Women’s Day yesterday, dare I venture that focusing on the under-reported work of women in peace and security, will help. Women of peace: Rise up – our time is now – prevention is too important to fail.


[1] See Tim Harford’s recent article ‘Like great coffee, good ideas take time to percolate’.

Top Photo: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

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